Copper thief apparently zapped

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Copper wires and other electricity-related assets can be attractive targets for thieves -- but stealing electrical infrastructure carries risks beyond the legal realm.

The Associated Press is reporting that police have found evidence of an attempt to steal $100 worth of copper wiring from an electrical substation in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  The evidence, which reportedly includes a melted hacksaw covered in soot, suggests that a thief broke into the substation and came in contact with live wires carrying 23,000 volts.  Yesterday's incident apparently caused a small explosion and temporarily disrupted the power supply to the local area.  The police have stated that the would-be thief is likely severely injured or dead.
Copper thieves are presumably hoping to cut the metal out of its installation and sell it for scrap.  While the value of bulk quantities of scrap copper has been at a relative historic high, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that copper pricing has fallen due to expected decreases in European economic activity, selling on the New York Mercantile Exchange's Comex division for $3.39 per pound.  It would be a desperate thief indeed who risks electrocution for any price, let alone copper's scrap value.

This incident follows on a report earlier this month of the arguably more sophisticated theft of solar panels, inverters and batteries from U.S. Forest Service facilities in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire.

US Army solar engine project

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The United States Department of Defense has announced plans to develop a gigawatt of renewable electricity generation capacity at Army and Air Force installations by 2025.  In pursuit of this goal, U.S. armed forces branches are evaluating their technological options.  For a depot in Utah, the Army has reportedly selected a technology that uses concentrated solar energy to power mechanical engines.

Iconic Utah desert scenery: Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park.

Located about 45 minutes southwest of Salt Lake City, the Tooele Army Depot is designed to be the conventional ammunition hub for the western U.S., as well as a "peculiar equipment center" -- meaning a storage place for unusual weapons, munition and equipment.  Tooele is already home to the Army's first commercial-scale wind turbine, a 1.5-megawatt unit which was commissioned in 2010.

The site on the fringes of Utah's West Desert gets a lot of sun.  This may have led the Army to focus on solar energy technologies for a larger project.  According to reports by KSL, the Army has selected a company called Infinia to develop a solar energy project.   That project will entail 430 Power Dishes, modular units developed by Infinia.  Each Power Dish uses sun-tracking parabolic mirrors to concentrate solar energy on a chamber of helium gas.  The expansion of this gas drives a Stirling engine -- effectively a piston connected to a generator which produces electricity.  Each unit can produce 3.2 kW of alternating current power.

However, a recent vote by the Senate Armed Services Committee may dampen the Department of Defense's ability to develop renewable energy sources and limit the military's spending on renewable energy projects.  By 13-12 votes, the committee voted to block the construction of a biofuels refinery for the armed forces, as well as to prohibit paying more for alternative fuels than for traditional fossil fuels.

Monhegan offshore wind postponed

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Rockland, Maine-based Free Press Online reports that the testing of a scaled-down floating deep-water offshore wind turbine off Monhegan Island this summer has been postponed until 2013.

Dockside, Monhegan.

In 2009, the Maine Ocean Energy Task Force selected a site off Monhegan as an offshore wind test site.  At the site about 2 miles south of the island, the University of Maine-led DeepCWind Consortium plans to develop a one-third scale (about 100' tall) floating platform and test turbine.  The consortium has described the Monhegan offshore wind project as a pilot project, designed to test platform and turbine technologies as well as to assess project impacts on the ocean environment.

Pre-development of the Monhegan wind project has been taking place.  The project has faced challenges, including a lawsuit alleging that the Maine Department of Conservation wrongfully granted the project a permit to use the site.  Throughout, the DeepCWind Consortium has targeted project deployment and installation for the summer of 2012.

Now, project proponent Dr. Habib Dagher is quoted as saying that some permits are still pending for the Monhegan site, meaning the project cannot be deployed this summer.  2013 is the new target for project deployment.

Pittsfield NH dam repowering project

Thursday, May 24, 2012

As governments and businesses consider the hydroelectric potential of existing non-powered dams, competition is heating up to claim and evaluate the best sites.  Federal regulators yesterday resolved a conflict between two developers by awarding a preliminary permit to a developer interested in studying the feasibility of repowering or rebuilding hydroelectric energy production at an existing mill dam on the Suncook River in Pittsfield, New Hampshire.

Another former mill dam in the heart of a New England village: the Doughty Dam in North Berwick, Maine.

Yesterday's order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (9-page PDF) granted a preliminary permit to KC Hydro LLC of New Hampshire to study the feasibility of the Pittsfield Mill Dam Hydropower Project.  Originally built for industrial purposes, the Pittsfield Mill Dam is currently owned by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

As described in KC Hydro's original permit application (11-page PDF), the project concept involved either restoring an existing but mothballed 415 kW turbine which previously operated under an exemption from licensing, or installing entirely new facilities (potentially with a 530 kW capacity) to capture the hydroelectric potential of the water already impounded behind the dam.

After KC Hydro submitted its preliminary permit, another developer - AMENICO Green Solutions, LLC - applied for a competing preliminary permit for the same site.  AMENICO proposed a similar project, which focused on restoring the existing 415 kW turbine.  AMENICO noted that it had property rights to the site, which it claimed KC Hydro did not.

Noting that the applications were comparable, FERC recited its standard for resolving the competing claims:
Staff has reviewed the applications and found no basis for concluding that either applicant’s plan is superior to the other. Neither applicant has presented a plan based on detailed studies or the results of agency consultation. Where the plans of the applicants are equally well adapted to develop, conserve, and utilize in the public interest the water resources of the region, the Commission will favor the applicant with the earliest application acceptance date.
Because KC Hydro had applied first, FERC awarded the preliminary permit to KC Hydro.  In doing so, FERC noted that a permit applicant is not required to have obtained all access rights to a project site as a condition of receiving a preliminary permit.  However, FERC did note that a preliminary permit does not grant a right of entry onto any lands, so a permittee must obtain any necessary authorizations and comply with any applicable laws and regulations to conduct any field studies.

With its preliminary permit in hand, KC Hydro now has 3 years to investigate the site and apply for a full project license.  Will the Pittsfield dam ultimately be repowered?

Pilgrim nuclear plant down temporarily

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was shut down temporarily yesterday due to an apparent malfunction. Media reports suggest a problem with a condenser, a piece of equipment that converts the steam produced by the plant back into water.

Nuclear power plants typically produce electricity by using fissile nuclear material to produce heat. This thermal energy vaporizes water into steam. In turn, this steam spins one or more turbines, each of which is connected to an electric generator. In this regard, nuclear power plants' reliance on steam resembles other thermal power plants such as those fired by combustion fuels like coal or biomass.

As with many other steam-based power plants, nuclear power plants often include steam condensers. A steam condenser takes the steam that is passed through the turbines and converts it back into liquid water. This enables the turbines to extract more energy from the flow of steam, and improves plant efficiency. It appears that a condenser at the Pilgrim station stopped working, leading to a shutdown of the plant.

Any time major equipment at a nuclear power plant sales or malfunctions, operators typically take it very seriously.  Plant owner Entergy has reportedly said that it will not restart the plant until it figures out what went wrong.

Pilgrim Station is a relatively large generating facility, capable of producing up to 688 megawatts of power. The plant was reportedly operating at 30% of its capacity prior to yesterday's shutdown. As result, the short-term impacts on electricity markets in New England may be relatively minimal. However, if the plant continues to be down for an extended period of time, particularly as temperatures heat up and air-conditioning loads increase, the region may experience marginally higher power pricing as result of the shutdown.

The Pilgrim plant is also undergoing a relicensing process through the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Wyoming-Colorado water pipeline, hydropower

Friday, May 18, 2012

Federal regulators have upheld their rejection of a proposal to pipe water over 500 miles from southwestern Wyoming’s Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir to Colorado. The project, known formally as the Regional Watershed Supply Project but more commonly called the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, has been sent back to the drawing board.  The recent permit denial appears to rest largely on the vague and incomplete nature of the application, but it also points to possible gaps in how the federal government regulates water use and hydropower.

Water - a scarce but valuable resource in the American west.
The Regional Watershed Supply Project was originally proposed by private developer Million Conservation Resource Group to make new water supply available for use by municipalities, agriculture, and industries in southeastern Wyoming and the Front Range of Colorado. In 2008, the developer applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Under its Section 404 authority, the Army Corps regulates activities involving the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S.

In July 2011, based on the record in the case, the Army Corps withdrew the pipeline application, saying in a public notice that the “primary purpose of the project may now change to electrical power generation”, an activity appropriately under the purview of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Wyco Power and Water Inc., the successor in interest to Million Conservation Resource Group, then applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit for its project. By this time, the project concept included seven hydropower projects along the pipeline, including two pumped storage projects and five turbines within the pipeline. In response to the public notice of the permit application, over 200 comments expressly opposing the proposed project were submitted by the Governor of Wyoming, state agencies, counties, municipalities, water conservation districts, utilities, environmental or resource advocacy groups, and individuals.

In February, FERC dismissed Wyco’s request for a preliminary permit (3-page PDF) as premature, noting that the pipeline did not yet exist, nor did the applicant have authorizations for any specific route, nor had a route been substantially identified. FERC also noted that its only role associated with the proposed water supply pipeline would be to authorize the construction and operation of any proposed hydropower projects along the pipeline, not to authorize the siting of the pipeline itself.

Although Wyco asked FERC for a rehearing of its dismissal, yesterday the Commission upheld its earlier decision. In FERC’s order denying request for rehearing and clarification (9-page PDF), FERC reiterated that while it “regularly licenses discrete hydropower developments within substantial water conveyance systems, it has long been the Commission’s practice not to license the entire water conveyance system itself.”

So where does that leave Wyco? With both the Army Corps and FERC finding that the permits sought are premature, a logical next step would be to pin down a specific route and to seek authorizations from the federal, state, and private landowners whose property would be crossed. The developer has suggested that financing the project will be difficult without first obtaining some governmental approvals, and it may be hard to reach deals with landowners without having sufficient financial commitments. Nevertheless, FERC’s decision instructs Wyco that it may come back with a preliminary permit for the hydropower components of its pipeline project once the pipeline is more well-defined.

Fish passage for hydrokinetic projects?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fishways are often found at dams to allow fish to pass upstream or downstream - but what does fish passage mean for dam-less hydrokinetic projects?

Hydrokinetic energy projects are an innovative way to produce electricity from moving water without building dams.  Companies are developing a variety of technologies, many of which use water flowing in a river, ocean or tidal current to spin turbine-generator sets.  Most grid-connected hydrokinetic projects are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under its authority over hydropower.  This authority comes largely from the Federal Power Act, which requires the Commission to include certain terms in the hydropower project licenses it issues and gives it discretion to impose other conditions.  For example, Section 18 of the Federal Power Act provides that the Commission shall require the construction, maintenance, and operation by a licensee of such fishways as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Commerce.

Hydrokinetic technologies are still fairly new, so only a handful of projects have received FERC licenses so far.  Given that hydrokinetic projects do not include the construction of a new dam, one might not expect fish passage to be an issue, particularly at tidal or ocean sites.  Indeed, it appears that for at least some hydrokinetic projects, fish passage may not be an issue.  For example, when FERC issued a pilot project license to Verdant Power, LLC for its Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project in New York City's East River, the Commission did not include a reservation of the right to require a fishway in the license.

The Commission did include such a fishway reservation in the pilot license it granted to Ocean Renewable Power Company's Cobscook Bay Tidal project in Maine waters.  In that case, the Secretary of the Interior cited important and highly valued populations of resident and migratory fish, including endangered Atlantic salmon.  Although the Secretary did not prescribe a fishway at the time, Interior requested that the Commission reserve its authority to prescribe fishways under Section 18.  When FERC granted ORPC's license, it included an article reserving the authority to require the licensee to construct, operate, and maintain, or to provide for the construction, operation, and maintenance of such fishways as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior.

Although the project licensee later requested an exemption from this article because its project is not a dam and will not create any impoundment, the Commission declined to amend the license.  Explaining its reasoning, the Commission pointed to the policy it developed from its traditional hydropower licensing: if the Secretary of the Interior or Commerce so requests, the Commission will include an article reserving the Commission’s authority to require the construction and operation of fishways to preserve the requesting Secretary's future right to to prescribe fishways under Section 18.

What a possible fishway system for a tidal hydrokinetic project remains to be seen, as does whether FERC will impose such a requirement on any operating projects.  If the Secretary of the Interior or Commerce prescribes a fishway, FERC can assert its jurisdiction under Section 18 to require fishway installation.  Factors that could lead to such a decision may include the particular fish species and resources at each project's site, and a project's actual impacts on those fish.

Nova Scotia unveils tidal energy goal

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Canadian Maritime province of Nova Scotia has unveiled a plan to develop its tidal energy resources.

Nova Scotia has articulated a vision to be a global leader in the development of technology and systems that produce environmentally sustainable, competitively priced electricity from the ocean.  Since 1984, when the 20 MW Annapolis Royal Tidal Power Plant was commissioned, Nova Scotia has been home to the only tidal barrage plant of its kind in North America.

This week, Nova Scotia Energy Minister Charlie Parker released a document known as the Nova Scotia Marine Renewable Energy Strategy (44-page PDF).  Citing the magnitude of the province's Bay of Fundy tidal resource - more than 160 billion tonnes of water flow with each tide, which the province calculates can deliver a commercial potential of approximately 2,400 megawatts of power - the strategy offers plans to address research, development, and regulatory initiatives.

Although the strategy includes wave and offshore wind power, its primary focus is on tidal energy production.  The Marine Renewable Energy Strategy sets a target of 300 MW of commercial tidal development by 2020, an amount roughly equal to 10% of the province's electricity consumption.

To achieve this goal, the Strategy proposes awarding one or more Power Development Licenses to large-scale project developers, likely partnerships of technology and utility or power generation companies.  Given the language in the Strategy, which references "[i]ndustry interest in developing a large-scale, 300 MW commercial project", it appears possible that the province is targeting a single, 300 MW tidal project to achieve its goals.  If so, it could lead to the development of the largest tidal power plant in the world, larger than the French La Rance project or the Korean Sihwa Lake project.

Securing solar panels against theft

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

As more solar panels are installed in remote locations, how can they be secured against theft?

New Hampshire's Swift River, along the Kancamagus Highway.

Between new, more efficient technologies and government incentive programs, people are installing solar photovoltaic panels at a much faster rate than in the past.  While most solar PV projects are being developed on industrial or commercial buildings or homes, remote or off-the-grid solar projects form a growing sector of the market.  This can be particularly cost-effective where traditional grid-based electricity would be cost-prohibitive to install.  For example, the National Park Service is using solar panels to power campground facilities in remote locations, as are state park units and other public land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service.

Theft of these solar panels and related electric equipment may be a growing problem in some locations.  For example, the Manchester Union Leader reports that thieves stole a variety of equipment including solar panels, electrical panels, charge controllers, inverters and deep cycle batteries from Forest Service facilities along New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway this past winter.  Along with associated vandalism, the damage and losses to the campground and visitor facilities in the White Mountain National Forest are reported to exceed $10,000.

For some years, electric utilities have faced similar challenges in the form of copper theft, where thieves steal wires and other electric equipment for its value as scrap metal.  As people, businesses and agencies other than utilities become distributed producers of electric energy, they are being exposed to the parallel risk of solar panel theft.  Securing solar energy equipment could take a variety of forms, from physical security (e.g. bolting the equipment down more securely) to monitoring, patrols, or electronic surveillance.  Adding more security to an installation may increase its costs somewhat, but may be a good investment for some situations compared to the risk of loss.

Biogas at Apple's NC data center

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Continuing to look at Apple's plans for energy supply at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina:

This spring a series of filings by Apple to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the public some insight into Apple's planned electric generation facilities at the Maiden data center, home to Apple's iCloud service.  (See Tuesday's blog entry for a look at its solar photovoltaic project, and Wednesday's entry for its fuel cell project.)

Fuel cells convert fuels into electricity through a chemical process that does not rely on combustion.  According to one of Apple's filings with FERC, Apple plans to use biogas to power its fuel cells:

The Systems will be fueled with biogas that will be transported via a natural gas pipeline system.  To be injected into the natural gas pipeline system and qualify as pipeline-grade gas, biogas must meet strict heat content and quality requirements.  Consequently, raw biogas must be upgraded (i.e., cleaned and separated to remove components such as hydrogen sulfide, chlorine, and sulfur and to increase methane content) prior to being injected into a pipeline.  Once injected into the pipeline system, it comingles with conventional natural gas and is indistinguishable from conventional natural gas in terms of safety and burning quality.  The biogas, having been upgraded/cleaned to pipeline-quality and then injected into the natural gas pipeline system displaces a comparable quantity of conventional natural gas.
The volume and heat content of the biogas will be measured at a utility-grade meter at the point of injection.  The biogas will then enter the natural gas pipeline infrastructure that has an established balancing measurement system regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission).  The biogas will be nominated for the Facility in accordance with the pipeline’s posted business practices and relevant Commission requirements.  Not only the contract and purchase of biogas, but also the nomination process demonstrates compliance with 18 C.F.R. § 292.204 (b).  A utility-grade meter at the Facility will measure actual gas consumption by the Facility.  A revenue-grade meter will measure electricity generated by the Facility.

Furthermore, because the biogas can be upgraded to flow in a pipeline system and nominated for a particular facility, it allows for flexibility in the location of the generating unit.  This flexibility will provide for increased efficiency (operational and maintenance), enhanced reliability, and improved land use. These benefits were recognized by the North Carolina Utilities Commission (“NCUC”).  The NCUC ruled that biogas fuel, which is derived from a renewable energy resource, cleaned to pipeline quality, injected into the pipeline system and nominated for an electric generation facility within the state of North Carolina, is a renewable energy resource known as “Directed Biogas” (NCUC Order Issued March 21, 2012, in docket SP 100, Sub 29). 

This Facility is in keeping with the stated reasons for the implementation of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), specifically the increased conservation of electric energy, increased efficiency in the use of facility and resources by electric utilities, and the conservation of natural gas.  In the case of this Facility, the use of biogas, which displaces conventional natural gas, to generate electricity will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and smog forming pollutants while also diversifying the fuel used to generate electricity.  The Systems that make up this Facility consume less fuel and produce less CO2 than other technologies.  Each System emits less than 0.07 lbs/MW-hr of NOx , negligible SOx, less than 0.10 lbs/MW-hr of CO and less than 0.02 lbs/MW-hr of VOC.  Additionally, the Systems require very little water, with an average usage of approximately 0.00001 gallons/kWh. The low carbon footprint, de minimus criteria pollutants, small land use and negligible water use, make this Facility a prime example of an initiative that furthers the Commission’s stated goal of increasing renewable energy and investing in environmentally beneficial technologies.

Apple's Maiden, NC fuel cell project

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Following on yesterday's look at Apple's planned solar photovoltaic system for its Maiden, North Carolina data center, here's a look at the fuel cell project Apple is also planning the Maiden facility.

A public filing Apple made last month to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describes the Maiden data center's proposed fuel cell system.  The filing represents Apple's self-certification that the fuel cell project meets the standards of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978 as a "qualifying facility", setting the facility up for incentives that could include the right to require Duke Energy Carolinas to buy its output.

Apple's fuel cell self-certification filing, docketed by FERC as QF12-327, describes the project:

The Facility will consist of 24 fuel cell systems (“Systems”) using a patented solid oxide fuel cell technology to generate electricity.  A single fuel cell consists of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte placed between the two electrodes.  As fuel flows in through the anode side and an oxidant comes in over the cathode, a reaction is triggered that causes electrons to move into the fuel cell’s circuit, producing electricity.

Each System consists of thousands of fuel cells stacked together.  Multiple stacks are aggregated together into a "power module", and then multiple power modules, along with a common fuel input and electrical output are assembled as a complete system.  Each System is approximately the size of a standard parking space and will produce approximately 200 kW of power.  The Systems have a modular design that allows the simultaneous use of multiple Systems in order to achieve the desired electric generation output.  Each 200 kW (AC) System is comprised of six individual direct current (DC) power-producing modules and one input/output module for fuel intake and electricity output.  Each of the six individual DC power producing modules is feeding electricity to the input/output module which converts the DC power into the systems AC power output.  The combination of six DC modules and one input/output module comprise a 200 kW (AC) all-electric System.  Each System has a net baseload generating capacity of 200 kW (AC).  The total generating capacity of the Facility will be approximately 4.8 MW (AC).
The "patented solid oxide fuel cell technology to generate electricity" in this description is reported to be Bloom Energy's Bloom box technology.

Tomorrow, a look at the innovative fuel Apple proposes to use to power these fuel cells.

Apple's Maiden NC solar project

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

As Apple continues to develop a data center to handle its iCloud service, some details are emerging about the energy infrastructure to be built at the Maiden, North Carolina facility.  Two public filings Apple made last month to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describe the Maiden data center's solar photovoltaic and fuel cell systems.

Under federal law, certain efficient or renewable electricity generation facilities can certify themselves as "qualifying facilities" or QFs.  The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978 required monopolistic electric utilities to buy power from QFs, as long as that cost was less than the utility's own "avoided cost".  Generally, a utility's avoided cost is the cost of the power the utility would have procured from a source other than the QF in question.  This policy was intended to improve the efficiency of the nation's fleet of electric generation, as lower-cost QFs displaced more expensive traditional utility generation.

In April, Apple submitted two filings to FERC certifying its planned Maiden solar and fuel cell systems as QFs.  These documents provide additional insight into Apple's plans.

In its solar photovoltaic project self-certification, docketed by FERC as QF12-328, Apple described the project:
Each of the photovoltaic installations will consist of multiple 435-watt photovoltaic modules on ground-mounted single-axis tracking systems. The current design includes 57,360 435-watt modules. The modules will be connected in series strings of 10 to achieve the appropriate DC voltage. The modules will track the sun by rotating about a north-south axis. At the current time, we expect 14 photovoltaic installations will make up the solar farm: ten 1.50 MW installations and four 1.25 MW installations. The final number of installations and modules will depend on detailed design considerations in consultation with the utility, the photovoltaic system provider, and local permitting authorities. Each installation will be connected to two 750 kW or two 625 kW inverters. Inverters will convert the DC current produced by the systems to AC current. A step up transformer is installed between the inverter outputs and the point of connection to Duke's distribution system. Each installation has a dedicated transformer. The photovoltaic installations will be installed in a phased manner, whereby the installations will be interconnected as they are completed.

Check out tomorrow's blog entry for a look at Apple's biogas fuel cell facility.

Pro football goes green?

Monday, May 7, 2012

This year the National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles plan to install renewable electricity generation at the Eagle's home stadium.

Under the deal announced earlier this spring, energy and utility giant NRG will install 11,000 solar panels and 14 small-scale wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  NRG reportedly plans to install solar panels along the south and west sides of the stadium as well as in parking lot space, with wind turbines lining the stadium's north and south sides.  Construction is supposed to be complete by the end of 2012.

Sporting facilities like pro football fields typically consume most of their electricity during the relatively few days of the year when they are used, so these renewable electric generation assets may never fully power the Eagles' field during a home game.  At these times, the stadium will most likely continue to draw power from the utility electric grid.  For this reason, it may be no coincidence that the deal also calls for NRG to become the official supplier of grid power to the stadium.

On the flip side, the solar and wind generation will likely produce most of its power when the stadium demands relatively little power, making Lincoln Financial Field a potential candidate for a net metering program such as Pennsylvania has enacted.  Over an entire year, reports suggest that the solar and wind assets proposed for Lincoln Financial Field will produce about six times the power used during all Eagles home games.

The NRG deal is not the first proposal to develop clean energy facilities at the Eagles' stadium.  In 2010, the Eagles announced a similar partnership with Solar Blue, which would have included a natural gas-fired cogeneration power plant in addition to solar and wind generation.  That project was ultimately scrapped.

Nevertheless, if the NRG project happens, the Eagles will join a growing trend of professional sports teams seeking to green their image, improve their sustainability, and cut their energy costs. 

NJ-PA transmission line challenged

Friday, May 4, 2012

A New Jersey court is considering a challenge by environmental activists to a proposed high-voltage transmission line connecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Proposed by PPL Electric Utilities and Public Service Electric and Gas Co., the Susquehanna-Roseland line would run 145 miles from PPL's Susquehanna substation near Berwick, Pennsylvania to Roseland, New Jersey.  The route, which is nearly finalized, would cross three units of land managed by the National Park Service: the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and National Recreation Water Trail, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. 

The Susquehanna-Roseland project has received the approval of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, as well as federal support in the form of an expedited permitting process.  Regional grid operator PJM Interconnection, LLC has also said that the line is essential to improving reliability and reducing transmission line congestion in the region.

At the same time, the line has drawn opposition from environmental groups and others.  The Sierra Club and other organizations have challenged the line as continuing a "reliance on toxic fossil fuels by shipping coal-fired power into New Jersey." Instead, the Sierra Club calls for increased use of demand response, energy efficiency and renewable energy to meet peak energy demands.  Other have challenged the project's proposed route through National Park Service lands, including widening some existing transmission corridors and associated road-building activity.

This past Wednesday, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey heard oral argument over whether the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities' approval of the project was valid.  Among the challenges raised was whether the BPU fully considered non-transmission alternatives to the line, such as demand response and energy efficiency.

While the court process concludes, the utility proponents believe that construction should not be affected by the lawsuits.  The line is expected to be placed in service by summer 2015.

Maine tidal PPA terms for ORPC

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Last month, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved the terms of a 20-year power purchase agreement between three utilities and Ocean Renewable Power Company.  Projected for initial development later this year, ORPC's Maine Tidal Energy Project would ultimately include a series of hydrokinetic turbine generator units spread across three project sites and phases.

Acting under a 2010 state law, the Maine PUC held a request for proposals for long-term contracts for deep-water offshore wind pilot projects and tidal energy demonstration projects.  The law required applicants to demonstrate that their project will provide tangible economic benefits to the state, as well as a commitment to invest in related manufacturing facilities in Maine.

ORPC responded to the RFP, and was ultimately selected by the PUC for a contract.  While some details of the final power purchase agreement remain to be negotiated, last month PUC approved a term sheet specifying pricing terms and a variety of non-pricing terms.

Under the term sheet, ORPC will sell the utilities energy and capacity from the Maine project.  The price of energy will start at 21.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in the first year, escalating at 2% per year over the 20-year contract term.  If ORPC can qualify the project for capacity payments in the New England market - another energy-related product - it will receive the prevailing market price, although the grid operator has recently denied capacity payments to other renewable resources in eastern and northern Maine.  The deal does not include any renewable energy credits the project earns, which ORPC could retain or sell separately.

The term sheet approved by the Commission also include a series non-pricing terms intended to ensure that the state realizes the economic development benefits required by statute.  These terms include a variety of commitments by ORPC, including:
  • to maintain or establish manufacturing, assembly, and testing operations in Maine
  • to continue partnerships with entities in the downeast Washington County region
  • to upgrade local distribution lines in Lubec, as needed to connect the project's power to the mainland grid
  • to create and/or retain at least 80 direct full-time equivalent jobs in Maine during the development, construction and installation of the project
  • to create and/or retain at least 12 direct full-time equivalent jobs in Maine during the operation and maintenance phase of the project
  • to use commercially reasonable efforts to expend at least 50% of the project's capital investments and 50% of the operating expenditures in Maine
In approving the term sheet with these terms, the Commission found that the project would yield economic benefits including direct wage growth in Maine, direct investment in Maine, improved general economic conditions in the state, and the development of intellectual capital and an expert workforce capable of supporting long-term growth.

The parties are now negotiating the final details of the contract.  Expect the PUC to deliberate on a final contract later this year.

NPS promotes greener national parks

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A new plan by the U.S. National Park Service seeks to improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of its holdings.  The NPS Green Parks Plan (16-page PDF)  outlines the service's plan to reduce its impact on the environment, mitigate the effects of climate change, and integrate sustainable practices throughout its operations.

Solar panels line a bathroom roof at Devil's Garden campground, Arches National Park, Utah.

While the park service is famed for the wild and scenic landscapes it protects - totaling over 84,000,000 acres - the NPS also manages the largest number of structures of any civilian agency in the federal government.  All told, the NPS portfolio of 397 national parks includes more than 67,000 structures with more than 50 million square feet of constructed space and more than 3,000 utility systems.  Each year, 2.6 billion gallons of water are consumed in national parks, and the service's annual energy costs average $44 million.

The Green Parks Plan identifies nine strategic goals:
  • Continuously Improve Environmental Performance: meeting and exceeding the requirements of all applicable environmental laws
  • Be Climate Friendly and Climate Ready: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting facilities identified as at risk from climate change
  • Be Energy Smart: improving facility energy performance and increasing reliance on renewable energy
  • Be Water Wise: improving facility water use efficiency
  • Green Our Rides: transforming the NPS fleet of vehicles and adopting greener transportation methods
  • Buy Green and Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle: purchasing environmentally friendly products and increasing waste diversion and recycling
  • Preserve Outdoor Values:minimizing the impact of facility operations on the external environment
  • Adopt Best Practices:adopting sustainable best practices in all facility operations
  • Foster Sustainability Beyond Our Boundaries:engaging visitors about sustainability and inviting their participation
The park service is looking forward to its centennial in 2016; in last year's NPS Call to Action, the service committed to reducing its carbon footprint before that date.  The park service views the Green Parks Plan as the roadmap for implementing that commitment.  While the fully-articulated Green Parks Plan is new, many parks have already adopted sustainability initiatives.  For example, campground facilities in Arches National Park use solar photovoltaic panels to power water pumps and light buildings.

What does the Green Parks Plan mean?  For the park service, it may lead to improved sustainability and lower operating costs.  For greentech businesses, it may mean opportunities to install energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, or to sell greener vehicles.  For park visitors, it should mean cleaner air and water, and more opportunities to participate in sustainability.  Expect the park service to release periodic updates on its progress toward achieving the nine goals of the Green Parks Plan.