September 2010: good news!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dear readers: I'm taking a quick break from this blog thanks to something wonderful that has come into my life: a baby girl!  My wife and I are resting and recovering; all are healthy.  I'll resume my relentless blogging about neat energy issues in the next weeks.


September 16, 2010 - electric vehicles; Sugarloaf's efficient snowmaking

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Today, a look at several recent articles about electric vehicles.  First, an article by Tom Walsh entitled "Why electric cars aren’t right for Mainers — right now".  He cites the high price of electricity in Maine, which he attributes in part to deregulation and the ISO New England price-making methodology in which all resources are paid the clearing price of the last resource needed to cover load.

Second, a counterpoint by Milt Gross, who suggests that electricity is still much cheaper than gasoline in his experience, even when customers choose (as he did) to source their power from 100% renewable competitive electricity providers -- something empowered by deregulation.

Finally, a pair of letters to the editor about alternative energy: one supporting wind power as a constructive solution to energy and environmental problems, and another urging for the development of a hydrogen fuel market powered by renewable hydropower.

Maine ski area Sugarloaf is continuing to install high-efficiency snowmaking equipment, in addition to proposing a terrain expansion onto Burnt Mountain.

September 15, 2010 - the debate over wind

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In response to Naomi Schalit's series of articles on wind energy development in Maine, Maine Renewable Energy Association executive director Jeremy Payne wrote a guest column for the Bangor Daily News.  Mr. Payne notes the role wind power already plays in the Maine economy, including $750 million in invested capital, $105 million in wages paid to Maine residents, and $95 million in community benefits to host communities, let alone future possibilities.  He also cites the environmental benefits of wind, and the ambitious state policies in favor of renewable resources.  Finally, he cites a study which concluded that 88% of Maine residents are in favor of wind power.

Another guest column by Clyde MacDonald calls "Maine's rush to develop wind power ... ill-advised".  He suggests Maine should look to Europe's experimentation with wind, which he interprets as a failure.  Mr. MacDonald asserts, "the governments of every European country that has tried it [wind power] have discontinued their subsidies."  He points to the high cost of wind, and the even higher costs of offshore wind.  He also raises the linkage between renewable policy and transmission policy.  Mr. MacDonald was formerly an aide to U.S. Senators Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell.

September 14, 2010 - net-zero modular homes; questions about electric vehicles

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A waterfall deep in the Maine woods.
This energy of this river was formerly used for log drives.

  • I've been following the bidding war to buy Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse on the edge of Casco Bay in Maine.  Just as the bidding was set to close yesterday, a new bid came in for $185,000 -- giving other bidders another 24 hours to raise the stakes.  We'll see what happens!

  • This Portland Press Herald article by Tom Walsh notes that plug-in electric vehicles rely on grid-purchased electricity to run, meaning that their fuel costs and that fuels' emissions characteristics will be determined by the policies affecting the overall electricity generation mix.  Interestingly, he links former Maine Governor Angus King's current interest in land-based wind generation to Governor King's support for electricity market deregulation -- and the ISO-NE policies that mean that all resources get paid the marginal price of the last unit needed to clear to support load.

September 13, 2010 - Ram Island Ledge; Vinalhaven wind noise?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse - currently for sale.

September 10, 2010 - Cobbossee dam repairs

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dam repairs pose interesting technical, environmental, and social challenges.  The situation with the Cobbossee Outlet Dam, in the town of Manchester, Maine, provides a good example.

For your reference, here is a Google map of the dam site.  This is several miles farther upstream from the New Mills Dam in Gardiner, which had its own dam repair and drawdown issues this spring.

The Town of Manchester owns the dam, which maintains the water levels in 5,000-acre Cobbossee Lake above, as well as ensuring adequate flows in Cobbossee Stream below the dam.  In all, parts of six municipalities are affected by the waters of Cobbossee.  The dam is damaged: one of its six gates is currently boarded up because it was at risk of failing.  Rotting wooden timbers need to be replaced, possibly with galvanized steel beams.

To perform the repairs, the lake level may have to be drawn down.  This concerns boaters on the lake, who fear that the drawdown might end the boating season early.  To address this concern, the plan is to do the dam repairs during this fall's annual seasonal drawdown of the lake.  Many dam managers perform drawdowns in the fall for flood control and to make room for spring runoff. 

Cost and cost-sharing are also at issue.  Currently, as the dam owner, Manchester appears to be on the hook for the repair costs, although there is talk of asking other communities along the watershed to pay into a repair fund.  It will be interesting to see how the project progresses.

September 9, 2010 - Lightship Nantucket; FERC signs Colorado MOU on small hydro

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Lightship Nantucket WLV61, in port on Martha's Vineyard in summer 2010.  Until 1983, lightships such as this were used to mark shoals; they have since been functionally replaced (if not aesthetically so) by automated buoys.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is working with states to promote the development (or redevelopment) of small hydropower projects across the country.  FERC has recently signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with four states on the development of hydrokinetic projects: California, Washington, Maine, and Oregon.  Now FERC has signed an MOU with Colorado to streamline the procedures for developing small-scale hydropower projects in Colorado.  According to a recent federal survey, Colorado could be host to several hundred potential small (5 MW or smaller) hydropower projects.  Altogether, these small projects could add up to a combined capacity of more than 1,400 MW.

The MOU focuses on the development by Colorado of a pilot program to test procedural options for simplifying the processes for developers to obtain conduit exemptions and small (5MW or less) project exemptions.

The MOU opens the door for developers of small projects in Colorado to participate in the pilot program.  Colorado and FERC are both expected to take input from project developers about the kind of obstacles they face in permitting and exempting small projects - and about what can be done to help more projects be developed.

As we've seen in Maine, developing or redeveloping small hydro projects can run into siting and permitting challenges at the federal, state, and local levels.  For example, the Scribner's Mill dam reconstruction and repowering project on the Crooked River in Maine faces opposition on water quality, environmental and fisheries concerns.  While an MOU like that between FERC and Colorado might not eliminate these challenges, stakeholders are hopeful that a resolution will be reached that allows environmentally responsible projects to move forward.

September 8, 2010 - Maine ocean energy RFP

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Backup diesel generators on Mount Desert Island, Maine.  "Keeping the lights on" on island communities poses special challenges; diesel generators like these can be used to cover peak loads, or even provide backup power in the event of an outage.  Photo courtesy of Drew Landry.

Of all the feedback I hear from developers of renewable energy projects, one of the most consistent observations is that it is difficult to finance and build a project without a long-term contract for the project's output.  Because energy prices are so volatile, and because projects are typically capital-intensive and can have relatively long payback periods, a long-term contract is often viewed as necessary to attract the financing required to build a project.  However, many buyers observe that they aren't interested in long-term contracts at the required prices for similar reasons of uncertainty.

To remedy this problem, in its most recent session the Maine Legislature enacted "An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force", P.L. 2009, ch. 615.  The Act directs the Maine PUC to issued an RFP for long-term contracts for deep-water offshore wind energy pilot projects and tidal energy demonstration projects.  The RFP was published on September 1, 2010.

Here's a link to the MPUC's website for the RFP.

Here's the RFP itself (Word).

What is the Commission looking for?  Up to 30 megawatts of installed capacity (and associated renewable energy and RECs) from deep-water offshore wind energy pilot projects or tidal energy demonstration projects; up to 5 of the megawatts can come from tidal energy demonstration projects.

Initial Proposals for deep-water offshore wind energy pilot projects and tidal energy demonstration projects will be due on or before May 1, 2011.

September 3, 2010 - Elwha dam removal; Northwest Passage

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hydroelectricity: I'm continuing to follow the removal of two dams on the Elwha River in Washington.

Here is a map I created showing the two dam sites.

Here is the Bureau of Reclamation's information on sedimentation behind the Elwha River dams: nearly 18 million cubic yards of sediment behind Glines Canyon Dam and Elwha Dam.  The Bureau gives this history:

Private companies constructed two large dams on the Elwha River during the early 1900’s. Elwha Dam, constructed during the period 1910-13, is a 105-foot high concrete gravity dam that forms Lake Aldwell 8 miles upstream from the river's mouth. Glines Canyon Dam, built in 1927, is a 210-foot high concrete arch dam that forms Lake Mills 13 miles upstream from the river's mouth. When the dams were first built, they were significant producers of electricity on the Olympic Peninsula. Today, the dams are operated in a run-of-the river mode and generate about 40 percent of the electricity needs for the Diashowa America paper mill in Port Angeles, Washington.
The Bureau also has interesting information on erosion after drawdown.  As we've seen before, drawdown can be done to minimize harms but can also cause serious problems if the newly exposed slopes of the impoundment or riverbank are unstable.

Meanwhile, in Maine, a graphic example of how business climate can make a difference: an entire lumber mill, closed for the past four years, is up for sale and might be moved piece by piece to Siberia.  People often talk about how jobs move overseas; here, not only the (already lost) jobs but the workplace may move.
The situation on the Sebasticook River continues to brew after the Fort Halifax dam removal; now, town officials are considering a renewed investigation into erosion of the riverbanks after drawdown and dam breach.

An interesting bit of fisheries news: Native Americans from the Passamaquoddy Tribe continue to fish federal waters, despite being cited for lack of permits and certain mandatory safety gear during a scallop fishing trip off Nantucket.  The natives point to their indigenous fishing rights.

Arctic news: I have a special interest in the Canadian Arctic, including the fabled Northwest Passage.  Today comes news that a fuel tanker has run aground along that shipping route on a sandbar near Gjoa Haven.

September 2, 2010 - sewage digestion; dam damage

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In August, news covered the plans of the Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority to build a anaerobic digester plant at its sewage treatment facility.  The plant would reduce the Authority's solids disposal costs and could generate significant energy from the methane produced.  Now, the Lewiston Sun Journal says they're clarifying that it is "not a given" that the Authority will develop the project.

Hydroelectricity: a rock has fallen onto the Ennis Dam on the Madison River in Montana.  Here is a map of the Ennis Lake and gorge area.  You can see pictures here and a map here.  It looks like Ennis Lake will be drawn down 5' to relieve some of the back-pressure on the dam, and then later draw it down another 4' for a full inspection and possible repairs.  Ennis Lake only averages 8'-9' deep, so this drawdown will have noticeable effects -- if not as permanent as the effects of drawdown prior to breach.  Hopefully the drawdown will not cause landslides and erosion as at Fort Halifax on the Kennebec River in Maine.

What's it like behind the gates of Bath Iron Works?  This Working Waterfront piece gives a good description of a tour of the large defense contractor on the Kennebec River.

September 1, 2010 update - storm tracking

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Resources for tracking the incoming Hurricane Earl (currently blowing 135mph, category four status, 23 foot swell):

September 1, 2010 - vehicle energy efficiency; federal renewable power?

A stone wall, forgotten in the woods in Bath, Maine.  Most stone walls in New England were built between 1750 and 1850; in 1940, a United States government survey estimated that there were more than 250,000 miles of stone walls in New England -- almost all built by manual labor and power from draft animals, during a time of lower energy intensity.
From the vehicle energy efficiency department: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation are jointly revising vehicle window stickers for the 2012 model year. This Wired article describes one option they are considering: assigning new vehicles letter grades for fuel efficiency.  (Examples from the article: Nissan Leaf: A+.  Plug-in Toyota Prius: A.  Toyota Camry: B-.)  Electric vehicles appear more likely to play a larger role in transportation in years to come.

Some may recall the day in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House.  They didn't stay there long; President Reagan removed them in 1986.  By 1990, they were donated to Unity College in Maine.  Now, Bill McKibben and others are taking the solar panels to Washington in an effort to convince President Obama to install solar or other renewable generation at his house -- not to mention the federal government's role as the nation's largest energy consumer.

I watched this week's deliberations of the Maine PUC as the Commissioners conditionally approved Central Maine Power's plan to upgrade a section of its 34.5 kV transmission line to 115 kV.  The reason?  To let power from Record Hill Wind LLC's project reach the grid.  The Commission required the wind developer to make a three-month prepayment to CMP of all construction costs, and report to the Commission quarterly as the project moves forward.

Island issues: I've written before about the difficulties of ensuring a water supply on island communities -- both potable water for drinking and any old water for firefighting.  Monhegan, for example, has a culture that is purposely very alert to fire danger.  Today's news has an example of why: fire destroyed a home on Pole Island in Quahog Bay in Harpswell -- despite valiant efforts by firefighters, neighbors and volunteers.