Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Second Front in the Climate Change War

Some sobering global warming commentary from UC San Diego scientists puts Cap & Trade in perspective.

According to the scientists, the preoccupation with CO2 is all well and good, but none of our carbon suppression efforts will save the earth from catostrophic events like melting ice sheets-- that train has left the station.

Instead, the scientists argue that we should be focusing on "fast action strategies" that target other pollutants like low level ozone, methane, soot, and hydrofluorocarbons. If we make a dent in these pollutants, then we can avoid the "tipping point" of a global 3.6 degree warm-up, which supposedly has apocalyptic implications.

More noise amid the cacophony of voices that is the climate change debate, or a game-changing environmental strategy? You decide...

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 [Insideinidianabusiness.com]

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....