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.

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