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Clean Energy Investment 'Bank' Has Bipartisan Support, But No Money

Those championing a green investment agency are hopeful that senators will rearrange enough dollars in the DOE budget, or elsewhere, to make it happen

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 11, 2011
Sen. Jeff Bingaman

WASHINGTON—Two top senators are again toying with the fancy of enhancing the Department of Energy's ability to finance clean energy projects.

Those in the business are certainly eager to embrace the resurrection of what is called the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA).

However, they're jittery that it will emerge as a piece of "all hat and no cattle" legislation if the can't definitively map out where to find an estimated $10 billion in upfront costs.

Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman is talking about having a piece of legislation — likely without accommodations for offsetting the cost — prepared this month. It's possible that the committee could mark it up and vote on it within the next few weeks.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the committee's ranking Republican, is on board with the New Mexico Democrat’s measure. But she's made it clear that the program's cost would have to be balanced via spending reductions elsewhere in the federal budget.

Expectations are that the Senate, where the Democratic caucus has a 53-47 majority, would follow the committee's lead and be receptive to the CEDA measure. But the Republican-dominated House is a different story.

Federal Pollution Laws Drive Chicago-Area Coal Plant Out of Business

Dominion Resources, the plant's owner, says it is planning to generate new power in Indiana through a 750-MW wind farm now under construction

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 11, 2011
The State Line Power Station near Chicago

An 85-year-old coal plant near Chicago is going out of business after new federal air quality rules ultimately made the facility too costly to be worth operating.

The 515-megawatt in Hammond, Ind., will join some 17,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity scheduled for retirement in the next few years, in light of rising coal prices and tighter mercury and air toxics standards proposed by the U.S. EPA.

Richmond, Va.-based told that it had opted not to bid State Line's power capacity in an upcoming auction for the 2014 to 2015 planning period.

"It is really a two-fold response," Dominion spokesperson Dan Genest told SolveClimate News. "The price of natural gas is coming way down, and so the State Line Power Station ... really can't compete in the unregulated energy market against natural gas. So it is not getting run as much as it used to, and we're not making any money on it.

"Given those conditions, it just doesn't make sense for us to invest all of this money in environmental controls for a station that is not operating very much."

He added: "We have said all along that we would operate State Line in full compliance of all environmental regulations safely and economically. So as long as there is an opportunity for us to stay in compliance and do it safely — and make money — then we could continue to operate."

Dominion expects that opportunity to burn out by mid-2014, when EPA's proposed would require the power company to install scrubbers and other pollution control equipment at the plant just 13 miles from downtown Chicago.

A Solar City Tries to Rise in Turkey Despite Lack of Federal Support

Installing PV arrays across one half of one percent of Turkey's landmass could supply the nation's current electrical capacity

By Julia Harte, SolveClimate News

May 10, 2011
Solar House, Antalya, Turkey

ANTALYA, Turkey—Turkey's weak policy support for solar power hasn't stopped the sun-soaked southern city of Antalya from forging ahead with plans to exploit its solar resource — and to encourage other local governments to follow suit.

In April, Antalya opened its long-awaited "Solar House," the first step in its push to become Turkey's first and only solar city.

The environmental education center and renewable energy showcase boasts 24 one-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) panels, among other clean energy solutions such as a windmill and a track that generates power from bicycles.

The model house cost about $600,000 and was 90 percent funded by Turkish companies and 10 percent by the . It will produce and store all the energy it consumes and feed excess power back into the grid — though it won't profit from doing so.

The country's energy authority doesn't yet buy surplus electricity from small producers of solar power. This is partly why the cost of installing solar panels remains prohibitive for nearly all Antalya residents, local observers say.

"We need to show the Turkish people how we can produce solar energy, because it's a very new concept for most Turks," Mustafa Akaydın, the mayor of Antalya, told SolveClimate News in an interview.

Flammable Methane in Drinking Water Near Fracking Wells, Study Finds

A study on the impact of fracking in Pennsylvania and New York shows water within1 kilometer of gas wells has methane levels over 17 times normal

Abrahm Lustgarten,

May 10, 2011
Marcellus Shale

For the first time, a scientific study has linked natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire.

, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stands to shape the contentious debate over whether drilling is safe and begins to fill an information gap that has made it difficult for lawmakers and the public to understand the risks.

The research was conducted by four scientists at Duke University. They found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting from thousands of feet underground, strongly implying that the gas may be seeping underground through natural or manmade faults and fractures, or coming from cracks in the well structure itself.

"Our results show evidence for methane contamination of shallow drinking water systems in at least three areas of the region and suggest important environmental risks accompanying shale gas exploration worldwide," the article states.

Next-Generation Nuclear Energy Reactors: A Primer

Gen IV plants will be safer and less water intensive, but they won't be commercially viable until 2030 at the earliest. Will there still be market demand?

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

May 9, 2011
Boiling water nuclear reactor

The next generation of nuclear power reactors promises to be safer, more fuel efficient and less water intensive — but the world must wait at least 20 years to see them in action.

Known as Generation IV reactors, the models are "revolutionary" in design, said David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the . Ironically, though, the reactors' leading-edge features could end up being the greatest impediment to their initial adoption, he said.

Utilities are likely to be leery to shell out billions and billions without proof of operational success, Lochbaum told SolveClimate News, and that could "slow down the market" for the new designs.

The goal is to make the Gen IV fleet "competitive" on price with today's plants, said Robert Hill, a senior nuclear engineer at the Department of Energy's , though it's too early to tell if that's possible. A large nuclear reactor today costs between $4 and $10 billion.

For the moment, at least, the point is immaterial. Gen IV reactors still need a great deal of research and development, and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates they won't be commercially viable until 2030 at the earliest.

In China the Big Nuclear Question Is 'How Soon?'

While some nations have turned their backs on nuclear, China is pressing ahead with a bold plan to raise capacity from 10.8 GW to as much as 70 GW in 2020

By David Stanway,

May 8, 2011
Nuclear power plant in Qinshan, China

CHENGDU, China—The congenial Professor Duan Xuru doesn't look like a stereotypical mad scientist as he shows guests into a cluttered laboratory filled with canisters, vacuum pumps and patched-up pipes tied together with spirals of blue wire and rubber tubing.

But Duan, based in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu, is working on an audacious project described as a "man-made sun." He hopes it will eventually create almost unlimited supplies of cheap and clean energy.

Duan is no maverick either, but a pioneer in one of the many expeditions that China has launched to map out its nuclear energy options in the future.

Old-fashioned atom splitting has been in the spotlight after Japan's biggest earthquake and tsunami left an aging nuclear reactor complex on the northeast coast on the verge of catastrophic meltdown.

While Germany and Italy have turned their backs on nuclear power, China is pressing ahead with an ambitious plan to raise capacity from 10.8 gigawatts at the end of 2010 to as much as 70 or 80 GW in 2020.

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.