Monday, March 31, 2008

2 Major Solar Projects Announced

Southern California Edison has announced that it will spend $875 million to erect solar panels on 65 million square feet of commercial rooftops throughout Southern California. The project will generate 250 MW.

Beacon Energy also announced a 250MW project in Kern County. The project will be built by FPL Energy, which has a similar project in the Mojave Desert. It will not rely on traditional photovoltaic panels, but will use thermal solar energy in which 500,000 curved mirrors will intensify the sun’s rays, heating water to steam, which will power turbines and generate electricity. In the past, FPL has condensed and recycled the steam to save water.

Thermal solar energy is geographically limited—it cannot be practically used in high density urban areas because of the space required. Proximity continues to be a big hurdle to widespread solar use, requiring new transmission lines to get the power from its generation point to end users.

Putting rooftops to work [Long Beach Press Telegram]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Warming to Nuclear

It seems that if nuclear energy can simply hang around long enough, eventually it is going to find mainstream acceptance, even in California. Janice Mara's piece in the Contra Costa times gives a really good overview of the where nuclear power stands in California today.

The prohibition against building new plants in California until somebody figures out what to do with all of those spent fueld rods is well known, as is Assemblyman Chuck DeVore's passion for overturning the ban. But, what is interesting in Mara's piece is that many environmental activists who have long-opposed nuclear are warming to its benefits.

Similarly, private investment partnerships, such as the one in Fresno are looking for ways to develop new plants.

Mara also gives a good history of nuclear power in California.

Currently nuclear accounts for 19% of the electricity generated in the U.S. and that number is likely to grow.

Nuclear war in California [Contra Costa Times]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

LA City Council's Bold Leadership on Energy Rates

The City Council in Los Angeles chickened out yesterday and postponed a vote on the proposed rate hike by the Department of Water and Power. DWP boss David Nahai basically told the Council that blood will be on their hands this summer if there are heat-related blackouts.

According to the DWP, additional funds are urgently needed to fix aging infrastructure. Neighborhood councils oppose the move, however, calling the rate hikes "nickel and diming".

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, David Zahiser notes that opponents point out (correctly) that the Mayor and the City Council have raided DWP funds to balance the City budget and that blame for the current shortfall rests squarely on them:

"Opponents of the rate hikes have long criticized city officials for using $175 million in DWP power funds each year to balance the city budget. Over the last two years, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the council also agreed to transfer $63 million in water funds to the city budget -- a move that was suspended in the wake of a lawsuit."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chevron Fueling Renewed Debate on Iraq

David Baker has a piece in today's San Francisco Chronicle that--intentionally or not-- resurrected the "blood for oil" conspiracy theories that were popular around the beginning of the Iraq war.

Baker reports on Chevron's efforts to enter into long-term contracts with the Iraqi government for new oil production. The comment thread to the post is on fire.
The broad consensus is that the U.S. invasion and subsquent toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime was all about getting access to the Iraqi oil fields.

I didn't get too far into the thread because all of the comments were pretty much the same, but I'm sure somebody has already suggested that Blackwater will be guarding Chevron facilities in-country!

Regardless of the conspiracy theories, the development is significant from an energy perspective because Iraq is widely believed to have the third-largest oil reserves in the world.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hydrogen Highway Runs Through Sacramento

You can learn more about and test-drive fuel-cell vehicles at the California Fuel Cell Partnership located in West Sacramento. The facility is part-laboratory, part classroom, part museum and is designed to increase the public's comfort level with driving a hydrogen powered car.

While the write-up in the Bee acknowledges all of the shortcomings of fuel-cell vehicles-- lack of a commercial fuel distribution infrastructure, too few qualified service technicians, and a general fear of hydrogen among the general public-- it does make it seem as if fuel-cell cars are closer to going mainstream than many realize.

The quote that best summarizes the PR hurdle these vehicles face:

"Martin Chavez, a Carmichael resident who drives a four-cylinder, gas-fueled Honda Civic, said he's not so sure about the hydrogen future: "I'm not ready. … It's not just that there aren't enough (hydrogen) stations, but I worry about having all that hydrogen under pressure in the car, and how I would have the car repaired. …"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Refinery Upgrades Face Strong Opposition

Any time you show up to appear at a Planning Commission hearing and you see that they've erected at tent outside to handle the anticipated crowds, you know you're going to have a bad day. Such was the fate of three Chevron executives yesterday when they made their pitch for an expansion to the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

At issue are significant proposed upgrades to the century old refinery that will allow it to refine more crude of lesser quality. Opponents say that pollution from the refinery is bad enough without adding more VOC's and greenhouse gasses from crude heavy with sulphur and other impurties.

Chevron touted its EIR that said increases in greenhouse gasses would be "speculative" but that claim has been spiked by Attorney General Jerry Brown who said the EIR was a joke because it ignored multiple points and relied on fictitious documentes.

Chevron says the 3,000 acre refinery is among the most regulated in the world and that health risks from the proposed expansion are insignificant.

No word on when the Planning Commission will render its decision.

Chevron pleads case to revamp refinery [San Francisco Chronicle]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tell It To The Judge!

The legal fight between PG&E and South San Joaquin Irrigation District went before the Third District Court of Appeals this week. At issue is whether the SSJID needs approval from the Local Area Formation Commission, or if it can proceed unilaterlally with its plans to aquire PG&E's assets via eminent domain.

PG&E continues to say "over our dead body" and argues that the SSJID's decision to push its case with LAFCO initially is itself an acknowledgement that the agency's blessing is needed to move forward. LAFCO is siding with PG&E, which is not surprising when (as reported in the Manteca Bulletin) its legal fees are being paid by... drumroll please... PG&E!

Monday's hearing stems form a string of decisions:

First, San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphries said that SSJID absolutely needed LAFCO's approval.

Then, the Third District Court of Appeals said Humphries was wrong.

Then LAFCO (PG&E) appealed that decision, which is why everbody was in court on Monday. A ruling on this latest skirmish is expected soon.

Through it all, SSJID maintains it can lower energy costs by running its own utility and that it is prepared to start its own utility if it doesn't prevail in court and if PG&E won't negotiate in good faith.

Power struggle continues [Manteca Bulletin]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spinning Carbon Statistics

If you need further proof that you can make statistics say just about anything you want them to, consider the data just released by the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, DC.

According to the group's report, California, the front lines in the war against carbon emissions, has failed miserably despite its highly touted and heavily promoted efforts to go green: Emissions from California power plants grew from 37.8 million tons in 2006 to 42.5 million tons in 2007.

But wait, spun another way, California is doing great. According to the San Jose Mercury News' Matt Nauman:

"Overall, when measuring carbon-dioxide emissions per megawatt hour of electricity generated, California ranks very low - 45th out of the 50 states - data shows. For comparison, California's 42.5 tons in 2007 compared to 262 million tons in Texas and 139 million in Ohio."

So, population growth is driving increased demand and, the apparent environmental efficiency of our energy production notwithstanding, we are still losing the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, with a one-year net gain in carbon emissions that ranks among the top 10 in the nation.

Pretty grim.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

$5/Gallon Gas Is Officially Here

Filling up in the town of Gorda in Big Sur will cost you $5.20 a gallon-- for regular unleaded. Premium is $5.40.

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, David Baker argues that the skyrocketing price of gas has more to do with the falling value of the dollar than with supply and demand:

"Oil is traded in dollars. A weak dollar means that foreign investors can buy more oil, which helps drive up the price. And huge institutional investors start buying oil as a safe place to put their money, safer than the dollar or the stock market. "

The argument has some validity to be sure but it ignores some California-specific factors like lack of adequate refining capacity and the seasonal switches to different gasoline blends.

While anything you can do to cut back on gasoline consumption makes sense, this option might be just a little out of reach for a lot of us: Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors announced that it has begun regular production of its two seat, zero-emssion, electric roadster. It will cost you a cool $100,000 (which equates to 19,230 gallons of gas in Gorda, CA).

Blame the dollar for high gas prices [San Francisco Chronicle]

Monday, March 17, 2008

Geothermal Grants in California

Almost 5% of California's electricity is from geothermal, but the CEC wants to see that numer grow.

This week, the Commission is reviewing applications for almost $6 million in grants to develop more geothermal energy in the state.

Geothermal seems like a no-brainer until you really drill down (pun intented) it... it seems that earthquakes are a nasty side effect of drilling geothermal mines in delicate seismic regions. San Francisco City Environmental Director Jared Blumenthal has said a typical technique that entails drilling 2-3 miles down has already been shelved for that very reason (San Francisco is teaming up with Sacramento and a private company for one of the goethermal grants).

Agencies looking to develop power from within the Earth []

Friday, March 14, 2008

SoCalEd Dropping Rates

The stock market isn't the only thing going down these days-- so is your electric bill if you are a Southern California Edison customer. In a "man bites dog" story, the LA Times reports that the utility is actually lowering rates due to overcollections last year:

"Electricity rates will go down for Edison customers by about 1.5% this year as the utility returns about $430 million it over-collected from ratepayers in 2007. The give-back stems from an annual reconciliation of utility rate proceeds and costs and reflects lower-than-expected prices for natural gas and power purchases in 2007."

Of course, a SoCalEd Vice President says not to get used to the lower rates. In fact, expect a 12% hike in 2009.

Absent from this write-up is any outrage from the consumer advocate communty over the untility's penalty-fee gouging of ratepayers last year, but that's probably coming.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

LNG Activists' New Playbook

According to the Malibu Surfside News, anti-LNG activists have declard "full fledged war" on LNG imports to California. Pacific Environment, an evironmental adocacy group based in Northern California, has put out a 40 page report that the Surfside News says will become the "little red book" for anyone opposing LNG projects in California.

Essentially the strategy calls for opponents to avoid getting caught up in individual battles over specific projects and, instead to fight all LNG imports by questioning the need for LNG in general, and the economic and envrionmental cost of the projects.

The president of Woodside, which has an LNG project in cue, called the report "one sided" and "extremist".

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Green Energy Paying Off

A new report by green energy consulitng firm Clean Edge pegs worldwide revenues of alternative energy companies at more than $77 billion. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the industry used to be populated by start-ups in various stages of product development, but now heavyweights like GE are in the game and are driving sales.

According to the Chronicle:

"Revenue in the wind power industry alone jumped 68 percent in 2007 to reach $30.1 billion as new wind farms sprouted across the United States and China. Sales of ethanol and biodiesel, together, grew about 24 percent to hit $25.4 billion. Solar photovoltaic sales grew 30 percent, totaling $20.3 billion."

The report points out that the industry's fortunes tend to move inversely with the price of oil and that continued federal support in the form of tax breaks and other regulatory assistance will be necessary to continue the explosive growth.

Green energy is making big money [San Francisco Chronicle]

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Prepare to get soaked

An MWD board panel approved a 14% rate increase in water rates beginning in 2009. The proposal goes before the Board today, with some members saying 14% isn't enough....

The exact amount of the increase would be determined by volume, presumably, the more business a city does with MWD, the less steep the increase.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

"MWD is a public agency that imports water and sells it to 26 member cities and water districts across the region that use it to supplement local supplies. Its staff blames the rate increase in part on the need to buy more expensive water because of record dry weather last year, a prolonged drought in the Colorado River Basin and a court decision reducing water deliveries from Northern California."

Monday, March 10, 2008

SSJID vs. PGE, Contd.

The fight between PG&E and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District barrels on, with a ruling on the PG&E-backed challenge to a San Joaquin Local Agency Formation Commission appellate decision set for next week.

SSJID tipped its plans for moving ahead, saying that a postitive ruling next week requiring PG&E to negotiate in good faith on the $79.6 million offer would end one of two ways, either in actual negotiation or in the drafting of language precedent to an eminent domain action.

If the ruling goes agaist SSJID, the agency is prepared to start building its own redundant utility, from the ground up. The SSJID is confident it can lure customers away from PG&E by offering significantly cheaper rates and this could ultimately leave PG&E with nothing to show for losing its customers in the area.

The claim on lower rates is subtantiated by the 28% reduction that the SSJID-- working as a consultant for the Lathrop Irrigation District-- has been able to put in place for the master planned community, the River Islands at Lathrop. Additionally, the Modesto Bee reports that the SSJID has waved its $24/acre farm water irrigation fee due to "income from power generation and outside sales of conserved water."

Friday, March 07, 2008

SDG&E Has A Friend in Washington

Yesterday the Department of Energy offered environmental interests protesting the establishment of "designated energy corridors" on the east and west coasts a polite "duly noted," and said the corridors are still a go. The Feds believe that Southern California and the area between New York and Washington, D.C. are at constant risk of blackout and need the corridors.
So what does that mean for the controversial Sunrise Powerlink project?

According to the North County Times: "The decision means that should the state reject the Sunrise project, the utility, citing the energy corridor designation, can petition the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as early as October to step in to approve it."

The federal corridor takes in seven Southern California counties ---- San Diego, Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles, Kern, San Bernardino and Imperial ---- and a portion of western Arizona where power plants are being built.

Power Trump Card Upheld [North County Times]

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Shareholder Resolutions on the Rise

U.S. investors have filed a record 54 shareholder resolutions with U.S. companies facing "far-reaching business impacts from climate change," according to a coalition of investors demanding that corporations include tangible responses to climate change in their basic business strategies.

That's nearly twice as many as were filed two years ago, says the Boston-based Ceres coalition of companies, investors and environmental groups that includes San Francisco Bay Area companies such as Catholic Healthcare West, Clif Bar & Co., Gap Inc., PG&E Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., along with both the Sacramento-based California State Teachers' Retirement System and the California Public Employees Retirement System, two of the nation's largest public pension funds.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

This story never gets old.

Not sure how I missed this one, but I'll blame my being on the road today... the Chronicle has the latest and greatest "The future of energy in California is bullsh*&" story... enjoy:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

No Green For Green; No LNG for LB

If you were one of those people who derided AB32 as an unfunded mandate and a PR stunt... you might have been right. The San Francisco Chronicle reports what we all already knew-- ther is no money to pay for it.

Arnold has a plan to keep the green energy mandate alive through the next fiscal year by "borrowing" $32 million from the state's bottle and can recycling revenues. Some heavyweights in the legislature say that's a bad idea (to put it mildly).

Stay tuned.

In other news, FERC officially pulled the plug on its review of Sound Energy Solutions' LNG plans for Long Beach Harbor. SES is suing the City of Long Beach over the whole fiasco and has a date in court in March.

State scrambles to fund global warming fight [San Francisco Chronicle]

FERC suspends SES LNG terminal review [Emerging Energy News]

Monday, March 03, 2008

Public Power Wars Heating Up

The public power wars continue to rage on. Sunday's Stockton Record has some background on Stockton's just announced plan to take over for PG&E.

The Record notes the irony of using similar arguments to those that were made five years ago under then Mayor Gary Podesto when Stockon outsourced its water and sewer to a private British company, to support current Mayor Ed Chavez's plan for Stockton to be its own electric utility.

According to the write-up: "So, in Stockton's case, a dispute over Chavez's proposal is almost inevitable. The question isn't whether PG&E would oppose a takeover. The question is whether it would be worth the time, effort and cost."

PG&E's other fight in the South San Joaquin Irrigation District appears to be gaining momentum. The Manteca Bulletin reports:

"More than 1,000 disgruntled PG&E customers signed petitions during the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival asking that the California Public Utilities Commission pressure the for-profit utility to negotiate in good faith with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.PG&E is refusing to negotiate with SSJID on an offer the 99-year-old agency made to purchase the power distribution system in Manteca, Ripon and Escalon so they could reduce power costs across the board by at least 15 percent."

The Bulletin also breaks down the SSJID offer:

The SSJID offer broken down includes:

  • $48,925,000, which is the appraised value of the electric system determined by R.W. Beck. (SSJID sent PG&E a summary of the thick appraisal.)

  • $1,440,000 for PG&E's actual costs in physically severing the system. SSJID will pay their own costs to reconnect and construct new facilities to separate the two systems.

  • $1,592,000 for a substation impairment fee for the resulting excess capacity PG&E may recognize at the Vierra, Avena and Riverbank substations.

  • $2,661,000 as the value of land, right-of-way and easements associated with specific facilities SSJID is purchasing.

  • $25 million premium to be divided equally between remaining PG&E ratepayers and PG&E shareholders.

A power move [Stockton Record]

1,000 sign in favor of SSJID over PG&E [Manteca Bulletin]