Monday, March 3, 2014

A Tale Of 2 Governors: After Feds Declare Oil Trains Imminent Hazard, Feds Do Too Little, Cuomo Acts But Corbett Sleeps

The federal government declared last week oil trains carrying North Dakota Crude to be an imminent hazard to public safety.  That declaration makes clear the danger rumbling through communities.

Yet, the stark federal warning of danger, however, underlines the inadequacy of federal action to make oil trains carrying North Dakota crude safe.  Federal regulators merely required testing of each oil shipment and banned the use of the very worst or oldest tankers to ship it...just 3% of the tanker fleet.

To be clear, the federal government did not ban the transport of the world's most explosive crude in non-puncture resistant tankers. Indeed, this morning North Dakota crude in large quantities is traveling in non-puncture resistant tankers, with the irresponsible blessing of federal regulators. Those tankers have been used in 4 explosive train derailments that have killed 47 people so far.

Not willing to rely on the federal government, Governor Cuomo is acting to protect New Yorkers as large numbers of these trains rumble through the Empire state.

Unlike Governor Cuomo, Governor Corbett does nothing to protect Pennsylvanians, even though the Commonwealth is the destination for 20% of the trains that the feds call an imminent hazard to public safety.  Corbett's inaction is a dereliction of duty.

At this point, both federal and state officials should require that North Dakota oil be transported only in puncture-resistant tankers. Unless and until they take that action, they are enabling the next oil train explosion!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Record Fact: Biodiesel Production Sets Annual & Monthly Records

December 2013 was an historic and record month for biodiesel production. A monthly record of 135 million gallons was produced in December, capping off a record year in 2013.

Biodiesel production topped 1.3 billion gallons in 2013, up about 35% from 2012 and smashing the previous annual record.  More growth in biodiesel production is fully possible since existing biodiesel capacity can produce more than 2 billion gallons per year.

Biodiesel is a domestic fuel, with a strongly positive energy balance, unlike gasoline. As such it is good for our economy and environment.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pennsylvania's Carbon Emissions Fall To 34 Year Low And Are Rare Good News Carbon Story

Carbon emissions continue to increase rapidly around the world.  The world's emission facts are grim, and finding major examples of declining emissions is, indeed, hard to do.

But those hunting for good carbon news should look at carbon trends in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a good news exception to oceans of bad carbon data. Indeed, few countries or states have cut carbon emissions more than Pennsylvania, since 1980, 1990 or 2005.

Pennsylvania's carbon emissions in 2011 were lower than in 2005, 1990, and 1980, according to the most recent state emission data from the Energy Information Administration.

EIA reports that Pennsylvania's carbon emissions were down to 244.7 million tons in 2011 from 272.9 million tons in 2005. That's a bit more than a 10% decline in 6 years.  Additionally, Pennsylvania's carbon emissions were lower in 2011 than in 1990 or 1980, when they totaled 292 million tons.

As of 1980, Pennsylvania's carbon emissions were more than 2% of the world's emissions. But, as of 2011, the Commonwealth's carbon emissions are now closer to 0.75% of the global total.

Big reductions from burning coal and oil are responsible for Pennsylvania's sharply declining carbon emissions. The Commonwealth's carbon emissions from burning coal have fallen from 153 million tons in 1980 to 140 million tons in 2005 to 114 million tons in 2011, as both nuclear and natural gas displaced large amounts of coal generation as well as petroleum combustion.

Apart from large changes over the last 30 to 50 years in how Pennsylvania generates electricity, Pennsylvania's decline in carbon emissions also reflects a structural shift in its economy from heavy industrialization to an economy now based on education, health care, and services.

All those reductions make Pennsylvania one of the best carbon reduction stories in the world over the last 34 years.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Two Georgia Nukes Prove Building Nuclear Plants Requires These 6 Conditions, Including $8.3 Billion Of Federal Loan Guarantees

What does it take to build a new nuclear power plant?  Massive government interventions, huge subsidies, and a utility management ready to bet its customers' wallets that it can avoid disastrous cost overruns are all required. Here are the big 6 requirements needed to build a nuke:

First, building a new nuke requires a utility to have an ironclad monopoly that makes its customers captives of the utility and the state regulators so that Wall Street is confident that the huge, costly investment made will be paid back by customers who cannot walk away from the debts incurred.

Second, and related to the first requirement, competition laws must not exist in a state for a nuclear plant to be built. Retail electricity generation competition or laws allowing customers to choose their electricity generation competition kill new nuclear plants, because Wall Street will not make capital available for nuclear construction if a utility must compete to keep customers.

Third, a law limiting liability of the plant's owners in the event of a nuclear meltdown or catastrophic accident is needed.  The federal government obliged by passing such a law

Fourth, subsidies and tax breaks of all kinds that add up to billions of dollars must be paid. Again, the federal government obliged.

Fifth, the federal government must offer massive guarantees of loans made. In the case of two new nuclear units in Georgia, the federal government is offering as much as $8.3 billion in guarantees.

Sixth, building a new nuclear plant requires a utility management willing to put at risk the utility's financial health and regulators who still underestimate the financial risks to customers.  Construction and budget overruns always happen with nuclear plants, and they can be financially disastrous for customers who get stuck with the bill or for utility shareholders or both.

One thing not required to build a new nuclear plant is a permanent place to store the highly toxic nuclear waste that plants generate throughout their operations.

These 6 requirements to build a new nuclear plant are all in place in Georgia, where the utility is building two new nuclear units that will each have a capacity of 1,100 megawatts.  But Georgia and the Southern Company are proving to be the only place in the America, where all 6 requirements needed to build a nuclear plant do exist.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dangerous Fact: North Dakota Crude Is World's Most Volatile/Explosive, According To WSJ Analysis

Kudos to Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal for his important article reporting on a comparative analysis done of the volatility of various kinds of crude from around the world.  Of 86 types of crude tested, the analysis concludes that North Dakota crude is the most volatile! Watch out!

This WSJ analysis is consistent with and explains the horrendous explosions that have resulted, when trains transporting North Dakota crude have derailed. One such explosion killed 47 people in Canada.

Despite the especially explosive, dangerous characteristics of North Dakota crude, the New York Times reports North Dakota crude is still being transported in non-puncture resistant tankers.

According to the NYT, neither the railroads nor crude producers are willing to make sure that North Dakota crude is transported in only puncture-resistant tankers. Meanwhile, possible federal regulatory changes, that would mandate North Dakota crude be transportant only in modern, puncture-resistant tankers, are moving at a snail's pace.

Industry resistance  and slow regulatory response means that virtually every train transporting North Dakota crude remains today a disaster waiting to happen.  For those of living in Pennsylvania that is particularly disturbing, because about 20% of North Dakota's crude rolls through our communities. Yet, Governor Corbett continues to do nothing to protect the safety of Pennsylvanians, even as the response of the industries involved and federal regulators is completely inadequate.

The WSJ analysis of the volatility of North Dakota crude is now powerful evidence and facts that the risks posed by transporting North Dakota crude in non-puncture-resistant containers are unacceptably high!

Non-Hydro Renewable Sources Triple Electricity Output In Last Decade

Led by astonishing increases in wind and solar, non-hydro renewable energy sources have tripled the amount of electricity they generate in the last decade.  Wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass electrical generation now provides 6.24% of America's power, while hydro provides another 6.63%.

The boom in wind and solar continued in 2013, with wind jumping 19% and solar soaring 113%.  Wind alone now provides more than 4% of all of our electricity.

As impressive as the surge in non-hydro renewable power output has been over the last decade, 2014 will be another strong, even record year.  Record amounts of wind and solar will be built this year, insuring that non-hydro power production will keep growing and soon will surpass the amount of power coming from America's substantial hydro generation.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Short Era Of Cheap Gas Ended In January: Has It Gone For Ever?

Natural gas cost $13 for a thousand cubic feet in July 2008 and then plunged for 4 years, until bottoming at less than $2 in April 2012.

Ever since April, 2012, natural gas prices have been marching upward and have reached record highs in some areas of the country.  The Energy Information Administration reports that natural gas spot market or daily prices averaged $22 in the Boston market from January to February 18th.

Spot market prices are always volatile and affected substantially by weather, but new record highs in an era of the shale gas supply boom is still notable. Non-spot prices have also increased significantly--by 150% to 200% from the April 2012 low--but have not approached record prices.

The era of cheap gas that stretched from 2011 to 2013 has ended. Has it gone for ever?