2/24/10: some news from Maine

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Maine roundup for today

The announced closure of the Bumble Bee sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor continues to be troubling. 128 jobs to be lost. Governor Baldacci says the state will help find a new business, and could designate the cannery as a Pine Tree Zone, allowing the new owner to be exempt from 80% percent of its employee tax withholding for the next 10 years.

Tissue manufacturer Lincoln Paper and Tissue forecasts 2010 as a moderately successful period of no major investments or substantial new hiring. LP&T's CEO Keith Van Scotter has considered switching the fuel for its steam boilers from No. 2 heating oil to natural gas, but can't do so without help from state or federal government.

Landfill gas to energy: the City of Old Town, University of Maine, and Casella Waste Management have requested $3 million in federal stimulus funding to construct a 6-mile gas pipeline allowing gas from the Juniper Ridge Landfill (operated by Casella on behalf of the state) to flow to the steam plant at the university. Phase I consists of building the pipeline and upgrading the steam plant, and would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Phase II involves building an electricity generating facility connected to the landfill by a second pipeline. These plans are tied into the nascent Maine Green Energy Alliance, an entity owned by Casella that aims to generate electricity and sell it directly to participating municipalities like Old Town. Landfill gas remains somewhat contentious, with some opposing the project on environmental and fiscal policy grounds.

Maine does have experience with the Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden, also operated (and owned) by Casella. The $10 million Pine Tree Landfill gas project commenced operation in 2008, and is projected to produce enough methane gas to power up to 3,000 homes for 15 years or more. In 2009 a similar project was launched at the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock.

Bangor Daily News editorial yesterday lauding Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative (EMEC) for its customer-oriented culture and low prices, noting that the customer-owned utility cut power prices by 10% last year. The editorial is careful not to bash investor-owned utilities, but hints that their profit-to-shareholder motives may result in worse rates or service than customers can get from coops like EMEC.


Bloom boxes unveiled. Lots of buzz still, relatively few details. We have learned that commercial-scale units cost $700,000 to $800,000, and that five Bloom Energy Servers deployed by EBay last July produce electricity to power space for 2,000 to 3,000 employees and cut eBay's power bill by $100,000 so far. Interestingly, EBay uses natural gas as the fuel, but plans to convert to landfill gas soon.

Iberdrola anticipates profit growth over the next three years.

The Senate continues to wrestle with the carbon bill, with carbon pricing remaining as the sticking point. Cap and trade? Cap and dividend? Carrot and stick?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Schork Report predicts gasoline will break $3 per gallon by summer.

US DOE has updated its website listing energy-efficient appliance rebate programs available through state implementations of the Energy Star label.

The Obama administration approved $1.37 billion in federal loan guarantees to help build the world's largest solar power complex in California. The Department of Energy has offered to backstop the loans of BrightSource Energy, the developer of three proposed solar-energy plants in the Mojave desert. If completed, the three BrightSource projects could power 140,000 homes, and nearly double the amount of solar power generated in the United States. Despite a recent scale-back to address environmental concerns, the Ivanpah Valley project is still budgeted at 392 MW. BrightSource estimates that construction will employ about 1,000 people, with operation creating 86 permanent jobs. Bechtel, the engineering and construction contractor for the project, signed a project labor agreement in December 2009 with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC) and the Building & Construction Trades Council of San Bernardino and Riverside counties to secure benefits to the local workforce from the project. The project is estimated to provide $400 million in tax revenues to state and local government, and produce $650 million in wages, over the next 30 years. The project will come online in 2012 and 2013.

Worth noting: US Secretary of Energy Chu's Facebook page, focused at the moment on "why we need nuclear".

Bloom boxes still buzzing.

More fallout and analysis of Google's approval for market-based rate authority (MBRA) from FERC. Donald Campbell of Pitt News suggests that Google secured MBRA so it could more effectively buy green power: "Combined with some offshoot ventures previously spawned by Google, energy trading can assist Google in increasing the amount of energy it consumes from renewable sources." Other sources note that Google doesn’t intend to resell energy, but to procure power only for its own use to help it manage energy costs as a whole. Interestingly this 2/22 interview with Google's "green energy czar" Bill Weihl doesn't mention MBRA as a strategy.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Edward G. Rendell has released over $5 million in funding for 13 new solar energy projects (link to Governor's office DOC). Thes projects are receiving funds from the $650 million Alternative Energy Investment Fund that Rendell signed in 2008. They were approved for funding by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

Entergy, operator of the leaking Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, has apparently admitted that there have been prior tritium leaks into groundwater its reactor, including one in 2005.


Monday, February 22, 2010

As expected, the federal Surface Transportation Board has received the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway's notice of intent to abandon 233 miles of track in Maine, from Madawaska to Millinocket. Even though this line serves about 20 industrial freight customers, the Railway says it has been losing $4 million to $5 million a year through operating the lines because freight revenue has fallen. The typical freight shipped on the line includes lumber, plywood, logs and wood chips have fallen, all of which are in low demand given the slump in the housing market. If the rail is abandoned, it could cost 750 jobs as increased transportation costs would lead the region's manufacturers to scale back production.

Iran is choosing sites for uranium enrichment plants, claiming it wants civil nuclear power, not weapons.

Distributed generation gets a policy boost, with a finding that widely-adopted rooftop solar might be easier to develop than utility-scale solar arrays, due to the challenges of siting larger projects.

Much buzz today over Bloom boxes, distributed fuel cell arrays about to be announced. Bloom Energy, which raised $400 million in venture capital, holds a press conference on Wednesday at which it is expected to unveil its products. Interestingly, Google already has a 400 kW array in beta-testing operation.

Speaking of Google, FERC granted Google's market-based rate authorization. As someone who works with FERC's market-based rate structure, having filed a number of petitions myself, it is interesting to me to see how the media reports this: as enabling Google to purchase low-cost power. Surely we all want to purchase low-cost power -- what would it take to enable us all to purchase power at market-based rates? Most people would qualify -- no market power, etc.

Some question whether Energy Star really means much for appliance efficiency.

The administration's pro-nuclear news of last week continues to resonate, as Texas evaluates whether proposed new reactors there will receive similar government support.

Six Maine school and university oil-to-wood heating projects will receive more than $3.2 million in federal Recovery Act funds managed by the Maine Forest Service. The Presque Isle office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension was awarded $16,575 for installation of a pellet boiler to replace the current oil boiler, displacing 1,850 gallons of fuel oil. (The existing boiler is around 10 years old -- are we incenting inefficient replacement of newer equipment while older, less efficient facilities remain?) Overall this project costs an estimated $40,169, with the remainder of the project funded by the Maine Economic Improvement Fund. Regional School Unit 29 in Houlton was awarded $750,000 for conversion of an oil boiler to a wood chip boiler at Houlton High School, displacing 65,000 gallons of the 85,000 gallons of fuel oil used annually by the district. The district uses about 85,000 gallons of oil a year, according to the superintendent. Here, the district will keep its oil boiler, but will rely on the new boiler for heating. Other winners are Oxford Hills High School, the Greenville School Department, Phillips Middle School and Poland Middle-High School. Maine Forest Service Director Alec Giffen said the six projects collectively “will annually avoid the burning of almost 263,000 gallons of oil, recirculate $600,000 in fuel dollars in the Maine economy, and avoid more than 5 million pounds of emissions from fossil fuels.”

More Maine stimulus: EECBG grants to central Maine communities.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Since transportation is such a large part of our energy consumption, transportation policy has implications on energy policy. Rail service can provide low-cost, low-carbon transportation for a variety of raw materials and products. That's why the Maine legislature is considering a proposal for $20 million in bonds to enable the state to purchase 240 miles of the Millinocket to Madawaska line. Word on the street is that its owner Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad will begin the legal process to abandon the tracks as early as this week. If abandoned, this would eliminate rail service to about 20 companies, including some of northern Maine's largest employers.

More offshore tidal power! Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power is deploying its 60 kW underwater Turbine Generator Unit (TGU). (Note that 60 kW will make this the largest ocean energy device deployed in U.S. waters. You can see we have a long way to go.) This unit will be deployed on March 2 about 25 feet below the surface at a site off Shackford Head near Eastport (acme map). Tidal power captured by the underwater turbines will be stored in batteries on the barge, which are then shuttled back and forth by boat to the Coast guard -- what they're calling a "virtual transmission line". How efficient can that be?

Although the project has the capacity to power 20 homes, Ocean Renewable does not have its pilot-project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and thus cannot interconnect.

How about jobs? While spending about $5 million in the past year, Ocean Renewable has grown from 4 to 17 Maine-based employees, and has created or retained another 80 jobs total at companies around the state, including Stillwater Metalworks.

An article about citizen opposition to wind farms is interesting for a variety of reasons -- both its good summary of recent actions that can be seen as limiting wind generation, and the fact that it does not appear to be spurred by any particular event.

On the local level: Central Maine Power and Rockland are in a fight over tree trimming. Reminds me of the situation in Warren when MDOT widened Route 1.

Nationally: agreement has been reached on the removal of four dams on the Klamath, three in Oregon and one in California. Shades of Edwards Dam and the Fort Halifax Dam in Maine.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More information on the DOE nuclear loan guarantees: the US will guarantee $8.3 billion of the $14 billion Plant Vogtle development spearheaded by the Southern Company -- and the developers are still saying they are exposed to risks from private financing for the rest. DOE is reportedly looking at three more sites: Unistar's third reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland; a troubled San Antonio, Texas project, facing rising cost estimates and a lawsuit filed by San Antonio's municipal utility against its partner in the project, NRG; and the joint Scana Corporation and Santee Cooper proposal near Jenkinsville, S.C.

An interesting take by Michael Northrup: there is a clean energy gold rush, but the US is being left behind. We have only one out of the top 10 wind manufacturers (General Electric) and only two of the top 10 solar manufacturers (First Solar and Sun Power, both of whom actually make stuff overseas). An interesting tie to Habib Dagher's vision that the opportunities for renewables lie not only in having installed capacity, but in manufacturing the equipment needed for development. Under this model, your production is not limited by your local demand, but rather the global market -- meaning we can import dollars into the country (or our states) from abroad, resulting in a net increase of the pie.

Solar news: NV Energy and NextLight Renewable Power, LLC announced a 25-year power purchase agreement for power from NextLight's Silver State Solar Power photovoltaic plant. This 50 MW project located near Primm, NV should see groundbreak by the end of 2010, employing 230 construction workers and coming online in May 2011. The specific terms of the power purchase agreement were not disclosed, but we do know that the long-term agreement stems from NV Energy's 2009 Request for Proposals for renewable energy and requires approval by Nevada's Public Utilities Commission.

In Maryland, some are pushing for property-assessed energy efficiency loans, and increased incentives for solar. Maine faces a similar proposal in the form of LD 1717.

In Connecticut, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd calls for rebuilding the Kleen Energy plant that recently exploded while under construction.

$14 million in stimulus grants to Maine ports (Searsport, Eastport, Portland), stated as supporting "green cargo" like wind turbine parts.

Diesel from algae? DARPA says yes, and that it will be cost-competitive with true fossil fuel.

$9 million loan program to retool the old Ethan Allen furniture factory in Island Pond, Vermont, into a pellet factory.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Northern Maine Community College has decided to test its potential for wind generation. The College will install a meterological tower on the north end of campus to collect data on wind speed and direction. While it's unclear whether a tower at NMCC would cut the College's costs, it does dovetail nicely with NMCC's renewable and wind curriculum.

Meanwhile, President Obama has announced $8 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power. The loan guarantees will help build two new nuclear reactors at an existing plant in Burke, Georgia. Statistics on the project include generation of power for 1.4 million people, 3,500 on-site construction jobs and approximately 800 permanent operations jobs.

2010 Climate Summit

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blogging live from http://www.2010climatesummit.org/ ...

Fire struck a house in Gardiner, Maine today. An unattended wood stove appears likely to be implicated...

Portland Press Herald reports that The Friends of Highland Mountain held a press conference in opposition to former Maine Governor Angus King's Highland Wind LLC 48-turbine wind development near the Bigelow Range public reserve land.

Maine's Office of Energy Independence and Security reports average oil prices of $2.69 per gallon, ranging from $2.36/gal in southwestern Maine to $2.90/gal in eastern Maine.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Following up on the old elm tree "Herbie" that recently died in Yarmouth, Maine: turns out Herbie was 217 years old. It will be interesting to see what Herbie's growth rings show about how the climate in Maine has changed since 1793.

Here's a logic puzzle for you. Maine : "Saudi Arabia of wind" :: Texas : ________? How about "net loser of jobs in a clean energy economy"? A study by Navigant Consulting commissioned by the renewable-energy group RES Alliance for Jobs, concludes that a federal renewable energy standard of 25% renewable by 2025 would lead to 274,000 new jobs nationwide -- but that under current state policies on renewable energy, Texas would lose jobs while other states like California would be the big winners.

The Obama administration is pushing biofuels. The administration has renewed its commitment to getting the country to produce (and use) 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, a goal originally set by Congress in 2007.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Did you know that Maine is the "Saudi Arabia of forestry"? That's the word Governor Baldacci is spreading after his meeting with President Obama yesterday. Good for Maine, since we're also the "Saudi Arabia of wind". Saudi Arabia may have the largest proven reserves of oil, but Canada is second -- so what is Maine the "Canada of"? Are we the "Iraq of ocean energy" (fourth)? How about the "Kazakhstan of hydro" (eleventh)? (Definitely not.)

I get a kick out of some of the comments on yesterday's BDN story about First Wind's test towers on Bowers Mountain, like the satirical "Maine cedes the Northeast to First Wind". Check out the comment from 2/3/10 at 7:52 AM by "deanhornblower":
Maine cedes the Northeast to First Wind
...State of Firstwindiana
Governor: Matt Kearns

Statehood: Created in 2010 as "Emergency" legislation by the Maine Legislature

Boundaries: Penobscot River to the Canadian border, from the northern shores of the Grand Lakes of Eastern Maine to Southern Aroostook.

Capitol: Prentiss, centrally located and in honor of Stetson I: "where the revolution began"

State Flag: GE 1.5 MW turbine on a "green" background

State Bird: Clubbed and Mangled Bald Eagle

State Animal: Barotraumatized Bat

State Tree: Whatever is left standing after being run over by a H C Haynes skidder

State Song: "We're in the Money"

State Motto: "Big Wind, Big Lie, Forever!"

Not my words folks, nor is any of it true, but I suspect many (other than First Wind) will find it funny.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the Obama administration continues to speak of "caps" on carbon emissions.

2/3/10: wind in the news in Maine and Nova Scotia

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

First Wind is considering developing another wind site in Maine, this time on Bowers Mountain in Carroll Plantation. First Wind is already Maine's largest wind operator, with 42 MW at Mars Hill and 57 MW online at Stetson Mountain sites -- plus 26 more MW at Stetson II coming online this spring, and DEP approval secured for a proposed 51 MW project in Oakfield. Next steps include compiling the data from the three test towers on the site, and engaging in a dialogue with the people living in the area. If you look at the map of Bowers Mountain, you can see that it's north of the Grand Lakes system, just south of Route 6, about halfway between Lincoln and the Canadian border at Vanceboro. From satellite photos, the area seems to have been mostly cut over relatively recently.

Wind's the thing today in Atlantic Canada, with reports that Bangor Hydro's parent Emera (also owner of Nova Scotia Power) has gobbled up the remaining shares of the Digby, NS wind project -- 20 turbines, with a 20-year power purchase agreement with Nova Scotia Power. Emera projects that the generators will be online by the end of 2010 and will produce enough energy to serve 10,000 homes. Nova Scotia Power also has a stake in two other wind projects being developed in Nova Scotia: a 49% interest in the Point Tupper project on the southwest tip of Cape Breton Island, and the entire Nuttby Mountain project in the Cobequid Mountains.

Maine's Governor Baldacci has traveled to Washington, DC to meet with President Obama and ten other governors on energy issues. His stated priorities include deepwater offshore wind and other ocean energy technologies, residential weatherization, and the potential for a federal climate change bill. Meanwhile, state representative Alexander Cornell du Houx, a young military veteran, has made his own trip to DC to work on energy issues.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A nuclear renaissance? President Obama's proposed $28.4 billion budget request for the Department of Energy includes a lot of nuclear power, of both utility and military natures. On the power side, as part of an emphasis on a clean energy economy, the budget includes expanded loan guarantees and incentives for up to 10 new nuclear reactors. As Secretary Chu put it, "This budget supports new approaches to energy research and invests in the next generation of scientists and engineers, and it will spark new clean energy projects nationwide, including restarting the American nuclear power industry." Is whether nuclear power is "clean" still considered controversial? On the military side, the budget proposal speaks of "deterrents", with over $1 billion for a combination of nuclear nonproliferation and weapons development.

As the nation's largest energy consumer, the federal government is trying to cut its energy costs too. President Obama has called for federal agencies to trim greenhouse gas emissions by 28% by 2020 - a reduction in federal energy use of 646 trillion BTUs, and up to $11 billion in costs - although some costs will be required to achieve this savings.

Veolia has completed its divestiture of waste-to-energy plants in the USA, selling the Miami-Dade contract to Covanta.

In Maine, the PUC has approved the installation of smart meters by CMP, the state's largest utility. These meters can be read remotely, which is estimated to save ratepayers $25 million over 20 years -- in addition to enabling time-of-use and other smart grid solutions.

Also in Maine: Maine Liquid Methane Fuels LLC won approval from the Brewer Planning Board last night for its plan to develop Maine's first liquid methane fuels energy plant. The proposed $50 million facility will connect to the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, liquefy natural gas, and load it into trucks for distribution. The idea is that where demand density for gas isn't high enough to support pipe distribution of gas, trucks can be an efficient way to get relatively inexpensive gas to consumers. We will see in 2011, when the Brewer plant is slated to begin operations.


Monday, February 1, 2010

From the turning death into science department: Herbie, the ancient elm tree that stood for over 200 years in Yarmouth, Maine, is being studied by dendrochronologists and dendroclimatologists. Herbie was the tallest elm in New England at 110' in height. Through the care of Yarmouth's 101 year-old tree warden, Frank Knight, Herbie survived 14 bouts of Dutch elm disease, and finally succumbed this year. Now that Herbie lives no more, my friend Pete Lammert of the Maine Forest Service and others are taking slices from the trunk for study of growth rates, which could shed light on Yarmouth's historic climate. Discoveries are already coming in: it now appears that Herbie grew in the shade -- likely in the wild -- for 10 to 20 years before being transplanted to its ultimate location. If this is confirmed, it will mean Herbie lived for 235 to 240 years, having sprouted before the Revolution.