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Ohio to Build First Offshore Wind Farm in Great Lakes, Aims to Boost Local Industry

Cleveland-based firm will begin construction on the 20-MW wind project in 2012, with the goal of spurring a turbine manufacturing industry in its home city

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 6, 2011
Cleveland, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie

Ohio is set to build the first offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes, outpacing neighboring states and a Canadian province whose own plans are facing long delays and possible outright bans.

Cleveland-based (LEEDCo) expects to start construction on a 20-megawatt, $100 million pilot project by next year and aims to have the turbines operational by late 2013.

— a developer formed by Bechtel Development Company, Cavallo Great Lakes Ohio Wind and Great Lakes Wind Energy — could reach a power purchase agreement with utilities within a month. Energy from the project could supply around 16,000 homes with electricity.

LEEDCo hopes the demonstration can jump-start a freshwater wind industry across the eight states surrounding the five lakes and the province of Ontario — all while steering wind turbine manufacturing to Ohio's existing component and construction materials industries.

"We think there is great value in being first, because our goal is not just to generate electricity," said Dennis Eckart, a strategic adviser to LEEDCo and president of the North Shore Associates consulting firm.

"One of our main goals is to create a supply chain industry that will support the building and deployment of these turbines," as well as entice a turbine maker to build a full assembly plant in Ohio, he said.

U.S. Senate Panel Approves Bill for Pipeline Safety

Under the bipartisan bill — a response to several pipeline accidents in the last year — pipeline safety fines would more than double to $2.5 million

Tom Doggett,

May 6, 2011
An oil pipeline in Alaska

WASHINGTON—Reckless operators of U.S. petroleum and natural gas pipelines would pay higher fines under bipartisan safety legislation passed on Thursday by the Senate Commerce Committee.

The bill is in response to several pipeline accidents in the last year that killed more than a dozen people, destroyed homes and polluted land and water.

"More needs to be done to strengthen oversight and address safety vulnerabilities," said Senator Jay Rockefeller, the committee's chairman.

The legislation would raise fines from $100,000 per day to $250,000, and from $1 million for a series of pipeline violations to $2.5 million.

The bill also requires automatic shut-off valves to prevent oil spills and natural gas explosions, and would authorize more federal pipeline safety inspectors.

New Apps for Solar Installers Providing Competitive Edge

Unirac says its solar apps will make installations 'go smoother' and faster. Industry says such digital innovation can ultimately drive down costs

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 5, 2011

Doug May used to watch with unease as solar builders assembling his firm's rooftop mounts raced up and down ladders to fish crumpled manuals from their trucks, or rummaged for instructions on clunky laptops.

And so, like others in the industry, he created an app for them.

Last week, Albuquerque-based began offering installers mobile apps for its aluminum and steel mounts for photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays. The free products are available for users of Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch but could be developed for Google's Android and other phones later this year.

"For us, it is all about how we can make the installation go smoother and how we can be easier to do business with for our customers," May, CEO of Unirac, told SolveClimate News.

"We've come to the conclusion that 'solar 2.0' is happening in terms of taking down the total cost of ownership and providing products and services that meet the engineering requirements of our customers," he said.

Unirac has a 30 percent share of the North American solar racking market and was recently acquired by Lichtenstein-based powertool giant Hilti Group. The solar firm's client list includes the Google Campus in Mountain View, Calif., and Universal Studios in Hollywood.

Scotland Awards Contracts to Make Electricity from Whiskey

Scotland will use the byproducts of its famed whiskey-making industry to create electricity for homes

Kirsty Scott,

May 5, 2011
The Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland

It is the spirit that powers the Scottish economy, and now whiskey is to be used to create electricity for homes in a new bioenergy venture involving some of Scotland's best-known distilleries.

Contracts have recently been awarded for the construction of a biomass combined heat and power plant at Rothes in Speyside that by 2013 will use the by-products of the whiskey-making process for production.

Vast amounts of "draff," the spent grains used in the distilling process, and pot ale, a residue from the copper stills, are produced by the whiskey industry each year and are usually transported off-site.

The , a joint venture between Helius Energy and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) will burn the draff with woodchips to generate enough electricity to supply 9,000 homes. It will be supplied by , a Danish engineering company. The pot ale will be made into a concentrated organic fertilizer and an animal feed for use by local farmers.

Environmentalists have expressed concern that some of the wood used in the process may not be locally sourced, but say the 7.2 megawatt project — the equivalent output of two large wind turbines — is a good scale and a valuable addition to Scotland's renewables industry.

14 Percent Budget Cut to Key Energy Agency Wins Few Fans

EIA information helps guide a roughly $1.2 trillion energy market that reaches into every sector of the U.S. economy

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 4, 2011
Sen. Jeff Bingaman

WASHINGTON—With austerity as the guiding mantra during this budget season, researcher Neal Elliott certainly grasps the concept of a parsimonious Congress nipping and tucking its way to deficit reduction.

But he doesn't think representatives or senators were particularly surgically adept with their decision to slice away $15.2 million from an already-underfunded agency that generates a cornucopia of energy statistics, analysis and forecasting valued by policymakers, regulators, businesses, nonprofits, think tanks and everyday citizens.

And Elliott, associate director for research at the , is part of a vocal majority.

Hardly anybody anywhere can make a logical argument for paring the Energy Information Administration's budget by 14 percent while the nation is stumbling along with what can best be described as a hit and miss energy policy.

"All pounds of flesh are not created equal," Elliott told SolveClimate News in an interview. "As a think tank working at the state and local level, one of our biggest challenges is bridging data gaps. EIA is a key source of information we are dependent on, and budget cuts just are going to make things worse because operating in the dark is not a good place to be."

BP Alaska Deal Seen Pointing to Big Gulf Fine

BP will pay a $25 million civil penalty for its 2006 Alaska oil spills, or over $4,900 per barrel, in the largest such fine to date for an oil accident

Tom Bergin,

May 4, 2011
Gulf of Mexico, June 2010

BP Plc's $85 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice for oil spills in Alaska in 2006 suggests the government will push for higher than expected fines for the Gulf of Mexico blowout.

 Legal experts said the size of a $25 million penalty levied as part of the deal, when calculated on a per barrel of oil spilled basis, and the DoJ's willingness to invoke a raft of legislation to threaten BP, set a bad precedent for the British oil major.

 "The per barrel calculus is really sort of a way of communicating to the public that the Obama administration is very serious about this stuff," said Zygmunt Plater, Professor of Law at Boston College Law School.

BP has indicated it will face fines of under $5 billion related to the 2010 Gulf disaster, rather than the around $21 billion it could face if it was found guilty of gross negligence, a position that most analysts have accepted.

 However, if the Alaska settlement is a template, BP could end up paying out well in excess of $21 billion, as the spill at Prudhoe Bay in 2006 was dwarfed by the nearly 5 million barrels spewed from BP's ruptured Macondo well last summer.

Heat Waves Putting Pressure on Nuclear Power's Outmoded Cooling Technologies

Power generated from coal, natural gas and nuclear withdraws more freshwater per year than the entire agricultural sector; nuclear uses the most

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

May 4, 2011
Catawba Nuclear Station in York County, South Carolina

The scramble to cool the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex with seawater in the aftermath of Japan's disastrous accident put a spotlight on just how much cold water an atomic reactor needs to function — and not just in a crisis.

All existing nuclear plants use vast amounts of water as a coolant. But in recent years — often far from the public eye — hot river and lake temperatures have forced power plants worldwide to decrease generating capacity.

Experts say the problem is only getting worse as climate change triggers prolonged heat waves, prompting calls for changes in siting processes.

"As a long-range strategy, [the industry] might change where we site new plants to have better use of water resources," Gary Vine, an independent consultant, told SolveClimate News. Vine has worked in the nuclear industry for decades and is a former employee of , a utility group.

There is also hope that new technologies will help mitigate the problem.

The is part of an international team working to design the next generation of nuclear plants — some of which will use less water than traditional plants. But the project faces numerous challenges such as cost and implementation barriers, and the DOE anticipates that the generation IV reactors will not be commercially available for at least two decades.

Some Seekers of Rural Life Move Out of Pennsylvania as Gas Rigs Move In

The Aubrees were the lone holdouts against a developer's plan to tap gas in their small town. Now, living in the shadow of drilling rigs, they're leaving

Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 3, 2011
Barn in Montrose Susquehanna County, Pa.

Editor's Note: SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how the gas drilling boom is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the fourth in a multi-part series. (Read parts one , two and three)

MONTROSE, Pa.—After three consecutive nights of tossing and turning, Anna Aubree was so desperate for sleep that she packed a pillow, a blanket and Jasmine the family golden retriever into her car early one March morning.

The 60-something retiree drove seven miles to the relative peace and quiet of the local high school parking lot just to try to refresh her exhausted self by catching a few winks.

All she sought was a brief respite from the constant barrage of pounding, banging, booming and grinding that penetrates the walls of the little yellow one-story house she shares with her husband, Maurice.

"This is my humble abode. But the truth is, I want out," she told SolveClimate News in her thick Brooklyn accent while seated at a dining room table covered with stacks of research documents. "We're surrounded. This noise is horrible. And it never stops. It's all night long."

Seas Could Rise Up to 1.6 Meters by 2100: Study

New international research shows that sea levels could rise by 5 feet by 2100 from warming — a prediction that is above most past scientific estimates

By Alister Doyle,

May 3, 2011
Greenland Ice Cap

OSLO, Norway—Quickening climate change in the Arctic including a thaw of Greenland's ice could raise world sea levels by up to 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) by 2100, an international report showed on Tuesday.

Such a rise — above most past scientific estimates — would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also, for instance, raise costs of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

"The past six years [until 2010] have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic," according to the Oslo-based (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation .

"In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 meters [2 feet, 11 inches] to 1.6 meters [5 feet, 3 inches] by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution," it said. The rises were projected from 1990 levels.

"Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet contributed over 40 percent of the global sea level rise of around 3 mm per year observed between 2003 and 2008," it said.

Experts Divided Over Safety of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Critics of Indian Point say the NYC suburbs are no place for a nuclear plant, while advocates insist the facility is safe, despite having some seismic risk

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

May 2, 2011

New York City, the nation's most densely populated county, stands just 24 miles downwind from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, making it the closest and largest city to an atomic facility in the United States. 

Now the plant has brought another unwanted distinction to the area. A recent based on (NRC) figures reveals that among the country's 104 nuclear power plants, Indian Point carries the greatest risk of reactor core damage from an earthquake.

NRC maintains that Indian Point and all U.S. nuclear plants were designed to absorb increased risk. "All plants continue to meet their seismic requirements and continue to operate safely," NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell told SolveClimate News.

But in the wake of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station, some New York politicians and environmentalists are demanding a fresh cost-benefit analysis of Indian Point and the carbon-free power it provides. Leading the charge are New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner, whose town sits midway between Indian Point and New York City, and the Ossining, N.Y.-based environmental group Riverkeeper.

Could a disaster similar to the one still unfolding in Japan happen here? the critics ask. Is nuclear power's zero-emissions electricity worth the risk?