July 30, 2010 - what is PACE financing?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Solar energy in action over Bush Key in the Tortugas, off Florida.

Today, a look at a tool that can be used to help finance renewable energy or energy efficiency projects: PACE.

What is PACE financing?

PACE, short for "Property Assessed Clean Energy", refers to one policy mechanism available to support the development of more renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Essentially, a property owner can borrow money (often at low rates through municipalities) to develop the project; the property owner then pays back the loan through your property tax bills over a long time (often 15 to 20 years). If the property changes hands, so do the energy improvements -- and so does the PACE loan obligation.

This idea, which started in Berkeley, California, is one way to help finance renewable generation or energy efficiency retrofits. Municipalities can raise money through bond issues, generally with no recourse to the municipality. PACE thus represents a new twist on an old tool: land-secured special financing districts.

Landowners like PACE too. Repayments are designed to have a smaller footprint than the cost of the energy saved; homeowners or businesses thus see their expenses go down, even while spending capital to improve their building energy efficiency.

One challenge that has arisen is that mortgage-market megaplayers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have expressed concerns about the security of PACE loans because they aren't necessarily subordinate to mortgages. Existing lenders are worried that landowners' PACE obligations to municipalities may trump lenders' mortgage interests in the property. This may be easy to fix, as Maine has done by making PACE loans subordinate to existing mortgages. However, without federal-level action (and the Senate energy bill doesn't include PACE at the moment) the lenders' resistance is throwing a bit of a wet blanket on the opportunities posed by PACE.

Here's an interesting High Country News article about dams in the American West, covering issues including dam failure and flooding, dam removal, fish passage, and energy policy.

July 29, 2010 - demand response; Alaska energy advisor challenged

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Today's energy related snapshot: a truck hauling wood chips near the Capitol in Augusta, Maine. Woody biomass is one of Maine's major energy resources, and we see thousands of tons of it trucked across the state on a daily basis. After all, Governor Baldacci has called Maine the "Saudi Arabia of biomass".

Wood chips

Put on your policymaker hat and let's talk about the power grid. It is summer, and it is hot. In addition to running businesses and households as usual, people are using a lot of air conditioning. This places a large demand on the electric grid. Specifically, grid planners need to make sure there's enough generation available to cover the region's demand for electricity. Traditionally, this has included both baseload and peaking generation. Baseload generation serves the portion of electric demand that is constant throughout the year, while peaking generation is used less frequently to meet spikes in demand. In some cases, particularly where electric demand has flattened due to loss of industrial load, peaking units might not run even one day per year. (In New England, this generally doesn't disqualify them from receiving payments for the capacity value they provide. In the market makers' view, it isn't the peaking generator's fault that load diminished.)

In recent years, we've found another way to cover peak electric load without having to build an expensive new generator that may only run infrequently: demand response. In essence, demand response means covering electric load by having individuals or companies volunteer not to use power from the grid in response to peak demand conditions. In exchange, these demand response participants should be compensated -- not only for the energy they didn't use, but also for the value of the service they provide to the grid. Generally, this service has a value comparable to the corresponding amount of generation avoided. Demand response thus lowers electric rates and the cost of the electricity that is being provided into the system.

Alaska, like many states, is focusing its government on energy issues. Gov. Sean Parnell named former state senator Gene Therriault (whose district is "North Pole" - no joke) as his energy advisor -- not an unusual move. This occurred at about the same time Senator Therriault stepped down from elected office. However, there is a claim that the position of energy advisor was created during Therriault's term as an active legislator. If so, under the Alaska Constitution and state law, he could not take any state job created while he was in office for one year. An Anchorage Daily News editorial now calls for his resignation.

The Arizona Corporation Commission has adopted a strong energy efficiency and conservation standard. Arizona regulated electric utilities will be required to reduce the amount of power they sell by 22 percent over 2005 levels (adjusted for population growth) by the year 2020 through conservation and efficiency. They can take credit for efficiency projects funded since 2005. The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project led the charge for this measure; they project ratepayer savings of $9 billion over the next ten years. 2% of the savings must come from demand response.

Here's an interesting Time article on underground coal fires -- which are more widespread and emit more pollution than we may know.

In Maine, a $50,000 grant from Time Warner Cable will help fund a new energy efficiency education program at two island schools. The Island Institute is starting its "Energy for ME" program, designed to teach students about energy issues and how -- and why -- they should conserve. About 75 kids on Vinalhaven and North Haven at North Haven Community School and Vinalhaven School are expected to participate in the program next year.

July 28, 2010 - Alta Wind Energy Center breaks ground; PACE financing

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today's picture: Central Maine Power transmission lines off Route 201 in Topsham, Maine.IMG00307-20100726-1751

In California, the Alta Wind Energy Center — with plans for thousands of acres of turbines to generate electricity for 600,000 Southern California homes — officially broke ground yesterday.  Here's the official project website, which is running a bit slowly today (likely due to all the interest in the project).  Terra-Gen Power, LLC does have a slick website that is worth checking out.  Some highlights include:
  • The Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC), under developed by Terra-Gen Power, is composed of multiple projects.  The first AWEC development is the Alta-Oak Creek Mojave Project.
  • The Alta-Oak Creek Mojave Project will be composed of up to 320 wind turbine generators and supporting infrastructure.
  • The Project will be developed primarily on privately-owned land adjacent to existing wind energy developments in the Tehachapi area of California.
  • The Project is projected to add 50 full-time jobs to the Kern County economy.
 Interest in smart grid deployment is growing.  Federal policy supports smart grid development, and many states are following suit with more specific provisions.  For example, this spring, the Maine Legislature enacted LD 1535 (now P.L. 2009 Ch. 539).  This bill, sponsored by Representative Jon Hinck of Portland, gives Maine a specific smart-grid policy for the first time.  Both CMP and Bangor Hydro, Maine's largest investor-owned utilities are already rolling out smart meters; the legislative policy declaration builds upon this head start.

In enacting the smart grid bill, the Maine Legislature found that:
  • The cost of electricity to consumers in this State is high in comparison to costs in similar markets and impedes economic development;
  • The State has recognized the consequences of climate change and has committed to policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases;
  • The State's electric grid and long-term infrastructure investment are vital to continued security and economic development, and smart grid functions will deliver electricity from suppliers to consumers using modern technology to increase reliability and reduce costs in a way that saves energy and to enable greater consumer choice;
  • The State currently lacks a comprehensive smart grid policy but faces critical decisions regarding the implementation of smart grid functions and associated infrastructure, technology and applications, and the commission and the Legislature will play central roles in making those decisions; and
  • It is vital that a smart grid policy be developed in order to ensure that all ratepayers and the State as a whole are afforded the benefits of smart grid functions and associated infrastructure, technology and applications.
Based on these findings, the Legislature enacted a policy of promoting the development, implementation, availability and use of smart grid functions and associated infrastructure, technology and applications in the State.

With this policy in place, the ball is now in the court of smart grid infrastructure developers.  We now have a law that will support roll-out of smart grid projects in Maine.  Who will be the first to propose one?

A bit of personal news, related to energy: an article I co-authored with a colleague and a client has been published in Paper360 Magazine. Click through to read about how a pulp and paper mill navigates the waters of compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and other climate change regulation.

How about PACE financing? PACE-promoting provisions got stripped out of the current Senate energy bill. These tweaks are viewed as necessary to let PACE programs flourish, as government-backed lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have suggested that they won't play with PACE.

July 27, 2010 - NY improves net metering for businesses; PGE develops rooftop solar in Oregon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Today I open with another photo shot on a Maine island: this time one of the wind towers on Vinalhaven run by the Fox Islands Wind project.  At 4.5 MW of installed capacity, Fox Islands Wind touts itself as the largest community wind-power facility on the East Coast of the United States.  My colleague Drew Landry snapped this shot when he was on Vinalhaven celebrating the project's ribbon cutting in November 2009.


The state of New York's Public Service Commission has adopted a revised set of rules governing net metering of distributed solar and wind generation at non-residential customers' sites.  These rules will make it easier for non-residential customers to site larger distributed generation behind their meters.  Until recently, a non-residential customer's solar or wind electric generating equipment was limited in capacity to the lesser of 2 MW or the customer's highest historic peak usage during the previous 12 months.  In practice, this meant that consumers demanding less than 2 MW of on-peak usage could not fully benefit from net metering opportunities, as their sales to the grid were capped at their own historic peak demand.  Once the revised rules take effect, New York businesses will be able to sell up to 2 MW to the grid.  For more information, see NY PSC Case Numbers 10-E-0133, 10-E-0134, 10-E-0135, 10-E-0136, 10-E-0137, or 10-E-013.

In the Pacific Northwest, Portland General Electric has installed the largest rooftop solar project in the region.  PGE is a fully integrated electric utility that serves more than 817,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Oregon.  Its project, spread atop the roofs of seven ProLogis distribution warehouses, covers 673,000 square feet and is rated at 2.4 MW.  Cost?  $14 million, $2.3 million of which is coming through incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon. This project brings PGE to a total portfolio of 14.3 megawatts of solar capacity.  This portfolio includes more than 10.7 megawatts of customer-owned solar projects supported through PGE's net metering program, as well as a 104-kilowatt solar highway demonstration project with the Oregon Department of Transportation.  Oregon has recently adopted the "Solar Payment Option program", an incentive-based pilot program anticipated to bring another 17.5 megawatts of customer-owned solar projects online within the next 5 years.

It is hay harvest time in Maine, and farmers report that the season's good growing conditions have led to a very good harvest.

Also in Maine, utility Central Maine Power has acquired the final Army Corps permit it needs to build its $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Program transmission upgrade.

July 26, 2010 - Energy department blogs; Senate energy bill

Monday, July 26, 2010

First, today's picture (from several days ago): the view from the Maine island of Islesford (Little Cranberry Island), across the town field:


Blogging is hot these days, so hot in fact that the U.S. Department of Energy has unveiled its own blog: "Energy Blog". (Perhaps a contest could be held to suggest a more distinctive name?)

Those of us looking for a Senate energy bill are expecting to see more details today. While it seems nearly certain that this draft won't include a renewable portfolio standard (or as federal types seem to prefer, a renewable energy standard), a broad coalition sent a letter to Senator Reid on Friday asking for a national renewable minimum standard (hosted at the American Wind Energy Association's blog). The letter was signed by diverse parties such as:
  • labor representatives (Blue Green Alliance, United Steelworkers, Utility Workers Union of America)
  • environmentalists (Environment America, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Environment Group)
  • renewable energy groups (American Wind Energy Association, Biomass Power Association, Energy Recovery Council, National Hydropower Association, RES Alliance for Jobs), and
  • utilities (AES Corporation, NextEra Energy Resources, Inc., Xcel Energy)
The United Kingdom has set ambitious renewable energy targets: to hit a 30% renewable portfolio standard by 2020, the UK will need to install 27 more gigawatts of renewables, half of which they want to come from offshore wind.  How much will it cost?  According to a new report, too much: accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers says that the United Kingdom will fall £10 billion short of the £75 billion it will need to develop its offshore wind resource up to the level of the renewable energy targets.  To meet that target, the UK will need to add 1.1 GW of new capacity per year -- but in 2009, only half of that was rolled out.  Critics point to a severe lack of pre-construction finance.  Could a different mix of resources -- perhaps one picked not in advance based on specific technologies, but competing on their economics -- result in a lower cost exposure to the British ratepayer?

As the Senate has dropped its current consideration of a climate bill, Senator John Kerry has apparently predicted "an ice-free Arctic" in "five or 10 years."

    July 23, 2010 - no Senate energy bill for now; wind gets boosts

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    A bit of New Meadows eye candy:

    Sure enough, the Senate climate bill is dead. Instead, we'll get a weak energy bill addressing the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, promoting building energy efficiency through the HomeStar program, and promoting the use of natural gas as a fuel for large trucks.

    In Maine, the Fort Halifax dam removal saga continues. Prior to removal of this dam on the Sebasticook River, the town of Winslow, Maine and residents had voiced concerns about erosion, and had appealed (without success) the Department of Environmental Protection's orders approving dam removal. After the dam was removed, portions of the former impoundment's banks suffered severe erosion. The town had to spend over $725,000 to demolish six homes on Dallaire Street that were threatened by the newly eroded banks. The affected areas also included the river bank below the historic (mid-1700s) Fort Hill Cemetery, eroding the bank back much closer to the cemetery fence and grave sites. Former dam owner FPL Energy Maine Hydro commissioned a study of why this erosion happened. FPLE's study concluded that the dam removal and drawdown "did not play a significant role"; instead, the study pointed to unstable soils, steep slopes, heavy rain, and an earthquake. Both the town and the state expressed doubts about this conclusion. Now the town has officially asked the DEP to perform its own study, and to enforce the conditions in its dam removal order that require FPLE to monitor and remediate erosion.

    The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has approved Susan Collins's request for $10 million in funding for the University of Maine's development, deployment and testing of deepwater and offshore wind turbines. The funding must now be approved by the full Senate, but the parallel House bill still lacks such an appropriation.

    Wind is big in California too. It looks like Terra-Gen's Alta Wind Energy Center near Tehachapi is going forward, as it has placed an order with Vestas Wind Systems for 190 3 MW turbines. The Alta Wind project represents the largest financing of a North American wind-energy development to date. Part of the financial picture includes a 1,550 MW power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison for part of the project output. The project will have domestic economic benefits as well: Vestas will manufacture the blades in Windsor, Colorado, and most of the towers in Pueblo, CO.

    A growing storm in the Gulf of Mexico has put BP's efforts at the oil well site on hold.

    July 22, 2010 - Senate energy bill uncertain; FERC moves forward with smart grid standards; Maine dam removal

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    The U.S. Senate's summer session is almost over, and we don't have an energy bill yet. With just 13 business days left before a month-long recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is reported to be considering an energy bill that doesn't address emissions from electric utilities. (Utility issues may be split off into a separate bill to be introduced this week -- though time is short and consensus is lacking.) Critics of this proposal worry that the utility issues are the most important, and thus should not be glossed over. Still, passing something could help improve energy markets, and could certainly show Congressional confidence in, for example, renewable energy (or, for that matter, in coal).

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently received a staff update on the process of selecting smart grid standards (PDF). Laws including the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 have given FERC the duty of developing and adopting interoperability standards and protocols necessary to ensure smart-grid functionality and interoperability with the nation's electric grids.

    In plain language, FERC wants to ensure that your utility's infrastructure can have two-way communication both upstream (with the regional grid) and downstream (with your home/business/appliances). Ultimately smart grid adoption may overturn even this "upstream/downstream" paradigm, as end-use consumers take on more characteristics of distributed generation or demand response.

    To that end, FERC's staff has been working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop proposed standards. FERC anticipates a proceeding to review the standards later this summer.

    Do you want to play in the smart grid market? Have a technology that you want to make sure is interoperable with what the other players are developing? Now is your chance to weigh in. Keep an eye on FERC Docket No. AD10-15-000...

    The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has approved the final round of state permits required for a major Penobscot River dam removal project. A coalition led by the Penobscot River Restoration Trust will now implement the $50 million project. Three dams will be removed -- Howland, Veazie, and Great Works -- restoring access for sea-run fish to almost 1,000 river miles. All FERC and state approvals have been secured; the next step is finalizing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits, which are expected to be issued later this summer. Interestingly, fish passage at Howland was not universally supported, due to concerns that invasive northern pike could swim upstream and destroy Maine's blue-ribbon brook trout and salmon fisheries upstream.

    July 21, 2010 update - want to teach solar thermal design and installation?

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Want a full-time job teaching solar thermal design and installation? Kennebec Valley Community College, located in Fairfield, Maine, might be your match. KVCC is one of nine sites chosen across the country for a solar training program funded through $3.3 million in federal grant money. KVCC has a job opening for an administrator to run the college's solar heating and cooling training initiative and teach students about solar thermal energy. Here's the official KVCC job posting (PDF). Applications will be taken until the position is filled. Starting salaries are between $42,697.24 and $55,710.21.

    July 21, 2010 - balancing wind into the grid; underperforming community wind turbine; China's Three Gorges Dam flooding

    License plate seen in Maine:
    From Energy Policy Update

    How much wind can we really integrate into today's power grid? An interesting article in the Oregonian highlights the challenges. Take, for example, what happened on May 19, when the wind shifted and Bonneville Power Authority grid operators had to make room on the wires for 1000 turbines' worth of wind (nearly 2000 MW). This is a lot of power: more power than the BPA control area needs, more than the amount of hydro production that could be ramped down, and more than BPA could export to neighboring control areas. So what did BPA do? It told wind generators to feather their blades and cut their production -- a less than ideal solution.

    In a parallel scenario, Venezuela is undergoing rolling blackouts. Venezuela relies on hydroelectricity for 70% of its power, and a long-lasting drought has crippled power production. Critics also point to chronic mismanagement and underinvestment by the nationalized companies that operate the power grid.

    The City of Saco, Maine, is in a bit of a pickle over its community wind project. Back in 2007, Saco bought the turbine and tower for $207,000 from Entegrity Wind Systems. (As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Kittery also bought a turbine from Entegrity. It did better than Saco's, but Kittery's turbine underperformed as well.) At the time, community-scale wind was all the rage. The Maine Legislature had directed the Maine Public Utilities Commission to organize a stakeholder process to evaluate the state's opportunities for community wind. Although this process ultimately resulted in a report concluding that community wind was not generally economic under current conditions, many people and communities decided to pursue small- and medium-scale renewable project for their civic, educational and environmental values.

    When Saco bought the turbine, Entegrity told Saco that the unit would generate 90,000 kilowatt-hours annually (about $12,600 worth of electricity) for 10 years. The unit came online in February 2008. It never performed as well as Entegrity had represented. At some point, former Entegrity head James Heath offered to buy the turbine back for $130,000. Then the turbine broke. In the meantime, Entegrity Wind Systems went bankrupt. The City was left holding the underperforming turbine.

    Now, the Saco City Council is considering its options. Repair the turbine? Sell the turbine? Negotiate with James Heath? Litigation?

    In other news: China's Three Gorges Dam is facing record flooding, comparable to the 1988 floods that killed over 4000 people. The dam had been touted as offering protection against floods. So far the dam is holding, but the massive reservoir is within 20 meters of full. More water is on its way.

    A new report by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation suggests that Maine businesses' most critical challenges come from health insurance costs, energy, taxes, regulations and transportation, in that order. A Lewiston Sun Journal editorial calls for an end to "destructive regulatory practices" that drive money, businesses and people out of Maine.

    WCSH 6 reports on the plans of Ocean Energy Institute founder Matt Simmons to transform Maine into the "Silicon Valley of ocean energy". The Ocean Energy Institute has previously expressed interest in exploring links between offshore wind and ammonia production for energy storage.

    July 20, 2010 - China passes US as world's largest energy consumer; NextEra signs wind deal with Google

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    China has passed the United States as the world's largest consumer of energy. The International Energy Agency measures states' energy consumption in a unit called "oil equivalent". The most recent IEA report shows that China used 2.252 billion tons of oil equivalent, whereas the U.S. used only 2.170 billion tons of oil equivalent. This reverses the trend for more than the past 100 years, when the United States has been considered to consume more energy than any other country. While energy consumption has traditionally been viewed as directly correlated to GDP, this shift breaks that trend as well. Commentators point to China's increased industrial activity, particularly in light of the stagnant consumer-driven American economy.

    Interestingly, American energy intensity remains high: the average U.S. citizen uses five times as much energy as does the average Chinese citizen. What will happen when China reaches the energy intensity of the U.S.?

    NextEra's competitive energy subsidiary, NextEra Energy Resources, has entered into a power purchase agreement with Google Energy, LLC. Under the deal, Google will buy 114 megawatts of power from NextEra Energy Resources' Story II Wind Energy Center in Iowa.

    July 19, 2010 - life on a Maine island

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    I've just returned from a visit to one of Maine's offshore islands. Life on a small island can seem fundamentally different: the pace of life is driven by the tides and boat schedules, and fog can often replace the mainland's heat. It was a good place to think about energy policy, and history, and where we can go from here.

    More updates to follow regularly.

    Brief news recap:

    Friends of Merrymeeting Bay (FOMB) have provided 60-day notice of intent to sue the owners of four Maine dams under the Clean Water Act over issues relating to Atlantic salmon. FOMB have a history of legal activism over fish (including eel) passage at dams in Maine, particularly in the Merrymeeting Bay watershed. If you've read my earlier posts about kayaking in Merrymeeting Bay, you might know that Merrymeeting Bay is where the Androscoggin River flows into the Kennebec. FOMB has identified four dams in its threat: the Lockwood Dam in Waterville, "Hydro Kennebec" in Winslow, Shawmut Dam in Fairfield and Weston Dam in Skowhegan.

    July 9, 2010 - Smelt Hill Dam

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    A peek at part of the New Meadows quahog fleet:

    New Meadows fleet

    Today, I begin a look at Maine's first hydroelectric dam: the Smelt Hill dam on the Presumpscot River in Falmouth. Dammed in 1735 and with generating capacity installed in 1889, the Smelt Hill dam was the first hydro dam to be built in Maine.

    In the early 1700s, the land around the Presumpscot River's mouth was owned by Thomas Westbrook, William Pepperell, and Samuel Waldo. Town records show that "a great dam" and sawmill were constructed on the lower falls in 1735. Resource conflicts began immediately, with upstream fish passage so impaired that Chief Polin, leader of the "Rockameecook" Tribe of Abenakis made the multi-day journey to Boston to ask Governor Shirley to require fish passage on all dams on the Presumpscot system. Accounts from the era describe “an acre of fish, mostly salmon” penned up below the impassable dam.

    In 1726, George and Judith Knight settled on the Middle Road in Falmouth. Descendant Samuel Knight became known as the "Smelt King", famously claiming that if you laid his smelt catch end to end, it would reach all the way to Bangor. Perhaps thanks to his marketing pitches, the area came to be known as "Smelt Hill."

    In 1889, the S.D. Warren Company erected a powerhouse (and new dam) at the site to supply electricity to its paper mill several miles upstream in Westbrook. The March 15, 1896 edition of the Electrical Journal gives a contemporary description of the power station:

    The power plant of S. D. Warren & Co., at Smelt Hill, Maine, on the Presumpscot, has been started up for the first time. This plant was built some six years ago when the dam at the lower falls of the Presumpscot was constructed. The plant is arranged for twelve large turbine wheels. It has laid idle all this time, but recently the company has secured the right of way on the bank of the Presumpscot to Westbrook and has run a line of heavy copper wires whereon to convey the power from the new plant to the big paper mills. The distance is some five or six miles. The reason that this power has at last been transferred up the river and put into use is because of the lack of water at times to furnish sufficient power at the paper mills. They are now using only two of the turbine wheels at the Smelt Hill plant, but next week will use four of them.

    It's interesting to see that even in the late 1800s, developers had a hard time getting easements to string transmission and distribution lines from distributed renewable resources to markets and loads.

    By its end, Smelt Hill was the site of a 151-foot long, 31-foot wide and 15-foot high stone filled, timber crib dam, along with some associated structures. Smelt Hill Dam was not operational between 1943 and 1985. The Town of Falmouth's 2000 Comprehensive Plan documents the Smelt Hill dam as having been "damaged beyond repair in a 1996 flood." The 1996 flood -- almost 20 inches of rain in 3 days -- on the Presumpscot rendered the hydroelectric facilities and the fish lift at the dam inoperable and anadromous runs again ceased on the Presumpscot.

    The dam was subsequently removed in October 2002. In a coming edition, I'll look at the issues that led to its removal.

    Source note: much of the history of the area is drawn from the National Park Service's 1993 Historic American Engineering Report for the downstream Presumpscot Falls Bridge.

    News: retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, vice chairman of the CNA Military Advisory Board, an retired-officer based energy and climate change think tank, visited Maine to call for greater energy independence.

    July 8, 2010 - a look at the Half Moon Tidal Energy project; news roundup

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Quahog shells at New Meadows:
    New Meadows harvest

    Today, following on my recent posting about FERC marine hydrokinetic projects in Maine, I'm looking at some more specific information about one of the projects: P-12704, the Half Moon Tidal Energy project proposed by Tidewalker Associates for Cobscook Bay.

    The brainchild of Dr. Normand Laberge, Tidewalker Associates is exploring several marine energy resources. In April 2007, Tidewalker received a Preliminary Permit for its Half-Moon Cove Tidal Power Project (P-12704). By March 2009, Tidewalker had done enough studies to move forward with a Pre-Application Document (PAD) and Notification of Intent (NOI) seeking authorization from FERC to construct its tidal power project in Half-Moon Cove.

    On April 12, 2010, Tidewalker Associates filed a successive preliminary permit application, pursuant to section 4(f) of the Federal Power Act (FPA), proposing to study the feasibility of the Half-Moon Cove Tidal Power Project. The FERC Notice describes the current proposal:
    The proposed project would consist of: (1) a new 1,200-foot-long rock-filled barrage with a crest elevation of approximately 27 feet above mean sea level (msl); (2) a new 30-foot-wide, 15-foot-high filling and empting gated section; (3) the 850-acre Half-Moon Cove with a surface elevation of 13.0 feet above msl; (4) a new powerhouse with four turbine generating units with a total capacity of 9.0 megawatts; and (5) a new 34.5 kilovolt, 7.1-mile-long transmission line. The project would produce an estimated average annual generation of about 45,000 megawatt-hours.

    Comments, motions to intervene, competing applications, and notices of intent to file competing applications are all due by mid-July.

    2007 project presentation on cobscook.org

    Other energy news:
    Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission took a straw vote on TransCanada Corp.'s request to add 631 acres in Franklin County to the list of locations where industrial wind energy projects benefit from a streamlined permitting process. Result: if they voted today, LURC would deny the request.

    New Meadows is in the news, as quahog harvesting continues like wildfire. Unlike most Maine shellfish beds, the New Meadows quahog flats are regulated by the state (instead of towns) because even at low tide, the flats remain covered by water. Combine this lighter (and cheaper) regulation with the reopening of the flats after 5 years of pollution closure, and you get a whole lot of harvesting.

    New Meadows' namesake

    Steve LaFreniere, owner of Eastbrook Timber Corp. of West Enfield, bought the Saunders Brothers mill in Greenwood at auction yesterday for $450,000. The wooden dowel mill closed in May, leaving 55 people out of work. LaFreniere is reported as saying he intends to resume dowel production. The auction was the result of a mortgage foreclosure. There has been a mill at the site since 1819, when Samuel Locke founded the industry at what became known as Locke Mills village.

    July 7, 2010 - it's hot

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Quick update today. It is hot in New England, and I have a few news stories that are thematically linked to the heat.

    First, NOAA reports that warmer nearshore waters are drawing sharks closer to land in New England -- including the great white shark.

    Second, speaking of hot: what if the world got hot enough to melt the polar ice caps? Check out this interesting Salon.com interview with Peter D. Ward, author of [i]The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps[/i].

    Following on yesterday's note of Earth First protests in Maine: three protesters of TransCanada's Kibby Mountain wind project expansion were arrested yesterday, one of whom attached herself to a truck hauling a windmill blade.

    In rail news: Maine won $35 million in federal stimulus money for rehabilitation and expansion of Amtrak's Downeaster passenger train service to Brunswick, meaning there will soon be passenger rail from Brunswick to all points south and west.

    July 6, 2010 - biomass after the Manomet biomass study

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    A recent report by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences has been widely reported as casting doubt on whether biomass-generated power is truly climate-friendly. However, another set of sources are critiquing the mass-media coverage as misleading. (For example, see this Morning Sentinel editorial expressing support for biomass, including wood pellets.)

    So what did Manomet really study? The Executive Summary provides a 4-page overview, and the whole report is available here. The Manomet work addresses three policy questions that are being asked as Massachusetts develops its policies on the use of forest biomass:
    1. What are the atmospheric greenhouse gas implications of shifting energy production from fossil fuel sources to forest biomass?
    2. How much wood is available from forests to support biomass energy development in Massachusetts?
    3. What are the potential ecological impacts of increased biomass harvests on forests in the Commonwealth, and what if any policies are needed to ensure these harvests are sustainable?

    Manomet's study divides the carbon impacts of biomass combustion into two phases: carbon debt and carbon dividend. Manomet uses "carbon debt" to describe the excess of emissions from forest biomass burning over fossil fuels. However, over time, forest re-growth removes this carbon from the atmosphere, and can reduce this carbon debt to zero. Over even longer times, after the carbon debt is paid off, biomass yields "carbon dividends" -- atmospheric greenhouse gas levels below the levels that would have resulted from making the same amount of energy by using fossil fuels.

    Manomet concludes that the carbon debt from burning biomass in combined heat-and-power is lower than the debt created from utility-scale stand-alone biomass plants -- not a surprising result for anyone familiar with CHP. Manomet also notes that how quickly a biomass project "breaks even" over its carbon debt depends on what resources the biomass replaces. Replacing oil provides carbon dividends within 5 years, while Manomet found that replacing natural gas electric generation with biomass may not break even after 90 years.

    Manomet also found that within Massachusetts, there wasn't that much more biomass available -- although if biomass prices rise (probably due to energy prices rising), it would be economical to harvest more wood within the Commonwealth.

    So when we hear the "Manomet report" described as dooming the biomass industry, I recommend a closer reading of the report itself, to see its true impacts on biomass energy.

    Also in Maine editorials: the Lewiston Sun Journal supporting wind power, including former Governor Angus King's proposed 128 MW wind farm in Highland Plantation. The editorial notes that former Green Independent Party candidate Jonathan Carter (who lives 3.5 miles from the Highland site) publicly opposes wind in Maine. The editorial observes that some of Carter's concerns are valid -- like impacts from roadbuilding, or scenic impacts -- but that on the whole, as a policy matter, these downsides are worth facing in order to reap the upside. Whether or not you agree with the Sun Journal's editorial board, they did a great job laying out the policy considerations. The mere existence of a downside does not make bad policy. No real-world solution is flawless; all have their downsides. But if society feels those downsides are worth the upside, then that choice can make sense.

    How many Maine energy-related editorials can there be in one week? At least one more, with the Bangor Daily News expressing support for wind energy.

    Meanwhile, breaking news: Maine Earth First is blocking access to the Kibby Mountain site, where TransCanada is adding 22 more towers to its existing 22 tower array. About 350 Earth Firsters are attending Earth First's annual weeklong international gathering nearby.

    And way out there on the R&D level: researchers at Washington State University have created a never-been-seen-before form of ultra-high density xenon difluoride (XeF2). Nifty stuff, especially so since it could theoretically be used to store radical amounts of energy. In essence, as you compress XeF2, the molecules change shape: the massive amount of mechanical compression energy is converted into chemical energy, resulting in a whole lot of juice stored in a little box. This is all way too new to be commercial yet, but keep your eyes on the horizon for this technology.

    July 1, 2010 - tidal power in the Basin

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Reporting from Boston today: this morning I attended a forum held at the British Consulate on energy and cleantech R&D opportunities, and had several good meetings to catch up with friends in the city. I'm always impressed by how much Boston has going on. Here's a peek out my office window here in Boston:

    Boston skyline

    Now, back to Maine, for a look at the tidal power history of the Basin, past and present.


    The Basin is a nearly-completely enclosed bay in the town of Phippsburg, Maine. On a satellite photo map, you can see how the tide would ascend the New Meadows River (here, effectively a bay in the ocean) and then enter the narrow gates of the Basin between Brightwater and the Denny Reed Point area.

    Last night I checked out the remains of a tide mill site at the upper end of the southeastern arm of the Basin. You can see where a stone structure was built across the mouth of the tidal flat. Last night, on a dropping tide, the water was flowing down over the stone structure, keeping a bed of mussels very happy.


    I have found one source that says there were once two tide mills at this location. Other than the stone structure and evidence of old roads in the area, I didn't see much else in the way of obvious archeological clues. The mill pond is still relatively deep on the west side, and I did see small fish swimming around above the rock ramp. Black-backed and herring gulls were dropping shellfish onto the ledges to crack their shells, and several osprey passed overhead carrying their cleaned catches back to their nests.

    Today, the Basin is protected by The Nature Conservancy. An anonymous donor left nearly 2,000 acres to TNC. Clam diggers still bring in a substantial harvest from the upper Basin (including the tide flats above the rock structure in the picture above), and it is a popular site for hiking, biking, and hunting.