Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Breaking Down the Big Screen Ban

Engadget picked up an item in Wired abou the proposed ban on big screen tv's in California (got to love the Internet), so we'll keep the chain going and link to Engadget (becuase Engadget managed to work into its post a mention of the absurd CARB proposal to outlaw black paint on cars- clap! clap!).

Bottom line, according to Wired's write-up:

"The CEC proposal is set up as a two-tiered system. The first enforces efficiency standards beginning in 2011 and would save 3,831 gigawatt hours (and bring down overall TV energy consumption by 33%) by placing a cap on the active mode power usage (in watts) of individual TVs. Current standards in California only regulate TVs in standby mode, at a cap of 3.0 watts.

According to the Commission, energy used in standby mode only represents about 5 percent of all TV energy consumption."

For Q&A about what this all entails, have a gander at the CEC's Web site.

Monday, March 30, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Rebecca Smith reports on California's reentry into the Electricity Auction game. After 18 months of market simulations and a $200 million investment, tomorrow the state will begin holding daily auctions of electricity resources for delivery the next day (with a $2,500/megawatt hour cap.)

Smith notes:

"State officials are nervous, nevertheless, because California's past experience with a "day ahead" market was a disaster and this latest effort reflects a long effort and $200 million investment. The 2000-01 western energy crisis pushed California's biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., into bankruptcy protection and resulted in tens of billions of dollars of debts that utility customers still are repaying."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Green vs. Green

One of the ironies of renewable energy is that it often requires lots of acreage for infrastructure and, that acreage more often than not, is in environmentally sensitive areas like deserts, passes, and oceans. This sets up the counterintuitive confrontation between renewable power interests and conservationists.

Treehugger.com has taken a look at the issue ans has compiled some anecdotal information about how debate is playing out. It's worth a read...

Happy weekendng!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

DOE Gets In the Act

CNET has a great article about how the Energy Department has caught the stimulus bug. Not content to let Tresury and the Fed have all the fun, DOE is stepping up its efforts to inject cash into the system by making loans directly to start-ups and other companies involved in energy-related research and manufacturing.

Specifically, DOE just made a $535 million loan to Solyndra, a company that makes rooftop solar arrays, in what CNET is calling the first such loan made by the Department in four years.

According to CNET:

"Because of the troubled credit markets, the DOE program has become the "provider of last resort" to companies that need financing to expand and build manufacturing plants, said venture capital investor Paul Holland of Foundation Capital, who was in Washington this week at a meeting of energy professionals at the White House.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has revamped the DOE's loan-vetting process to break the logjam of these loans, which many high-profile green-tech start-ups such as Tesla Motors and battery maker A123 Systems have applied for. Meanwhile, the government's economic stimulus plan calls for $1.6 billion for research through the national laboratories and for investments to bulk up and modernize the transmission grid to transport solar and wind power.

In anticipation of a big inflow of money, green business people have reported spending a lot of time in Washington, D.C. Everyone--from small start-ups to established wind project developers--is hiring lobbyists to influence policy."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Plan for Fuel Cells

The San Diego Union Tribune blogs about the new plan for Fuel Cell Cars & hydrogen fueling stations in California.

The plan, which was released last month by the California Fuel Cell Partnership, anticipates by 2017 almost 50,000 fuel cell vehicles in California, supported by 36 fueling stations which are slated to cost $180 million.

Check out the UT's blog post here, and follow it to the summary and the full report on the California Fuel Cell Partnership Web site.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

California Luv!

If California was essentially ignored under the Bush Administration, it is fair to say that President Obama is making up for lost time with some serious "stimulus love"!

The preliminary number are in and energy labs at UC Berkeley and Stanford are set to receive $184 million in stimulus cash for research and construction.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Officials at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said a large part of its $115.8 million share will be used to speed completion of a building for scientists working with the lab's Advanced Light Source, one of the world's most powerful sources of x-ray and ultraviolet light.

The Advanced Light Source facility yields intense beams of electromagnetic radiation for many crucial experiments, including those involving the study of viruses and other living tissues, efforts to fabricate nanotechnology mechanical devices and computer chips, and to study the basic physics of solid materials.

The new money for Berkeley will also go toward building a laser-based accelerator facility to boost the speed of electrically charged particles for experiments exploring the nature of atomic nuclei."

(I suppose it is worth noting that before Energy Secretary Chu took his Beltway job, he was the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory!)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Renewed Angst Over AB 32

AB 32 is the gift that keeps on giving. The San Jose Mercury News takes a fresh look at the AB 32 in light of the economic woes that wreaking havoc on California, and the hefty price tag the legislation's implementation will carry.

CARB says AB 32 wll cost $25 billion (but will deliver $40 billion in benefits); industry calls that figure a lowball. Defenders of the bill note that there is never a good time to spend this kind of money, but the meausre's effects are so needed that now's as good a time as any.

CARB has also argued that cash from the federal "Stimulus Bill" will ease some of the pain, but that's not mollifying the concerns of industry. Don't expect the AB 32 to be derailed or dealyed though. With a large part of the business community (primarily Silicon Valley) still in favor of it, it appears to be a train that has already left the station...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pondering Clean Coal

Given that it's Friday and day 2 of the NCAA basketball tournament, it's only fitting to throw out a "jump ball" for water cooler discussion: Clean Coal.

Industry loves it and touts it as the environmentally friendly answer to all of our domestic energy problems... Al Gore hates it.

Generally speaking, there typically is a kernel of truth to what industry says about issues affecting its bottom line, but usually one has to dig pretty deep to unearth that kernel. Al Gore is, well... he's Al Gore-- score him on the credibility index where you will.

Two new published pieces on clean coal examine the issue and are worth reading. One, in today's Wall Street Journal, sums up the clean coal conundrum thusly:

"Right now, clean coal seems both possible and improbable. The basic elements of clean coal are already in use in small corners of industry. But whether it is broadly and quickly adopted around the world will depend less on science than on economics. Cleaning coal is very expensive."

A more detailed, academic piece was published by the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday.

Below are the links to both... have a nice weekend and Go Louisville! (My pick to win the Tournament...):

Debating a 'Clean Coal' Future [Council on Foreign Relations]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

UC Campuses to Get Energy Makeover

Revenue bonds in California are starting to look and feel like stock options during the Tech Boom... they're ubiquitous. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the UC Board of Regets has approved a quarter billion program to improve energy efficiency at UC campuses, to be financed largely by revenue bonds.

Utilities will kick in $61 million, but the rest is coming out of proceeds from the new debt issuances. 900 energy efficiency programs will be undertaken at 9 out of the 10 UC Campuses. Projected savings from the program are 10% or $36 million.

On an unrealted note-- and not to beat a dead horse-- John Howard does a deep dive on CARB's Low Carbon Fuel Standard in Capitol Weekly this morning.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fusion Energy Not Far Off?

Not much commentary required on this one: the blog "News For Grownups" links to a video clip from Jim Lehrer's broadcast about the advances being made at Lawrence Livermore in fusion energy.

Believe the hype-- fusion energy is virtually limitless and carbon free. This is a clip well worth watching.

Tip 'o the hat to "News for Grownups."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sales of Hybrid Cars Free-Fall

It's no secret that the recession has taken its toll on car sales across the country. Consumers are not buying much of anything these days, especially new cars. But the Los Angeles Times reports that hybrids are a conspicuous blight on this grim landscape.

Just last summer you couldn't lay your hands on a Prius. Charging a premium for hybdrids has become standard practice, and when gas was touching $5 a gallon, people were lining up to buy them. Now, however, with gas back around $2 and the economy swooning, you can't give hybrids away.

According the Times, Toyota could barely maintain a 2 day national supply of Prius's last summer; currently there is an 80 day supply.

In a way, hybrids sales are a microcosm of the larger problem facing the Obama Administration as it tries to jam its energy agenda down the country's throat. The Times notes:

"In January, President Obama called on the industry to "thrive by building the cars of tomorrow" and prepare for federal and state regulations that could push average fuel economy above 40 miles per gallon by 2020."

At best, this seems like an ill-timed mandate; at worst it makes the new President look hopelessly out of touch with what is going on in the real world. With the auto industry reeling, urging companies to make more of a product they can't sell doesn't make business sense.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Edison Investing in Electric Cars

SoCalEd is spending more than $5 million a year on its electric car program which includes a fleet of 300 PHEV's and research into battery technology.

That electric cars a home run for utilities is well known-- they suck lots of power and they typically do so at night when excess capacity is greatest. But the real keys to the kingdom lies in advancing battery technology.

One of the most vexing problems historically for utilities is how to store power for later use. It's one of the biggest drawbacks of wind and solar power (after you get past the siting and transmission issue). If SoCalEd can literally build a better mousetrap in terms of battery storage, the technology has huge implications for the business as a whole.

USA Today has the larger story:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing?

Our old friend William Tucker is back in the news today with an oped in the Wall Street Journal that makes the case that controversy surrounding spent nuclear fuel rods and the Yucca Mountain nuclear graveyard is much ado about nothing.

Tucker is, of course, unabashed and unapologetic, in his advocacy for nuclear power. His piece in the Journal is essentially a response to Energy Secretary Steven Chu's testimony before Congress last week, in which the Secretary essentially pulled the plug on Yucca Mountain.

Tucker argues that spent nuclear rods can be fully reprocessed with the bulk of the uranium (U-238) going back into the ground where it is naturally occuring anyway, and the remaining fissionable material (U-235 and plutonium) being recycled into nuclear fuel or used for medical purposes in increasingly common nuclear medicine.

He argues that the entire spent fuel controversy was borne out of a fear of terrorists obtaining bomb-making material that goes back to the days of Presidents Ford and Carter.

I'm certain there are more than a few points in here that people can argue around the water cooler.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tranquillon Ridge: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

A couple of months ago, the unusual deal among local pols, oil interests, and environmental advocates that would have allowed new offshore drilling off of Santa Barbara, was killed by the sate. If you thought that was the last you would hear of it, you've got another think coming!

Timm Herdt's column in the Ventura County Star today reports on a major rift in the Democratic party that deal's demise has created.

Termed out Assemblyman Pedro Nava (who opposed Tranquillon Ridge) had a plan to engineer the transfer of his seat to his wife Susan Jordan. But influential environmentalists in the area, who bought into the Tranquillon Ridge deal after much soul searching and not a little risk, are not happy.

Enter Santa Barbara Councilman Das Williams was a Jordan supporter. Williams has opened an exploratory committee to look into a run against Jordan for Nava's Assembly seat.

Herdt notes:

"An immediate effect of the split is the decision by Santa Barbara City Councilman Das Williams to open an exploratory committee to run for the 35th Assembly District. Williams had previously pledged to endorse Susan Jordan, the wife of termed-out incumbent Pedro Nava.

Nava and Jordan opposed the deal, which would have allowed the first new drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel in 40 years in exchange for the oil company’s agreement to virtually shut down all oil production off the Santa Barbara coast by 2022 and close the oil processing facility in Gaviota.

The agreement was enthusiastically supported by such longtime anti-oil crusaders as the Environmental Defense Center and Get Oil Out, which saw it as the realization of their decades-long dream of ridding Santa Barbara of offshore oil rigs once and for all."

Another name being bandied about is Ventura City Councilman Bill Fulton.

Who ever would have thought that drilling for oil off the coast of Santa Barbara would have the issue that kept the Democratic party together?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Edison's Rate Hike Request Met With Protest

Everyone knew that Edison was going to ask the PUC to approve rate hikes in 2009 and 2010, but nobody predicted the economy would be this bad when those requests were actually made.

With Edison set to formally request the increases on Thursday, protestors are already lining up outside the company's headquarters.

Edison officials argue that the rate hikes will fund new capital projects that will create 38,000 jobs. Detractors argue that $100 a year added to a struggling family's bill is the wrong thing to do right now.

While the PUC has suggested a samller increase as a compromise, Edison is not backing down, citing the effect such a compromise would have on suppliers and contractors in its downline. Sounds like better talking points are in order.

Edison asks PUC for rate hike [San Gabriel Tribune]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Bright Spot for Solar

This blog has never been shy about pointing out the limitations of solar energy so it's only fair that we give equal time to one of its key benefits: excess capacity. Often, solar arrays produce more power than is actually needed.

Last year the PUC passed a "feed-in-tariff" that allows that excess power to be sold, but the tariff is more or less de minimis-- around $.08 kwh. Under the California Solar Initiative, individual users can use their excess power to zero out their bills, but that's it.

Now, there are three separate bills in Sacramento that seek to establish feed-in tariffs. AB 432 sees to set up a pilot project in Palm Desert, CA that establishes a feed-in tariff of between 26-32 cents kwh. SB 523 sets up a similar project in Santa Monica, CA. SB 32 proposes a feed-in tariff targeted more at large industrial users.

The ability to sell off excess power is good news for homeowners and commercial interests who have committed to solar, but the concept likely will be opposed by ratepayer advocate groups who believe that any additional costs incurred by utilities will be passed on to consumers.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Is Nuclear Back On The Table?

It was inevitable that the subject of increased reliance on nuclear power would come up again in light of the new Adminsitration's commitment to clean energy.

By now, everyone knows the dilemma posed by nuclear energy: on the one hand it is a viable, effective source of carbon-free energy that can easily meet our growing energy needs; on the other hand there is an almost archetypal fear of nuclear energy that stems form disaster like the Three Mile Island meltdown and--more importantly-- there is no good solution to the problem osed by spent nuclear rods, the "waste product" of nuclear generation.p

Already, nuclear power provides 15% of California's electricity supply (with just four reactors in operation: 2 at San Onofre and 2 at Diablo Canyon). Nuclear accounts for 20% of the national power supply and 75% of the nation's non-carbon electricity. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission currently is reviewing more than 30 applications for new nuclear reactor projects across the country, with several projects in the Southeast slated for completion.

But what to do about those spent fuel rods? Rods are currently stored on site at nuclear facilities but the much-maligned Yucca Mountain nuclear graveyard is the planned permanent home (or at least the home for the 100,00 years or so it will take for the rods to decay). Burying spent nuclear fuel 1,000 feet below the earth at Yucca Mountain is projected to cost $100 billion, but it has been deemed adequate to protect human health and the environment.

Environmentalists and the state of Nevada, where Yucca Mountain is located, disagree.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Emissions Waiver Battle? It's On...

The California Emissions Waiver was front and center yesterday at a public hearing. The Obama Administration, as has been widely reported, appears prepared to let California go its own way and enforce its own greenhouse gas limitations on vehicles, but automakers--already in dire financial straits-- are fighting back like wounded animals.

If California gets the waiver, it appears that as many as 13 other states will follow its lead, a coalition representing 37% of the vehicle sales.

According to the write-up in the San Jose Mercury News:

"One White House official told the Detroit News that "one national policy for autos would provide the industry with certainty while achieving our environmental and energy independence goals."
At the hearing, automakers and dealers sounded the same theme, calling for a single national standard. Granting the California waiver would raise costs, burden an industry facing failure and "undermine the opportunity to achieve a national standard," said Michael Stanton, representing international automakers.

But Mary Nichols, who chairs the state Air Resources Board, said she was wary of the push for a national standard because it could take a year or more, while the EPA is on track to decide the California request by May or June."

In a kind-of-related matter, both David Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle and Margot Rooselvelt in the Los Angeles Times took note of the fur that's flying over CARB's proposal to stack the deck against ethanol in favor of oil and other fossiel fuels in determining its Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Renewable Reality Check

Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Robert Bryce gives a sober does of reality to anyone willing to blindly accept President Obama's claims about doubling renewable energy output.

The piece doesn't come off as a slam on Obama and it doesn't discount the importance or necessity of renewable energy, rather it gives some much needed perspective to the debate.

Simply put, Bryce points out that even if we double renewables as the President claims he will do, it won't even amount to a rounding error in the overall energy picture.

Some highlights of the piece:

- "If Mr. Obama is only counting wind power and solar power as renewables, then his promise is clearly doable. But the unfortunate truth is that even if he matches Mr. Bush's effort by doubling wind and solar output by 2012, the contribution of those two sources to America's overall energy needs will still be almost inconsequential.

Here's why. The latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that total solar and wind output for 2008 will likely be about 45,493,000 megawatt-hours. That sounds significant until you consider this number: 4,118,198,000 megawatt-hours. That's the total amount of electricity generated during the rolling 12-month period that ended last November. Solar and wind, in other words, produce about 1.1% of America's total electricity consumption."

- "But the problem of scale means that these hydrocarbons just won't go away. Sure, Mr. Obama can double the output from solar and wind. And then double it again. And again. And again. But getting from 76,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day to something close to the 47.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day needed to keep the U.S. economy running is going to take a long, long time. "

The take-away from this piece should not be that pursuing an alternative energy policy is folly-- on the contrary, it is something that must (not should) do, but it is going to take a long time before we get where we need to be.

Let's Get Real About Renewable Energy [Wall Street Journal]

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

L.A. Gets a Gold (Energy) Star

Los Angeles has topped a lot of lists in its day-- often a dubious distinction, to say the least (smog, traffic, etc.) But now, along comes a blue ribbon that the City can actually be proud of.

The EPA has labeled LA the most energy efficient city in America (in terms of commercial real estate anyway) based on the number of Energy Star Certifications issued to buildings in the City.

According to the Times:

"The EPA awarded the most Energy Star ratings in the country last year to Los Angeles, where 262 buildings earned the agency's conservation designation. Energy Star buildings use at least 35% less energy than average buildings and emit 35% less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. "

San Francisco came in second nationally, followed by Houston; Washington; Dallas-Fort Worth; Chicago; Denver; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Atlanta; and Seattle.

L.A. tops rankings in energy efficiency [Los Angeles Times]

** Post Addendum: Even though there are still al ot of votes to be counted, it looks as if the Controversial Measure B in Los Angeles has been defeated.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Strange Bedfellows

I had to shut down the comment section of this blog because a handful of abusive posters took serious issue with my support for LNG as a solution to California's energy needs. After yesterday, I might have to re-open comments... my email inbox is absolutely BLOWING UP over the post about CARB's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (you guys know who you are)!

The best item to come over the transom yesterday was a link to this post on Town Hall, the conservative political forum.

The "Drill Baby Drill" crowd (of which I may or may not count myself a member...) has apparently called a truce with CARB and with Arnold because they actually like the fact that CARB is stacking the deck against biofuels in evaluating the LCFS.

In the real world, this would amount to sheer hypocrisy, but in the world of California public policy and politics, it's just another day at the office!

Monday, March 02, 2009

BONUS COVERAGE! More On CARB's Heavy Hand.. "Dear Governor..."

This seemed like an appropriate follow-up to this monring's post about CARB's take-no-prisoners approach to new carbon regulations:

According to the release:

"Biofuels are being wrongly penalized by the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) which requires oil companies to reduce the carbon sold in their fuels 10 percent by 2020. Under this proposal, all fuels are assigned a "carbon score" to reward the least carbon intensive fuels. But only biofuel is being singled out for so-called "indirect effects" thereby giving petroleum products a better carbon score and a competitive advantage. For drivers in California, it means they will be buying more dirty petroleum products and less of the cleaner renewable fuels."

At the heart of the issue for the scientists is a part of the carbon score methodology that stacks the deck against biofuels like cellulosic ethanol.

For biofuels, CARB includes an "indirect land use charge" that is absent for fossile fuels that are scored under the CARB system. This, the scientists argue, creates an unfair playing field and gives dirty, polluting fossile fuels an advantage.

I encourage you to resist the urge to say that ethanol (which has enjoyed something of a privileged playing field itself) has had it coming, becuase in this particular instance, the complaint against the land use charge seems legitimate.

CARB Piles On

Writing in the San Diego Union Tribune, Mchael Gardner looks at CARB's commitment to forging ahead with unprecedented global warming initiatives, which could mean more economic pain for businesses already feeling the crushing blow of the current recession.

In the past few weeks CARB has targeted everything from the production of microships to air conditioner maintenance. Now Gardner notes that:

"Among the measures under review: fees on gas-guzzling vehicles, taxes on energy producers, rebates for junking old refrigerators, automatic tire pressure checks during smog checks and oil changes, and cleaner fuels for home heating and cooling.

The agenda also includes the nation's first program to reduce the carbon content in transportation fuels, launching a business-friendly trading market for emission credits, and continuing the state's campaign to cut tailpipe emissions.

The 65 pending initiatives, when coupled with several others that have been adopted, could eliminate as much as 125 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually starting in 2020. With 33.5 million vehicles registered, the state estimates that cutting 1 million tons of emissions is equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road for a year. "

CARB responds to criticism that now is not the time by asking the disarmingly simple, but not necessarily welcome, question: "When is a good time?"