Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's a record: 11 inches of rain in Portland, Maine this March. The Portland Press Herald has some nice pictures of the effects of the Colcord Pond dam breach I mentioned yesterday. In Rhode Island, the flooding is bad enough -- 12 feet over the banks of the Pawtuxet River -- to greatly constrain the capacity of the Warwick wastewater treatment plant.

President Obama will announce more offshore oil drilling off the East Coast. Meanwhile oil prices are on the rise.

On Monday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $37.5 million in funding for the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, a virtual campus located at existing research sites in both countries. The Center will focus on energy efficiency, clean vehicles and carbon capture from coal-fueled power plants -- something China has a lot of.

A panel of British lawmakers investigating the "climategate" leaked email scandal have labeled British climate change research as "damaged" by the incident. The 59-page report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee says that climate change research must become more transparent.

In California, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center will start generating 10% of its power needs through 15 MW of solar photovoltaic arrays. Kaiser has entered into power purchase agreements with Recurrent Energy, who will own and operate the solar panels and sell the power to Kaiser, while Kaiser will retain the rights to the renewable energy credits. Meanwhile other projects in California are in a permitting backlog, jeopardizing their chances at earning the 30% cash grant in lieu of investment tax credit, which requires ground to be broken this year.

The Los Angeles City Council has backed a much smaller rate hike than proposed by Mayor Villaraigosa: 0.1-cent increase per kilowatt-hour in the rates paid by residential and commercial customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, with the initial money to go toward establishing a trust fund for renewable-energy production and energy efficiency.

Wisconsin wants in on the manufacturing associated with renewable deployment.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A brief note on a pet issue: dam breaches. With all the rain we've been getting, the Colcord Pond breached its dam in Porter, Maine this morning. Reports are that the water flowed out, down through Bickford Pond, and covered Route 25 under 24" of water.

Who's next to consider a short-term moratorium on wind turbines? Eddington, even though there are no projects proposed there. (Montville was the last town to adopt a moratorium.)

Who wants a gold rush? Apparently there's gold in them thar hills near Malartic, Quebec -- some say as much as 9 million ounces of ore. Point of reference: Malartic is about 6 hours northwest of Montreal.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The big news in this corner of the continent is that Hydro-Quebec and New Brunswick Power have canceled their proposed deal. Details are still coming out, but key factors include the radical unpopularity of the deal in NB -- with some reports of as low as 8% of New Brunswickers supporting the deal -- and "increased costs and risk" for HQ. More to follow for sure.

In Maine legislative news:
The Utilities and Energy Committee has voted out an amended version of LD 1810, the Ocean Energy Task Force bill. This bill, proposed by Governor Baldacci's Ocean Energy Task Force, underwent a significant scaling back during the committee process, largely due to concerns over impacts to electric ratepayers. The Task Force, whose members included former Central Maine Power utility chief David Flanagan, was told to propose legislation that would remove obstacles to building 5000 MW of offshore and coastal wind and tidal energy in Maine. The result was a bill that included mandates to overbuild transmission, loosen the standards for the PUC's approval of transmission lines, have ratepayers finance generator lead lines, and expose all ratepayers to rates of up to 25 cents per kWh in order to pay for long-term contracts for ocean energy. Through extensive questioning by legislators and stakeholder involvement, the result is a dramatically scaled-back bill voted out of the Committee unanimously this evening. As voted out, the amended bill eliminates much of the the pro-transmission prejudices embodied in the original bill, and the provisions that would have had ratepayers backstop generator lead lines. The Committee also transformed an ocean energy RFP process that would have exposed ratepayers to potentially significant cost increases into a voluntary "ocean energy standard offer". This is a good result that will empower Maine's renewable energy industry and economy, without inappropriately exposing ratepayers to costs and risk.

When dam owner FPL Energy got approval to remove its Fort Halifax dam and hydroelectric station on the Sebasticook River in Winslow, Maine, many people voiced concerns ranging from bad energy policy (why remove clean hydro when we're doing all we can to install more renewable capacity?) to bankside erosion causing damage to houses. The naysayers were right about the erosion; yesterday, the town completed its $725,000 buyout and demolition project of the six houses on Dallaire Street that were in peril of falling into the river.

Central Maine Power's $1.6 billion MPRP transmission project runs into new trouble: the Sierra Club says the MPRP will harm wetlands.


Monday, March 22, 2010

A small fire broke out inside a trash shredder at the Biddeford, Maine waste-to-energy plant Maine Energy Recovery Company (MERC). Perhaps the energy content of the fuel was just bursting to be set free.

Remember the battle over whether the Fort Halifax dam and its associated hydroelectric generating capacity on the Sebasticook River in Winslow, Maine should be removed? The 100-year-old dam was breached in July 2008 after lengthy debate and legal proceedings. , In essence, dam owner FPL Energy Maine Hydro (formerly Florida Power & Light, now NextEra) found itself burdened by a fish passage requirement imposed during the Edwards Dam removal proceedings. Under the Kennebec Hydro Developers Group Agreement (or the KHDG Agreement), FPL found itself either required to breach the dam or install a particular fish passage technology. FPL elected to breach the dam. Many people, including state representative Ken Fletcher of Winslow, opposed this decision, arguing that FPL's choice would have dire environmental and cost consequences, and that it was bad policy in light of the overall push for more renewable capacity. Representative Fletcher has now filed a document with the Maine DEP demonstrating costs to taxpayers of between $950,000 and $1.6 million. Key cost components include: $114,997 for the town's share of replacing a sewer line exposed after breach, $30,375 in costs for title and survey work over and above the value the town recovered by selling formerly submerged lands, $800,000 more than previously estimated to replace the Mile Brook Bridge on Garland Road due to erosion, , and $725,396 to demolish six homes on an unstable riverside slope on Dallaire Street.

The "energy corridor" bill in Maine was voted Ought to Pass as Amended by the Joint Standing Committee on Utilities and Energy. Among the issues are how Maine should regulate high-impact transmission lines connecting the massive hydroelectric capacity of Hydro-Quebec to southern New England markets, given that these lines will affect Maine's costs and strategic energy position.

The AP is covering a story about a California water district's proposed use of 47 square miles of poorly-managed farmland -- land that due to bad water use is now very salty -- for a solar photovoltaic farm of up to one gigawatt.

Who wants free money? $1.3 million in energy grants through Efficiency Maine to Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle, Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, Kennebec Community College in Augusta and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. $2 million in grants for water projects too.

Wind siting: Thorndike voters approved the siting ordinance. Fort Kent votes tonight.


Friday, March 19, 2010

The board of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power approved the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor, a multicomponent rate hike that includes Mayor Villaraigosa's carbon tax. This will add $30 per year to residentials' electric bills, and will increase business rates by 20%. Proceeds will be spent on energy efficiency.

What's new in federal energy/climate legislation? Kerry-Graham-Lieberman grows more detailed, allegedly through leaks after the closed-door session with industry (read: energy) leaders. Here's a good summary from ClimateProgress.org.

Maine energy efficiency programs in the news: a good Kennebec Journal article on how Efficiency Maine is using the $9 million in federal stimulus money that it received to award performance-based rebates of up to $3,000 for residential weatherization and efficiency measures.

A well-written Bangor Daily News article on the proposed Thorndike wind siting ordinance that goes before the annual town meeting this weekend. Other towns are also considering what they should do to regulate towers.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

As Maine considers its energy future, there are many concerns about Hydro-Quebec, and what will happen if we allow our powerful northern neighbor to build transmission lines connecting their nearly limitless hydropower with New England markets.

Thorndike voters will pass judgment on a proposed wind turbine siting ordinance, including a one-mile setback and noise regulations. Two companies have proposed projects on a ridge extending through Thorndike and into Dixmont and Jackson.

The Dallas (TX) Morning News reports that China is enacting protectionist measures to ensure that China, not the US, will manufacture the components needed for the massive anticipated build-out of wind generation in Asia and worldwide.

Los Angeles mayor Villaraigosa has proposed a significant new tax on electricity, with the proceeds going to a newly-created Renewable Energy and Efficiency Trust Fund, to pay for new conservation programs and a solar feed-in tariff. Everyone's bill will go up by 9% to 28%, with the brunt of the tax falling on business and industrial energy consumers. LA has set a 20% RPS by the end of 2010.

What's going on with federal energy and climate change legislation? Lots of talk. Yesterday Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) met with major industry groups to present an 8-page concept outline. Supposedly this draft calls for greenhouse gas curbs across the board, reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The draft starts by regulating power plant emissions in 2012, with other major industrial sources emitting over 25,000 tons per year of GHGs phased in starting in 2016. Notably, this draft preempts U.S. EPA climate regulations under the Clean Air Act and supplants dozens of state climate laws.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

University of Maine President Robert Kennedy announced that he is stepping down in June 2011 to take another position within the University of Maine System -- a new position whose focus is the "greening" of the university system. Media coverage reports that President Kennedy will look at "sustainability, alternative energy and taking advantage of federal initiatives", plus the highly interesting "further business opportunities in energy fields".

The City of Ellsworth leverages $950,000 in Land for Maine's Future and other funds to defray the costs of the $2.4 million Branch Lake conservation project. Ellsworth will buy 451 acres outright, and then grant an easement to the Frenchman Bay Conservancy to protect the water quality of the lake while developing low-impact, nonmotorized public recreation. A working forest easement on 745 acres will go to the Forest Society of Maine providing for the sustainable harvest of timber. Two councilors objected to the premise that Ellsworth will issue $1,515,000 in general obligation bonds, but the motion passed 4-2 (with an abstention from a councilor who had dealt in easements on the land).


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Maine news in brief:
Governor Baldacci names a new LURC commissioner and reappoints 6 current members. LURC is Maine's Land Use Regulatory Commission, which rules on development plans in Maine's unorganized territory -- including the proposed Plum Creek development, and wind-power projects.

University of Maine names a new distance-learning director: Curt Madison, who has served at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks. Curious to see how this fits with the University's broadband plan.

Meanwhile Portland has applied to Google to be a test site for full-penetration super-fast internet.

Maple season is here, with Governor Baldacci tapping the ceremonial first tree.

29 governors "demand" a national renewable energy standard (or renewable portfolio standard). 10% by 2012? Many states, such as Maine, are already doing more.

March 10, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yarmouth, Maine, is considering an alternative energy source to power its wastewater treatment plant: hydrogen gas, created through technology proposed by Ronny Bar-Gadda, founder and chief executive officer of Genesys LLC. The Portland Press Herald provides a description:

He has developed a proprietary technology called radiant energy transfer. It uses electromagnetic radiation to break the hydrogen-oxygen bond at certain frequencies. The process was demonstrated last fall in the lab by filling a balloon with hydrogen made from wastewater. The radiant energy transfer unit, as Bar-Gadda calls it, can be scaled up in modules, uses minimal energy and produces hydrogen at a rapid rate.

From the physics and thermodynamics perspectives, I am very interested to see how this plays out.

Strong, Maine pellet producer Geneva Wood Fuels has been fined $27,000 by OSHA for violations ranging from missing handrails to potential problems with wood dust management -- and it's wood dust that may have been behind the explosion at the plant last year.

China has announced that it is back on track to meet its target of lowering energy intensity -- which is energy consumption per unit of GDP -- by 20% over 2006 levels by year's end. How? Government control. The Chinese government shuttered 60 gigawatts of older, inefficient thermal electricity units, and cracked down on manufacturers of iron, steel and cement.

It's CERAWeek in Houston, and apparently traditional fossil-fuel generators are laughing at the federal government's promotion of renewables. CERAWeek is the big conference sponsored by energy consultants IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration says we'll pay more than $3 per gallon of gasoline in summer 2010. EIA also predicts oil prices rising from above $80 per barrel this spring to $82 per barrel by the end of 2009 and $85 per barrel by the end of 2011. EIA also predicts flat residential electricity prices: 11.5 cents per kilowatthour for this year, rising to 11.6 cents per kilowatthour in 2011.

Letter to the Editor of the Bangor Daily News from David Gordon of Oakfield talking about his town's approach to ensuring that wind development within the town provides benefits to ratepayers. Well written David.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Maine moves to ban the importation of out-of-state firewood for use in campfires, due to the threat of non-native invasive insect species moving into Maine through the firewood.

More residential weatherization money! Rep. Chellie Pingree held a workshop yesterday with Efficiency Maine and Maine State Housing Authority to -- yet again -- publicize weatherization programs. MSHA has about $34 million for low-income weatherization projects, and Efficiency Maine has $9 million in federal stimulus funds for all income levels.

An editorial in the Toledo Blade calls for Ohio to do more to attract solar energy manufacturers, noting that since 2000 Ohio has slipped from "global leader in solar energy" to 14th out of the United States in number of solar manufacturers.

Remember the huge underground coal mine fire that destroyed the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania? It's back in the news today. The state is moving to take the property within the town by eminent domain, apparently so it can sell the mineral (coal) rights to a mining company. Meanwhile, the few remaining residents are claiming fraud, namely that the underground fire isn't so dangerous and that their property should remain theirs.

International energy news: Senegal and Syria both want civilian nuclear power.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Here's the Portland Press Herald blurb on Michael Stoddard's selection as Executive Director of Efficiency Maine. I've worked closely with Michael in his current (3 more weeks) role as senior counsel at Environment Northeast. Congratulations Michael!

US Department of Energy has filed a petition to withdraw its request to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

Remember the "Buy American" portions of the stimulus bill? Apparently they only apply to projects built by the government, not projects built by private companies. Senator Chuck Schumer cites the example of a $1.5 billion wind project in West Texas that is will receive $450 million in stimulus grants, most of which will be used to purchase of turbines from China. How much of that money truly stimulates American jobs?

On the residential weatherization front, President Obama gave more details on his proposed "Homestar" energy retrofit program. President Obama first announced this initiative in his State of the Union address. The initiative needs legislative approval, but for now it looks like it will provide jobs for contractors by offering homeowners up to $3,000 to insulate their houses, replace their leaky doors and windows, replace their old water heaters and roofs, and generally cut down on their consumption of energy.

March 3, 2010: the new Efficiency Maine Trust director is...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blogging live from the March 3, 2010 meeting of the Efficiency Maine Trust. After a national search lasting months, the Trust announces its new Executive Director today. Stay tuned for details!

Update 11:57 AM: Congrats to my good friend Michael Stoddard, the new executive director of Efficiency Maine.