4/28/10: dam repair and communications; from wood mill to energy plant

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dam news: repairs to the New Mills Dam in Gardiner, Maine. In order to repair two uprights on the New Mills Dam in Gardiner, the Cobbossee Watershed District has drawn down Cobbosseecontee Stream and attached Pleasant Pond by almost a vertical foot, exposing more pond and stream bottom than in the past six years. The two wooden uprights of the dam were damaged by high water and bashed by ice in late February. Kruger Energy, which also operates a hydroelectric dam downstream that it acquired last November from Ridgewood Maine Hydro Partners LP, is performing the repairs, which are expected to take one day.

The New Mills Dam demonstrates one relatively common form of small dam ownership in New England. In this case, the dam is owned by the municipalities of Gardiner, Litchfield and Richmond. These three owners pay for the upkeep, while Kruger Energy is contracted out to manage maintenance and repairs.

Here, the drawdown has concerned some people who live along the impoundment. They are concerned about erosion, nesting ducks, fish, and in general about the management of the impoundment. While the drawdown is required for safety during the dam repairs, this situation demonstrates the importance of communication and collaboration between dam owners and neighboring abutters.

From a forest products mill to an energy facility! The town of Madison is considering the potential transformation of the former Anson Stick Mill into an energy-producing facility. The town acquired the abandoned mill and its biomass boiler from Downeast Woodcrafters, and now is exploring creating a municipal heating district within the downtown area. While municipal heating districts are common in Europe, as well as on American institutional campuses (e.g. universities), the practice is not widely deployed in New England. Madison Economic Development Director Joy Hikel said the goal behind a potential energy-producing facility is twofold: to reduce heating or electricity costs for the owners of the downtown buildings by 40 to 50 percent, and to provide local utility Madison Electric Works with an affordable source of energy to sell to consumers.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Preti Flaherty hosted a very successful Climate Matters breakfast event this morning. Our guest, Efficiency Maine Trust executive director Michael Stoddard, spoke to about 60 guests about energy policy and Maine's efforts to implement an unprecedented amount of energy efficiency measures. Michael presented on the Efficiency Maine Trust's triennial plan, federal stimulus money, the state's conservation programs funded by the systems benefit charge and other mechanisms. The bottom line is that Maine has over $100 million in money to spend on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction projects over the next few years. What are you doing to get your business a piece of the money?


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maine news:

After the removal of the Fort Halifax dam, erosion continues to threaten the Fort Hill cemetery in Winslow.

The Maine Legislature concluded its session yesterday. Although they did approve putting a bond package to the voters, the approved measure does not include the energy efficiency funding that was initially proposed by Governor Baldacci.

The last bill enacted by the 124th Legislature was the energy corridor bill, which provides procedures for the review of proposals to develop transmission lines, pipelines, and other major energy infrastructure.

4/9/10: an in-depth look at the rate impacts of Ontario's feed-in tariff and green energy policies

Friday, April 9, 2010

Today I'm taking a more in-depth look north of the border at what one Canadian province is doing to encourage green electricity generation -- and at the electric rate impacts of this policy.

As you may know, Ontario plans to eliminate its coal-fired power plants by 2014 and replace them with cleaner energy sources. In October, Ontario unveiled the Green Energy Act, which includes a set of feed-in tariffs that guarantee renewable generators fixed, above-market prices for 20 years to feed their production into the electricity grid. Yesterday, the province has announced 184 contracts for green energy projects, totalling 2,500 MW.

Minister of energy and infrastructure Brad Duguid said these contracts will generate 20,000 direct and indirect "green jobs" and attract $9 billion in private investment. In addition, Ontario is seeing interest in local siting of manufacturing facilities to produce the products and components needed to site renewable generation. In the last three months, Ontario has received commitments from both South Korea’s Samsung C&T Corp. and Germany’s Bosch Solar Energy to site manufacturing facilities in the province. It is assumed that the feed-in tariffs and contracts are required to incentivize this economic development activity.

But at what cost? The Globe and Mail has a good article detailing how Ontario is poised to face the highest electricity prices in Canada, replacing PEI as the province with the most costly power. Projections show that residential customers in Ontario were already facing a 25% rate hike, paying $300 more a year on average for electricity by the end of 2011. The green energy contracts will add another 5%, or $60 a year by 2012. Consumers' total cost, including distribution, may rise to 14.54 cents in 2011, while the average residential rate in the United States will rise just 2 per cent to 11.74 cents next year.

Simultaneously, a "smart grid"-related initiative will raise most residential rates even further. Ontario is introducing time-of-use billing, charging 9.3 cents per kWH during peak periods and 4.4 cents during off-peak periods. One forecast suggests this will result in a $50 a year increase for the average residential ratepayer. Of course, those ratepayers who can successfully shift their load to off-peak hours -- whether through careful management, or investment in appliances and technology systems that do the management for them -- might be able to reduce their costs through this move.

On top of all this, the province -- like many U.S. states -- is exploring tax hikes and broadening of the tax base to raise funds. In Ontario, a new harmonized sales tax will add 8 per cent to everyone’s bill starting July 1, or $98 a year for the average bill.

It will be interesting to watch as Ontario policymakers pursue these initiatives. Will there be ratepayer backlash? Or will ratepayers take the rate increases in stride, and feel like they're getting something -- freedom from coal-fueled power plants and their environmental impacts -- for their money? Time will tell.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

These are wild times for those of us involved with the Maine legislature, as they worked well past midnight last night... and didn't quite finish up their session. Everyone returns Monday for the final push. The House passed the $85 million bond package, but the Senate came up several votes short. Sadly, despite advocacy from Efficiency Maine Trust executive director Michael Stoddard and industrial energy consumers, the bonding for energy efficiency spending was stripped out of the package. Moving forward, one of the big issues with the bond package is that if it doesn't pass, dozens of businesses in Aroostook County, the largest county east of the Mississippi, will soon be without rail access, when the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway will abandon 230 miles of track, unless the state can raise the funds to buy it. (The head of the Federal Railroad Administration Joe Szabo is coming to Maine to investigate the issue.) The vote may be based on principles, but it is also largely a partisan issue.

Also in Maine news: a good editorial by my friend Gordon Weil, arguing that Maine's Public Advocate -- the executive office tasked with looking out for the interests of utility ratepayers before the PUC and legislature -- should have more independence from the Governor. Gordon gives a first-hand account of how, in 1981, Governor Brennan created the office, and named Gordon as the first Public Advocate. Gordon also describes how in recent years, the public advocate has served more as an advocate for longer-term policies pushed by the Governor, as opposed to looking out for keeping rates low; indeed, in several contexts recently, organized industrial energy consumers have served as the sole advocates for low rates, in the face of proposals that would significantly increase all ratepayers' expenses.

Did Connecticut set its renewable portfolio standard too high? The energy committee has approved legislation that would halve Connecticut's goal of obtaining 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Connecticut is nowhere near on track to meet this goal; renewable developers point to a lack of financing as the problem. What can policymakers do to address the capital and credit crunches?

On the federal level, as we move closer to legislation that will promote significantly larger deployment of grid-scale renewables, there is concern about the lack of transmission development -- and federal transmission oversight -- that may be needed to connect generation to load.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

With the tragic explosion and collapse of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, operator Massey Energy's stock is tumbling. Coal mining has always been dangerous. Will the Big Branch disaster influence policymakers away from coal as a fuel source for electric generation? At least some financiers believe not, at least not enough to deviate from their "buy" rating. It will be interesting to see how the big coal lobby responds to the certain calls for greater government oversight of mine safety regulations.

Google and 46 other companies have asked the President for better real-time information on electricity usage. The group, including AT&T, Comcast, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon and Best Buy, wants better executive-branch support for technologies and devices that will help consumers measure their energy use in real time, and thereby to make better decisions -- the Prius effect. Beyond the social good that this would empower, no doubt Google wants to sell you the technology and interfaces to make this happen.

Premier Power Renewable Energy, Inc. has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with REgeneration Finance, LLC to fund solar PV projects ranging in size from 250kW to 2MW, in California, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

In offshore ocean energy news, a University of Delaware study concludes that it has figured out how to link offshore wind arrays to avoid the need for onshore backup power.

Maryland is pushing for a more rapid ramp-up of its solar RPS. Maryland law now requires utilities to source 2 percent of their power from solar sources by 2022, but there is a proposal afoot to accelerate deployment and increase penalties. 15-year projections suggest residential consumers might pay $2 more per month, beyond the current average monthly bill of $150 -- which some say will add to $1 billion over 15 years. Interestingly, there isn't enough solar PV in Maryland today: utility companies paid $1.2 million in penalties in 2008, and if penalties increase further, that number will rise. If the policy objective is to increase renewable deployment, you have to wonder if increasing penalties is the most effective way to get there.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has signed several green energy bills passed by the General Assembly this session. Key features include: a $500 tax credit to employers per green job created; increased funding and organizational support for clean energy research; the creation of the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority; and bonuses for investor-owned electric utilities who use wind energy.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Wind power stocks are up, particularly those companies that are "purely" focused on wind -- meaning not the broader utilities like FPL.

Meanwhile, some people are disappointed in small-scale residential and commercial wind projects. Apparently some Skystream turbines aren't generating the kWh that purchasers were expecting. This is something that many observers have been pointing out for years; in fact, Maine's community wind task force noted that the true value of community- or residential-scale wind projects is in promoting awareness and engendering a "clean green" feeling, as opposed to providing substantial economic relief to the homeowner or project owner.

Due to the economic downturn, water utilities are seeing less commercial and industrial use, meaning water rates will rise.

Los Angeles continues to struggle with what to do about increasing rates to fund energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction.

The world's tallest tower, the Dubai's Burj Khalifa, will use solar energy to heat its hot water.

Based on rosy economic projections, oil has hit an 18-month high.

Colorado-based Ascent Solar is developing a new thin-film solar PV technology based on copper, indium and gallium selenide — known as CIGS — on a plastic base.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Stretching slightly beyond energy policy: the Town of Scarborough has finally acquired the parking lot at Higgins Beach. What do you get when you take the Portland area's most consistent surf beach, then ban on-street parking, then charge two arms and a leg for parking in the one private lot in the village? Angry surfers. Higgins was always my favorite break when we lived in Portland, but the parking scene -- especially in summer -- was always a nightmare. If the dirt parking lot was ever built on, it would have eliminated the one place beachgoers could have parked for miles around. The owner of the 1.5 acre lot, plus a 10 acre (presumably unbuildable) strip near the marsh, wanted nearly $1.5 million. Fortunately, a deal has been cut, using $632,145 from the Land for Maine's Future program, a matching amount from the town's bond and $7,270 from fundraising by The Trust for Public Land and the Surfrider Foundation. Thank you.

The Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington suffered an explosion and a fire, killing 4 people and leaving 3 more missing.

More on the landslide in Winslow, Maine after the removal of the Fort Halifax dam: Maine Department of Environmental Protection has ordered (former) dam licensee NextEra to study and report on what went wrong. (A bit of pedigree is useful here, since it can be confusing: NextEra Energy Resources is the entity in question, formerly known as Florida Power & Light Energy, or sometimes known as FPLE Maine Hydro LLC.) The landslide threatens the Fort Hill Cemetery, with graves as old as the mid-1700s.

Rail issues: a Pan Am train derailed in downtown Norridgewock Wednesday.

There's a fair amount of hype going around about the weaknesses of the federal EnergyStar appliance rating program.

In Colorado, dominant utility Xcel Energy is replacing 900 MW of coal plants -- 30% of the entire Colorado coal-fueled generation -- with natural gas plants, all because the legislature enacted the Colorado Clean Air – Clean Jobs Act, which caps emissions at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. Now it's a race for regulatory approval: by December, utility proposals must be approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and must be operational by 2017.

Did you know that until this week, there had only been one known tropical cyclone in the South Atlantic Ocean? Now there have been two. Today, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, GOES-12 identified Tropical Storm 90Q off the coast of Argentina.

In Los Angeles, a good editorial from the LA Times bashing the Department of Water and Power board for endorsing Mayor Villaraigosa's proposed rate hike to fund electric efficiency -- which as reported yesterday, didn't pass.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy April Fools' Day.

Rain watch: the Kennebunk River flooded over roads in York County.

Near the site of the (now removed) Fort Halifax dam, a major landslide occurred yesterday. The Morning Sentinel reports that Maine Emergency Management Agency director Richard Beausoleil said, "I’ve never seen a landslide like this. At least no one was injured and no one was fishing on the bank.”

Voters at the town meeting in Woodstock, Maine, turned down a proposed wind turbine siting ordinance that included a moratorium. This proposal was targeted at the Spruce Mountain Wind Project proposed by Patriot Renewables, which will include 11 turbines rated at 2 MW, with an estimated 55 million kilowatt hours of electric generation per year. 2416' Spruce Mountain (topo map) is prominently visible from Route 26; every time I've headed to Sunday River and the Bethel area, I've looked off to the right and seen the ledgy ridge stretching off to the northeast, and wondered about access. Patriot, developer of the 4.5 MW Beaver Ridge wind project in Freedom, is financed by Jay Cashman -- that's right, one person.