Monday, November 30, 2009

Solar Sparks Neighbor Wars

Despite all the government incentives to install solar, it just gets harder and harder to... install solar.

We know all about the potential roadblocks to large-scale solar installations-- conservationists, NIMBY's who block transmission lines, etc., but conventional wisdom has always been that it is easier to put up single-home rooftop solar arrays. Now the Los Angeles Times dispells that myth with a look at the increasingly common courtroom fights between Homeowners' Associations and individual property owners who want to go solar.

More and more, HOA's are trying to block solar panels on individual properties, primarily for aesthetic purposes. Homeowners are fighting back, armed witha 1978 law called the Solar Rights Act which seeks to safeguard a property owner's right to install solar.

Language similar to the Solar Rights Bill was written into the House version of energy legislation earlier this year, but it could be struck in conference...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Devel You Know...

PG&E's Diablo Canyon nuclear plant's operation license is set to expire in 2025. But PG&E isn't waiting to seek an extension. The company announced today that it will seek a 20 year extension from the Nuclear REgulatory Commission now. That would extend the life to 2045.

To put the 20 year extension in perspective, that is only 5 years longer than it took to build the reactor in the first place, which had to undergo years of earthquake testing.

Diablo Canyon is one of only two-- count 'em- tow nuclear plants in California. It produces enough energy to power 3 million homes each year.

PG&E Asks for 20 more years at Diablo Canyon [Pacific Coast Business Times]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pack Up The Moving Van

This is perhaps more a general economic commentary than an energy commentary, but because it involves a wind-energy start-up, I figure it's fair game for this space.

Windstream Technologies, Inc., is based in Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles. The company makes small wind turbines called "turbomills," designed for use in urban settings. At first glance, Windstream appears to be just another of the many entrepreneurial start-ups seeking to take advantage of California's commitment to alternative energy.

Then this: Windstream put out a press release today announcing that the company is moving, lock, stock, and barrel, to Indiana, where it will site its development and production factility, create 260 local jobs, and "invest millions."

Most troubling is this quote from company founder Dan Bates: "It was clear from our first discussions that Indiana is looking to become a leader in the green economy and WindStream is proud to be part of that positive effort..."

The implication is that California is NOT trying to become a leader in the green economy.

Indidana offered tax credits, training grants, and facility improvements.

We have no way of knowing what, if anything, California offered because the company doesn't say, but you have to believe that the company wouldn't leave the beach in Southern California for rural southeast Indiana if the offer had been even close.

Is California committed to a green energy economy or just to green energy?

Wind Energy Startup Moving to Indiana []

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Darker Side of SmartMeters

As if PG&E didn't have enough problems with SmartMeters...

David Baker's article in today's San Francicso Chronicle reveals yet another nasty feature to the new technology: they allow PG&E to shut off power to a home remotely. No sending out a technician, just flip a switch.

So, in these "brother, can you spare a dime" days, it's a lot easier to cut off someone's electricity for non-payment. Apparently that fact is not lost on PG&E because the number of low-income homes that were cut off grew by more than 27% in the twelve month period ending in August.

The obvious question is, "If your SmartMeter fouls up and jacks up your electric bill to stratospheric levels, leaving you unable or unwilling to pay the erroneous bill, will PG&E cut you off?" An impossible question to answer, but the fact remains the utility COULD do it very easily.

SmartMeters are turning into a PR nightmare for PG&E.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ignoring the Real Problems, State Will Now Regulate TV's

By now you've probably herd that the TV regulations passed on 5-0 vote. Starting in 2011, some marginally onerous rules kick in governing how much power your TV can draw, then in 2013, the regs go from being marginally onerous to really onerous.

Currently about 75 of the California TV market would meet the 2011 standards, but that percentage plummets for the 2013 standards.

On the one hand, it is good news that 58-inch TV's and larger are exempt, but on the other hand, you are clearly overcompensating for some definicancy in your life if you own a 58-inch TV.

The Consumer Electronics Associatioin still might sue over the matter, which would just further gum up the legal system. A lose-lose proposition.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Going In Different Directions

If you read the print edition of the Wall Street Journal, there is an interesting juxtaposition of articles that says a lot about energy in this country today.

On page B4 is an article by Rebecca Smith about the new trend among traditional power companies (AES, Duke, Progess Energy) to JV with, or seek financing from, China. In AES's case, the company recently sold a 15% stake in the company to the Chinese sovereign wealth fund.

Smith notes that, in 2011 and 2012, energy companies have $100 billion in debt coming due that needs to be refinanced and banks may or may not be lending on that scale, so China is a palatable option.

Another interesting point in the Smith article is a quote from Duke's Chief Technology officer that states that the Chinese can build a coal-gasification plant in three years when it takes Duke and other US companies six. Is that due to superior technology and resources or does it stem from the regulatory requirements heaped on US companies?

Now for the juxtaposition....

On the facing page, page B5, Jerry DiColo has a piece about solar panel manufacturers cutting out local distributors and setting up relationships with teams of installers in local markets to sell and promote its brands.

This represents an invesment in local American companies that is possible, no doubt, because the panel manufacturers don't have the crushing debt load coming due that large energy companies do, and because they can count on a stimulus-bump in panel consumption.

Either way, it's a fairly stark portrait of two sectors within the energy industry going in two different directions....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PG&E's SmartMeter Woes Spreading North

First it was Bakersfield, now it's the Bay Area. Consumers are not happy with the new PG&E SmartMeters.

The San Jose Mercury News reports receiving 30 complaints from consumers after its story about the unrest in Bakersfield. The Merc also notes that TURN is collecting complaints which means the advocacy group is actively engaged on the issue.

More on the Bay Area developments in the Merc:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Opposition to Ivanpah Comes Out of Its Shell

Last week we posted about the deal Brightsource (and its contractor Bechtel) cut with the unions to build the massive Ivanpah solar installation in San Bernardino County. At the time it seemed like all of the political prerequisites were in place (alternative energy, union jobs in a high unemployment areas, tax revenue, etc..) and that it would be smooth sailing for the project.

Not so fast says San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzvelt who is seeking to trump all of the aforementioned political assets with a turtle. Tortoise, actually-- lots of them. Desert tortoises.

In the latest manifestation of the clash between conservationists and alternative energy companies, Mitzfelt is arguing that the project will eat up too much invaluable habitat for the desert tortoise. He has the support of environmental groups.

Mitzfelt is also arguing that the revenue projections are specious becuase most of the economic benefit would go to Nevada and other parts of California.

Public hearings on the draft EIR are pending...stay tuned.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Was SMUD Ripped Off By Wall Street?

SMUD filed a lawsuite in yesterday in federal court alleging that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Merill Lynch defrauded the utility by riggin bids related to the muncipal derivatives that SMUD invested in over a 9 year period. In the aggreagate, SMUD did more than a billion dollars worth of these deals.

Essentially what happed was that SMUD took money raised through bond offerings and, before spending it on designated projects, invested that money in municipal derivatives. Those derivatives were hedged with another kind of derivative. Competitive bidding among the firms involved would get SMUD the best deal, but now SMUD smells a rat and it is going after the Wall Street firms.

At least 6 other city and county governments around the country are filing similar suits.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Look For the Union Label

Bechtel the general contactor on Brightsource's massive Ivanpah solar energy pant in San Beranrdino County, near the Nevada state line, has cut a deal with the unions reports Leslie Berkman of the Riverside Press Enterprise.

According to the Building and Construction Trades Council of Calfornia, the 440 MW facility will generate $250 million in union wages and 4 million man hours of work in an area that has been hit even harder than most of the rest of the country by the recession (current unemployment is 14.2%).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When It Comes to T-Ridge, Too Much Is Never Enough!

The offshore drilling saga that is Tranquillon Ridge simply refuses to die. The project, which was killed by the State Lands Commission in January, could have new life, thanks to John Garamendi's election to Congress.

The erstwhile Lieutenant Governor and ardent foe of offshore drilling, cast the deciding "no" vote on the commission, but he's gone now, and it is largely expected that Arnold will appoing a new Lt. Gov who is pro-drilling, thus swaying a potential vote in PXP's favor.

The Ventura County Star has all the details, but the net-net is that PXP can re-submit an application for T-Ridge and it won't even have to do a new EIR because the last one is still fresh. Things could proceed very quickly.

Pedro Nava, perhaps the most outspoken foe of drilling in general and T-Ridge in particular, has vowed to fight the nomination of whomever Arnold names, in an effort to stall the process until Arnold gets out of office.

For more on the scenario, check out the Star's write-up:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tell It To The Judge

A few weeks ago, we told you about the widespread public anger over PG&E's Smartmeter program. Then we told you about PG&E stepping up to bail out the solar industry by agreeing to an Arnold-brokered deal to increase the amount of power taken through net-metering to 3.5%.

Well PG&E is back in the news for its Smartmeter program-- this time as the defendant in a class action lawsuit brought by a Bakersfield man who saw his bill double.

The company is fighting the suit. Details are in David Baker's write-up in the San Francisco Chrnicle:

Monday, November 09, 2009

Speaking Up for Nuclear

Westinghouse Electric CEO Aris Candris published an oped in today's Wall Street Journal that, in making the case for more nuclear power, seeks to address every possible anti-nuclear argument. It also wraps itself in the political mantle of Barack Obama and embraces the political catch-phrase du jour-- job creation.

Dr. Candris (whose company builds nuclear power plants) sees an economic windfall for Westinghouse and he is putting on the full court press.

The line of argument basically goes like this:

- Electricity deman is projected to grow 21% by 2030;

- There is a national mandate to use more renewables;

- Barack likes nuclear and Barbara Boxer's and John Kerry's Senate bill provides federal loan guarantees to fund new nuclear plants;

- Nuclear means new jobs in engineering and design, and lots more in construtction;

- The French have figured out how to recycle spent nuclear fuel rods.

Conclusion: "What's the problem?"

Here's the link to the oped:

Friday, November 06, 2009

Go Fly A Kite!

And from the news of the weird file, I commend to your attention, David Baker's piece in the San Francisco Chronicle today. (I suspect Baker had some fun with this one.)

Adding a new twist to wind energy, several companies have come out with prototype generators that seek to capitalize on high altitude wind, which is more reliable than wind patterns closer to the ground.
These efforts are, depending on your point of view, entrepreneurial, innovative, or just plane strange, but they include a giant kite, a massive inflatable ball, a skeltal, unmanned "helicopter," and a serpent.

Each would be tethered to the ground and float 1,000 feet or more (in the case of the helicopter thingy, Baker notes it could go as high as 24,000 feet), and transmit power to the ground via cables.

The need for "no fly zones" seems obvious, and that these inventions would have great difficulty transmitting power 24,000 feet to the ground and then who-knows-how-far to get the power into the grid, seems even more obvious.

However, such technology might be viable for isolated, remote areas such as mining camps and towns in the middle of nowhere.

Before I sound too snarky, I'll invoke the old business school cliche that "there are no bad ideas in brainstorming" so we'll give these inventors an "A for effort" and take a (long) wait and see position as to the viability of their technologies.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Watching TV Is Still Ok

There is a great scene in the neo-fraternity classic movie Old School, where the sycophantic assistant to the college Dean informs his boss that efforts to kick a rowdy fraternity off campus have been derailed because, "The thing is sir, they are very good at paperwork."

The same could be said of the Consumer Electronics Association which managed to postpone the CEC's vote on new regulations governing the kind of TV's Californians can watch in their homes.

The CEA availed itself of its right to use darn near every second of the 45 day public comment period for the regulations and submitted a 91 page brief to the CEC just five minutes before the period closed at 5 pm yesterday. The result? No vote, while the CEC sifts through the submission.

Additionally, 26 other comments were received yesterday by the CEC which could further slow the process.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Toyota To Roll Out Innovative New EV Charging Stations

In advance of the launch of the plug-in version of the Prius, Toyota is getting into the electric vehicle charging station business.

The company has announced plans to roll out individual charging 100-200 volt charging stations that will be anchored to telephone polls.

Two interesting features about these stations: 1) The stations will be the first to be solar powered, and 2) the stations communicate with a central computer that will authorize user access, thus giving Toyota a way to monetize the service by making it subscription based or perhaps even "pay as you go."

Nissan has also announced plans to roll out EV charging stations, as it too is preparing to launch a new electric vehicle next year.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Other Side Weighs In On The TV Saga

Last week we noted the absurdity of CARB's proposed regulation that would require metallic window glazing on cars (glazing that would impair GPS, cell phone, and other devices). Today we revisit the CEC's absurd proposed regualtion to ban some flat panel TV's in California.

Gary Shapiro is the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which means he is a paid flack for the people who make and sell the TV's CEC wants to ban. We mention that for transparency. It's no secret where Shapiro's allegiance lies. That said, his oped in the San Francisco Chronicle makes a lot of very good points that-- regardless of the messenger-- need to be stated:

- The average flat panel tv uses less energy than two 75 watt lightbulbs.

- The proposed regulation, according to one study, will cost California $47 million in lost tax revenue and 4,000 jobs.

- The 700 models that would be banned for sale in California, can still be purchased on the Internet from out of state suppliers, which means people will just buy them online rather than in a local store, thus sending the money out of state.

- According to a Zogby poll, the majority of Californians are against the measure, and the majority of Californians believe government has no business picking someone's TV for them.

Read the entire oped at: TV energy regulations will harm innovation [San Francisco Chronicle]

Monday, November 02, 2009

Solar Schools

The key to building grassroots support for any issue is public education. PG&E is taking that seriously when it comes to solar energy and is going back to school-- literally.

Through the "Solar Schools" program, the company has spent more than $8 million on a 125 schools in California, outfitting them with 1.3 KW solar arrays sufficient to power school operations, handing out "Bright Idea" grants, and working with the National Energy Education Development Project on school currculum about solar energy.

The Bright Ideas grants are $10,000 prizes awared to teachers and amisnistrators in fiver areas: educational solar projects, youth environmental programs, science-related field trips, "green your school" projects, and professional/workforce development programs.