Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Representative Vitali May Challenge PA Congressional Redistricting

Inspired by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court throwing out the gerrymandering of Pennsylvania's state legislative districts,  State Representative Greg Vitali is seeking an attorney to challenge Pennsylvania's Congressional lines.  Vitali has been exploring challenging Congressman Patrick Meehan who is the beneficiary of  the most gerrymandered district in the nation, and that really is saying something.

The Pennsylvania gerrymandering of the district lines for Congress is enormous, probably the worse in the nation, though again the competition is tough. But most challenges under federal law fail.  It will be an uphill climb to reverse what really is a travesty to democracy and competitive elections.

In Pennsylvania, the Republican party had complete control of the redistricting process and have picked the voters that they want for each district. Pennsylvania joins Illinois, where the Democratic Party controlled redistricting, as classic examples of the old saying that partisan redistricting allows politicians to pick voters and prevents voters from picking politicians.

Florida's Biggest Electric Utility Switching Oil To Gas, Saving $460 Million In 2012 Fuel Costs

Gas has been mainly displacing coal in electricity generation and not much oil for the simple reason that oil provides about 1% of America's electricity and that number is declining.  There is not a lot of oil to displace in the electricity industry, but FPL, Florida's biggest electric utility, is an exception.

Oil accounts for 15% of FPL's generation capacity and 4% of its electric generation, but FPL is aggressively switching its oil generation to gas, as a result of low gas prices, to the considerable benefit of the environment and consumers. FPL still has a monopoly on electricity generation so it collects from its customers every single dollar it spends on fuel to generate electricity.  Low natural gas prices will cut by an incredible $460 million the fuel costs collected from consumers just in 2012.

Instead of paying for fuel, that is $460 million of stimulus to the Florida economy that is freed for investing in clothes, food, school books, efficient lighting--all manner of things.  A typical FPL customer will save $4.53 per month as a result of the fuel cost reductions.

Low natural gas prices are also good news for the environment and our oil import imbalance, because FPL is in the process of replacing dirty, old big oil-fired power plants with modern, efficient clean natural gas generation. It has already demolished 2 big oil burners, is building two 1250 MW new gas plants that will begin operations in 2013 and 2014, and might do the same at a third facility. The switch will slash air emissions, including carbon pollution.

Switching from oil to gas has also the important benefit of reducing oil imports, as still about 50% of all oil consumed is imported.  The US does not fight wars for natural gas or ethanol or biodiesel, but expends as much as one-third of its military budget to protect oil shipments from the Middle East.

Next Era is the parent company of FPL and is one of the nation's biggest renewable energy companies, with massive investments in wind and solar power.  Next Era understands that the next era in power generation will be led by gas and renewable energy.

No European Solar Crisis; Solar Booms in Europe; Nears Grid Parity

An incredible 7,040 megawatts of solar was installed in Europe during just the 4th quarter of 2011, according to www.solarbuzz.com. By contrast Asia installed 6,000 megawatts and the USA built about 2,000 megawatts in the entire 2011. Europe, the largest solar market in the world, installed 18% more solar in 2011 than in  the previous record year of 2010.

Some folks for a couple years have pointed to declining subsidies in Germany or elsewhere and predicted the collapse of Europe's solar market.  Sharply falling solar prices have proved such predictions wrong, since the price reductions have typically exceeded any cuts in subsidies.  For example, module prices dropped 40% in Europe during 2011 alone.

Solarbuzz writes:  "As incentive tariffs follow prices downward, less public funding is needed to build significant country markets. In additions, as PV becomes more competitive with retail electricity prices, investors become less dependent on public funding schemes for viable economics. As a result, new markets are emerging, particularly in East and Southeast Europe."

The Ukraine built two 100 MW solar plants in 2011, while Serbia is building two 150 MW plants and a 1,000 MW monster.  European solar used to be just Spain and Germany and it used to be totally dependent on large subsidies.

Today solar is booming all across Europe and needs little or no subsidy in some countries. While Europe has been in economic crisis for nearly 4 years, as austerity economics worsens its problems, the European solar market is booming, basking in sunshine.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Romney Outspends Gingrich By $12 Million In Florida To Win Primary

How do you turnaround a big loss in South Carolina, stop major momentum for your opponent, and win Florida when your opponent leads in national polls? You spend $12 million dollars more on mostly negative ads, ripping apart your opponent. That is what Mitt Romney is doing in Florida to Newt Gingrich, according to Alexander Burn in www.politico.com. Romney has spent $15.3 million to Gingrich's $3.3 million in Florida, outspending him 5 to 1. No candidate can win being outspent that badly. Romney is up about 10 points in the latest polling in Florida, though he trails Gingrich in national polls through Friday. Look for the Governor to win tomorrow both the Florida primary and a lifetime political enemy in Gingrich.

CBS News Botches Dimock Story, Despite My Effort!

 CBS News botched its Saturday January 28th story on Dimock and hydraulic fracturing (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7396742n&tag=cbsnewsMainColumnArea). Most unfortunately the story got critical facts totally wrong; more than a couple million people saw it; and I was in it!

On Friday January 20th, CBS News asked to do an interview with me about Dimock. I traveled to the CBS Harrisburg affiliate and answered from 7:30pm to 8:15pm on camera via satellite numerous questions from a  CBS News producer in New York about Dimock.

We spoke  about what happened in Dimock and, just as importantly, what did not happen there. Simply put, I said that gas had migrated from poor drilling to 18 water wells, but no fluids from hydraulic fracturing had returned from depth.

I walked CBS News through the testing and investigation done to conclude that gas had migrated to 18 wells, but fracking fluids had not. I stressed that Duke University's testing of the same wells also had found no fracking fluids but high methane levels.

I noted that, since the driller (Cabot) had not done pre-drill water tests in 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's investigation of the water well contamination was  more difficult.  I explained the various tests and steps completed that supported a finding that gas had migrated but that frack fluids had not returned from depth to contaminate water wells. I told CBS about the recent Lenox Township case involving Cabot where a pre-drilling water test had been done. In that case, there was very low methane levels prior to drilling and very high levels after drilling.

I hit hard that the problem was gas migrating and not frack fluids returning from depth. After seeing the CBS story, I might as well as have spat in a hurricane.

The CBS story starts with the exploding water tap scene from Gasland and flatly says that the Dimock wells were contaminated by fracking fluids and that the EPA has concluded so.  It includes a diagram to show fracking and fluids entering the aquifer.

What about the 45 minute interview that I gave? CBS takes less than 5 seconds from it and has me saying only that "Poor drilling contaminated 18 wells." 

The piece contains nothing from me saying that the problem was gas migrating and not frack fluids. Nothing from me saying that the frack fluids had not returned from depth. Nothing from me saying that hydraulic fracuring had nothing to do with the problem. Nothing from me explaining the difference between the drilling and hydraulic fracturing phases of well development. Nothing from anyone that contradicted the narrative of the story that fracking had caused contamination with chemicals and fluids of the water wells.

Instead 5 seconds of my interview are edited brutally and misleadingly to build the narrative that fracking fluids contaminated water in Dimock.  As I left the affiliate's station, the cameraman for the interview asked, how I thought the interview had gone?  I replied that editing would provide the answer. 

While Pennsylvania's reporters like Don Gililland, Andrew Maykuth, Laura Legere, and Don Hopey often write factually accurate stories, the CBS story is an example of the national reporting about natural gas that misinforms, misleads, and misguides the public.

New Wind Up 31% In 2011 & Key Wind Facts

The American wind industry had another strong year in 2011.  It installed 6,810 megawatts of new capacity, a 31% increase over 2010. The 4th quarter of 2011 saw 3,444 MW installed. See http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pressreleases/Q4_making_inroads.cfm and http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/reports/upload/4Q-2011-AWEA-Public-Market-Report-2.pdf. Wind power is likely to have provided about a third of all new capacity built in the USA during 2011.

The 2011 completed projects increased America's total wind capacity to 46,919 MW, up 17% over the 2010 total. America operates about 20% of the world's wind capacity.  Another 8,300 MW is now under construction in 31 states, as many companies are rushing to complete projects before December 31st, 2012, when the current production tax credit is scheduled to expire.

In 2011, California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma were the top 5 states in building new wind capacity.  California alone installed 921.3 MW. 

Eight states now have installed more than 2,000 MW.  They are Texas (10,377 MW), Iowa (4,322 MW), California (3,927 MW), Illinois (2,743 MW), Minnesota (2,733 MW), Washington (2,573), Oregon (2,513 MW), and Oklahoma (2,007 MW).

Pennsylvania ranked 15th in wind capacity at the end of 2011 with 789 megawatts installed.  Pennsylvania may nearly double its wind capacity in 2012 as numerous projects are now under construction.

The American wind industry directly employs about 75,000 people, but about 50% of those jobs are at risk because the production tax credit has not been extended.  While strong bi-partisan support exists for extending the production tax credit, rising Republican opposition could be enough to block its extension, making mass layoffs this year throughout the supply chain of the wind industry a possibility.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Obama and Republican Circular Firing Squad Are Nailing Down President's Victory

January is not yet over, but it has been a very good month for President Obama's political prospects.  It began with the meteoric rise of Senator Santorum and Governor Romney struggling in the Iowa caucus on January 3rd.  Few things lift Democratic hearts more than the sight of Republicans falling in love with Senator Santorum who brands the Republican party in a uniquely unattractive manner.

Then came January 6th and the news that the nation added another 200,000 jobs in December 2011, as the American economy grows.  America's growth stands in strong contrast to the United Kingdom, where austerity economics that is championed by the President's opponents pushes the UK into a deepening recession, with its GDP actually declining once again.  Five to 6 more jobs reports like that of December 2011 would nail down the election for President Obama.

But even if he does not get good jobs reports going forward, President Obama has the gift that keeps on giving:   The Republican Circular Firing Squad.  Republicans are in the process of spending probably $20 million or more on savaging each other in Florida.  Romney alone is reportedly unloading $13 million of negatives on Newt in the Sunshine state.

That sunny binge of mutually assured destruction follows $10 million or more flung destructively by Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul at each other in South Carolina.

Between South Carolina and Florida, the American people are learning that Romney had a notorious Swiss Bank account, as well as bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda and pays 13.9% in taxes, despite annual income over $20 million.  They are hearing endless stories about Romney buying companies and loading them with debt to leverage big returns for himself and his investors, while many jobs were lost. They are being told that Gingrich was sanctioned for ethics violations in the house, run out of the Speaker's chair, and that he is a mentally-unbalanced influence peddler.  That is not counting what his second wife has to say, and what she has to say will not help him in the general election with women.

The result of all this is that the favorability ratings of Romney and Gingrich have collapsed. By about 2-1, the American people disapprove of both of them.  Each of their disapproval ratings are above 50% and have spiked since December 2011.  Mutually Assured Destruction at work.

Meanwhile more and more data show Obama gaining strength.  He has slightly positive approval rating--48 to 46-- in this week's Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.  Yesterday, Terry Madonna's poll had the President beating Romney by 11 points in Pennsylvania, a growing margin from the October 2011 poll.

If President Obama's spring is like his January, the election will be over before Labor Day.  Of course, perhaps events will turn, and the spring will be cruel to the President.  But right now the trends and odds are mounting in his favor.

Asia Installing Big Solar Numbers Is A Big Deal

The amount of solar installed in Asia skyrocketed 165% to 6,000 megawatts, according to data now on the Solarbuzz website.  See www.solarbuzz.com.

China alone installed 2,900 megawatts of solar in 2011, with 1,700 megawatts in just the 4th quarter. The USA too had a record solar year in 2011 and installed 1,700 to 2,000 megawatts, but China installed about 50% more solar than in the USA  In 2011 China went from mostly manufacturing panels and exporting to installing large amounts of solar.

The global solar market is now a three-legged continental stool: Europe, Asia, North America in that order of importance  Big American companies like GE, PPG, Air Products are part of the global solar supply chain and competing to sell their products around the world.

The boom in Chinese and Asian solar installation in 2011 insures further solar price declines and diversifies and grows global solar markets.  It is a big deal and the Solarbuzz data are worth reviewing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dimock Water Testing Triple Header On Tap: Shale Wars Continue

Since no one trusts anyone in the Dimock case, just about everyone wants to do their own testing of well water, and some families are just saying no to water testing, according to Laura Legere of the Scranton Times.  See http://independentweekender.com/index.php/2012/01/25/5979/.

The EPA, DEP, Cabot Oil and Gas all seem to be taking samples and doing there own testing. It is a water testing triple header.

Perhaps this is a good thing in these polarized times.  Possibly the industry will believe the Cabot results, and the anti-drilling groups will believe the EPA results.   Others may believe the DEP results.  That may add up to everyone accepting the test results.

Of course, if not already a three ring circus, this multiple testing at the same time will be a circus, if the results differ.

Not surprisingly to me, Legere reports that a "significant" number of the 61 families that EPA had identified for further testing are refusing the offer.  The community in Dimock area is divided, with bitter opponents of drilling and many families supportive of gas drilling, though those families do not get much media coverage.

Of course a huge amount of water testing and action is water under the bridge in the Dimock case. Here is a brief recap.

DEP has done an extensive investigation that included significant gas testing.  DEP found that at 18 water wells had been impacted by gas migrating as a result of poor gas drilling.  DEP also found that there was no contamination of the aquifer or water wells by hydraulic fracturing.  A subsequent Duke University study confirmed this point.

Based on its findings, DEP issued Cabot cumulative fines in excess of $1.3 million.  DEP  required the plugging of several gas wells and the repair of other gas wells to remove gas from water wells.  The plugging and repair of gas wells cost Cabot tens of millions of dollars of direct expense and lost revenues.

DEP required Cabot to establish individual escrow accounts totaling $4.1 million and that averaged more than $200,000 each for the 18 families where DEP found gas migration had polluted their water wells.  Seven of the 18 families reportedly took the escrow account payments, while 11 have not.

By December 2010, gas had been reduced to safe levels in as many as 14 of the water wells. But more testing was needed to confirm the improvement in those wells.

We are certainly going to get more testing.

"A Nation of Wusses": Governor Rendell's Must Read Book

Titled "A Nation of Wusses," Governor Rendell's book is finished and will be published around Memorial Day. This is one book of which I will buy several copies on its first day and read as rapidly as possible.

No matter your views, I promise you Governor Rendell will say something that makes you cheer and scream. Fun, Fun, Fun.

The book will also have sharp insights about leadership, politics, economy, and probably our culture.  It will be a great read!

After I have read it, I will decide to whom I send a copy.

Statement: Is Natural Gas A Bridge To Nowhere, As Joe Romm Says?

Joe Romm who does important work about climate change and who runs climateprogress.org recently posted that natural gas is a bridge to nowhere.  See http://www.thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/01/24/407765/natural-gas-is-a-bridge-to-nowhere-price-for-global-warming-pollution.

Let's be clear that Romm's beef with natural gas concerns carbon emissions.  Romm likely would agree that, if  the world switched completely from coal to gas and from oil to gas, that global mercury, lead, arsenic, smog-causing pollution, acid rain, and deadly soot all would be slashed.  This hypothetical complete transition to gas would literally save every year hundreds of thousands of lives and possibly millions.

Even the air in Beijing would be safe to breathe, if China ran on gas.  Fish would not be contaminated with mercury around the world, if the world ran on gas.  The one-in-six women in the USA that do have elevated levels of mercury in their blood, as a result of global coal burning, would be free of mercury, if the world ran on gas.

Gas emits zero or close to zero of major pollutants that cause havoc to the world's environment and public health. It causes minor damage to water compared to the massive harm done by oil leaks and spills and coal mining. Gas is orders of magnitude less dirty than coal or oil.

But gas is not perfectly clean.  It does emit carbon emissions when combusted.  And Romm's beef with natural gas is about carbon emissions.

Yet, carbon emissions from coal are twice those of gas, according to a slew of studies, including the Sierra Club financed Carnegie Mellon University, Worldwatch Institute, National Energy Technology Laboratory reports as well as others.  Thankfully, in his post, Romm does not cite the Howarth lifecycle gas study that has been debunked by as many as 6 other studies, including another group of Cornell University professors, all of which confirm that coal emits two times more carbon than gas on a life cycle basis.

In his Bridge To Nowhere post, Romm appropriately notes that the methane leakage rate of the natural gas industry impacts what role gas can play in solving climate change.  He, in fact, says that gas could play a significant, positive role if the methane leakage rate of the gas industry was below 2% but expresses skepticism that the rate is at level. 

Some research underway may shed light on whether the gas industry is or is not already at the 2% level.  But if the industry is not, it can clearly get there and must. Indeed, even Professor Howarth concedes so. Howarth says in his January 2012 paper: "Can shale-gas methane emissions be reduced? Clearly yes, and proposed EPA regulations to require capture of gas at the time of well completions are an important step."  Those are the words of the most extreme, anti-gas academic and his position on the current status of gas's carbon footprint is overwhelmingly rejected by an avalanche of expert studies.

The United Nations and the world's climate experts state that the world must reduce carbon emissions 50% by 2050 to stabilize heat trapping pollution at levels that would avoid truly dangerous change and risks.  To achieve such reductions in effectively 39 years, all tools that can reduce emissions must be deployed and as early as possible. There is no time left to wait for a magical energy breakthrough.

Gas is ready now. It is a low-cost way to cut carbon emissions 50% today every time it displaces a kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by coal.  In the US, gas is displacing coal. Coal's share of the electricity market has fallen from 52% in 2000 to 43% in 2011 and will likely be 41% by 2013. Gas's share has risen from 16% in 2000 to 25% now.

And as gas displaces coal, where are the US's fossil fuel carbon emissions? They are back to below 2000 levels, even though America today has 30 million more people and that our GDP is considerably bigger.

To be clear once more, the progress that America is making on carbon is not just because of gas.  Energy efficiency as well as the boom in renewable fuels are central too.

No one tool or even three or four tools will get done the daunting job of reducing global emissions 50%. Yet the "perfectionist caucus" often stands in the way of each and every possible action in the real world of project development, for its true that some find offshore and onshore wind ugly, that wind does kill birds and bats, that six nuclear reactors have melted down in the last 35 years, that burning wood emits soot and carbon, and that gas is not perfect. No matter the inevitable attacks on anything and everything, energy efficiency, nuclear, renewables, carbon capture storage, electric vehicles,  gas displacing coal and oil and much more will be needed.

Moreover, even if it were possible, switching the entire world to gas would not achieve by itself the 50% carbon reduction needed by 2050, since gas does emit carbon. But that does not mean gas has no role to play in solving the climate problem, even without carbon capture and storage technology.

Gas can cut 50% of the carbon emissions of coal and do so cheaply, lowering hugely the cost of carbon reductions, thereby making more and earlier carbon reductions economically and politically possible.

Romm himself does state that replacing existing coal generation with gas is a good thing for the climate.  It literally cuts by 50% the carbon emissions from the plant. It does so today, right now, and produces electricity at a lower price than coal in the US.  That is consistent with the goal of a 50% reduction of carbon by 2050. 

For these reasons, it is hyperbolic to say gas is a bridge to nowhere. Nobody that I know, and I certainly am not saying that gas alone solves the climate problem.  It does not. But just as clearly gas can help cool our planet.

What about the Wigley study that Romm and others cite?  The study uses modeling based upon a number of assumptions and scenarios to look at climate impacts this century or the short term in climatic terms at this point.  It points out that gas replacing coal reduces sulfate aerosols--a cooling forcing--and thereby perversely marginally raises temperatures for short periods.  Renewables or nuclear energy replacing coal would also reduce the sulfates--the cooling forcing--and have the same effect as gas doing so.

The Wigley study assumes that gas replaces just 50% of coal.  Since this is a modeling exercise, why not assume gas replaces 100% of coal?  Not enough renewable energy also will do little to change global temperatures over the next 90 years.  Indeed, the climate has already changed, and many scientists say a lot more warming is already baked into the climate system, even at current levels of global warming pollution.

The Wigley study assumes that 83% of the sulfur dioxide from coal is eliminated over 50 years.  The reductions may well be much quicker and will be in the USA.  The study's results change for the better if the reductions happen much sooner.

But most importantly the Wigley study itself, despite removing the cooling forcing of sulfate aerosols,  finds in 3 of 4 scenarios that gas makes a positive contribution this century and a substantial contribution if the methane leakage rate is 2% or less.  Many believe the leakage rate at least in the US is there now, and more data is on the way.

Whether the leakage rate is at 2% or not, it can and must go lower from current levels.  Importantly and perhaps encouragingly, there is broad agreement that the July 2011 EPA proposed rule would reduce further methane leakage rates.  The rule is vital for air quality and our climate.

Gas alone cannot solve the climate problem. That is true.  Yet, the climate will not be stabilized, without gas playing a major role right now in lowering carbon pollution, until perhaps someday the world captures carbon or transitions from carbon to hydrogen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

PR Firm Fuels Howarth Misinformation: Secret To Howarth's Media Mastery Revealed

Exactly how Prof. Howarth became the King of Media is now revealed. Bought and paid for by Park Foundation funds, a PR firm--the Hastings Group--was retained to publicize Howarth's original study and his response to the 6 studies debunking Howarth.  See http://t.co/bjAcHmH6

Money spent on the Hastings Group has been exceptionally productive for Professor Howarth.  The Hastings group won a tsunami of press coverage, while most of the media ignored the avalanche of studies debunking Howarth. 

Clearly the Sierra Club financed Carnegie Mellon University study that found coal emits twice the carbon as gas had no aggressive PR firm spoon feeding the study to media around the country.  It attracted little coverage, despite its high quality.  The same fate happened to the Worldwatch Institute study and the other reports that reached flatly contradictory results to Howarth.

The huge imbalance in coverage has meant that the public has been badly misinformed about the carbon footprint of gas and coal.  The truth has suffered.

PA Wind Industry Launches Buy PA Wind Campaign

Featuring an internet one-stop shopping and information site, billboards, and other education efforts, the Pennsylvania wind industry launched yesterday a major campaign to encourage big and small electricity consumers to buy wind power from Pennsylvania wind farms.

The heart of the Choose PA wind campaign is www.choosepawind.com.  The site provides information and enables consumers to buy Pennsylvania wind power from companies ready to sell.

The campaign seeks to persuade two groups of consumers to buy wind power generated in the Commonwealth.  The first group is made of consumers who have bought green electricity but from green generators outside of Pennsylvania, perhaps even from wind farms in Texas.  The second group are consumers who have yet to switch their electricity supply to renewable energy.

Buying locally generated wind in Pennsylvania insures that the purchase reduces air pollution from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.  It cuts sickness and premature deaths caused by air pollution.  It slashes the personal carbon footprint, since the electricity powering a typical home causes twice the pollution as a family car.

Buying locally generated wind in Pennsylvania also means more wind farms will be built in Pennsylvania, protecting the thousands of existing wind industry jobs here and creating thousands more.

Supporters of the campaign include the American Lung Association, Sierra Club, PennFuture, Clean Air Council.  Among the many wind companies leading the Choose PA Wind campaign are Everpower, Gamesa, Own Energy.  I am assisting the campaign and also buy 100% locally produced wind energy for my home.

Check out www.choosepawind.com.

Mercury, Mercury Everywhere: Birds, Bats Contaminated With Mercury

We have long known that mercury from coal-fired power plants around the world have contaminated fish and that one-in-six women in America have elevated levels of mercury that can damage fetal development. Now a study by the Biodiversity Research Institute finds elevated levels of mercury in species of songbirds and bats. See www.briloon.org/hiddenrisk and a New York Times article about the study at:

The study finds that rising levels of mercury in birds reduce from 10% to 30% the rate at which eggs hatch and that "bats also build up significant body burdens of mercury" that effect their neurochemistry.  According to the study, "birds found in habitats with pronounced wet-dry cycles, such as bogs, beaver bonds, and estuaries have the highest blood mercury concentrations. Interestingly, we also found elevated blood levels in birds found in upland areas such as deciduous and high elevation forests."

This study drives home that mercury is everywhere.  It makes plain that the impacts of the wind industry on wildlife are small compared to mercury and carbon pollution, of which wind power emits none.

Any good news in this report?  It does document that US total mercury emissions have declined from 250 tons per year to 100 tons from 1990 to 2005.  The study also notes that the recently finalized EPA air toxic rule will slash further US emissions of mercury.  Replacing old-coal fired power plants with gas or wind for example that emits no mercury also decreases sharply mercury emissions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Asian 2011 Solar Installation Jumps To 6 Gigawatts

Prior to 2011, large scale solar deployment had been largely confined to two continents:  Europe and North America.  The world market had reached about 20,000 megawatts per year by 2010 but nearly all of that was in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the US. 

While countries in Asia made solar panels, they built very little solar capacity at home through 2010.  That may well have changed in a big way in 2011.

Though not publicly available today on its website, a report that yesterday briefly appeared on the Solarbuzz website (http://www.solarbuzz.com/) stated that Asia's solar installations reached 6,000 megawatts or 6 gigawatts in 2011.  China installed 1,700 megawatts or about what the US installed in 2011. Japan had a big increase to 1,300 megawatts.  India too was stated to be building substantial amounts of new solar.

Expanding solar deployment at large scale to Asia is big energy development that impacts favorably North America and Europe.  Asian deployment of solar both diversifies and enlarges the global solar market at a key time, given current European economic peril.  The already big and fast growing Asian solar market lessens the dependence of the global solar industry on deployment in Europe or North America and goes a long way to insuring that solar will continue to thrive.

The opening of the Asian market also fuels further solar cost reductions made possible by economies of scale.  Solar is a global business and what happens in Asia impacts solar's competitiveness around the world.

Solar was not going to be an industry that reshaped how energy is made in the 21st century until it was built in Asia.  Now that is happening and growing in a big way.

EIA Cuts Marcellus Gas Estimate But Production Lasts 50 Years

Since the first days of the Marcellus gas rush in 2007, nearly everyone has asked: when will the gas rush end?  Answering that question requires a simple calculation of dividing the amount of gas that can be produced by the rate at which gas will be produced. So what's the answer?

Using a production rate of three trillion cubic feet per year and the new EIA estimate of 142 trillion cubic feet of Marcellus gas available for production, Marcellus gas production will last at least 50 years.  But here are the caveats on the calculation.

Right now Marcellus gas production is ramping up rapidly, but it just crossed daily production numbers that amount to 1 trillion cubic feet per year in 2011.  If Marcellus production stayed at that rate, the Marcellus would produce gas for 142 years, given the new EIA reserves number of 142 trillion cubic feet.

If Marcellus gas production reaches the equivalent of 2 trillion cubic feet per year, a highly likely outcome, then Marcellus gas production would last 70 years, if one again uses the new EIA reserves number.

I have assumed that Marcellus gas production will reach 3 trillion cubic feet per year, an extraordinary number. At 3 trillion cubic feet per year, the Marcellus would be providing about 12% of total US gas, but natural gas production would last 50 years at that rate, given a 142 trillion reserve estimate.

Remember we have already completed 5 years of the Marcellus gas rush, if one assumes that it began in 2007.  In fact the first Marcellus test well was drilled in 2005.

How certain are these estimates?  Reasonably.  Today's rate of gas production is known, but it is changing rapidly, going up from 1 trillion cubic feet per year to the next milestone of 2 trillion cubic feet per year.  Gas pricing, however, can slow or speed up gas production.  Today's pricing were it to continue would slow the rate at which gas is produced and possibly prevent the Marcellus from reaching the 3 trillion cubic feet per year production level.

What about the reserve number of 142 trillion cubic feet published yesterday by EIA in what it calls its reference case for its 2012 Energy Outlook--its annual crystal ball exercise, where the EIA projects our energy future through 2035 by modeling.  www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/?  The EIA reference case is built on numerous data assumptions that often change significantly year to year.

One such assumption concerns the amount of natural gas available for production across the country and within regions, and the EIA estimates of these numbers have varied substantially for the last 5 to 10 years.  Until this year, the EIA gas reserve estimates used in its annual Energy Outlook modeling had gone up, up, up.

But in its 2012 Energy Outlook EIA projects that the Marcellus gas reserve has 142 trillion cubic feet, down 66% from last year's estimate of 410 trillion cubic feet.  This sharp change in the EIA number underlines that the gas reserve estimates are a moving target.

But what difference does the moving target really make?  Not much in the real world of gas production and pricing.

Even the much lower new EIA Marcellus reserve number of 142 trillion cubic feet is an enormous number that would take about 142 years to produce at 2011 production rates and will take 50 years to produce if Marcellus gas production reaches an humongous 3 trillion cubic feet per year.

The new EIA estimate confirms that no doubt exists that there are huge amounts of gas in the US and Pennsylvania, while the precise amount will remain mysterious forever.  The gas in Pennsylvania goes well beyond the Marcellus for example and includes other formations like the Devonian and Utica.

Pennsylvania has been producing gas for more than 120 years, is now a top 5 gas producing state, and it will be producing large amounts of gas 50 years from today.

EV Battery Price Plummeting: The Shock EVs Need

For electric vehicles to go mainstream, the price of their car batteries must plummet.  The good news for EV enthusiasts is that they are. 

Battery prices have already sharply declined from up to $1,200 per watt in 2008 to $600 now, according to Secretary Chu in comments he made at the Detroit Auto Show.  Chu predicted further big declines ahead.  See http://www.green.autoblog.com/.

An electric car battery cost about $12,000 in 2008.  But a battery that can power a car on electricity for 40 miles is expected to be $3,600 in 2015 and $1,500 in 2020.  Those cost reductions would shave $8,400 to $10,500 off the price of an electric car and would make electric cars cost competitive with gasoline vehicles.

No doubt sales of electric vehicles will depend substantially on whether the battery costs do fall to $3,600 by 2015 and whether gasoline costs go above $4 per gallon.  Pike Research predicts annual sales of electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids of 300,000 in 2015, while Michigan's Center for Automotive Research (MCAR) is more bearish, projecting sales of 140,00 in 2015. Pike's sales numbers amount to about 2% of all cars sold and MCAR's to about 1%.

The possible range of outcomes for electric vehicle sales is wide and uncertain.  Yet, certainly prices of batteries and gasoline will tell the tale.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Coal Plants Exceed Coal Retirements in 2011

While coal-fired generation continues to decline, with October 2011 coal generation 4.1% lower than in October 2010, new coal plants exceeded coal plant retirements through November 2011.

Through November 2011, America added 16,093 megawatts of new generation from all sources to the national grid. Of the new plants, 6 were coal plants with 3,062 megawatts of capacity.  See www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/index.cfm.

The new coal plants were constructed in 6 states: Missouri, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. The new coal represents about 0.3% of all US generation.  The new coal plants must have modern pollution controls and will likely be more efficient, requiring marginally less coal to produce electricity than older coal plants.

On the retirement side of the ledger, through October 2011, 16 coal units had retired that total 976 megawatts. The coal retirements represent a bit less than 0.1% of all US generation.

The single biggest coal retirement was the Eddystone 279 megawatt unit in Pennsylvania.  Most of the retiring coal units were below 100 megawatts of capacity.

As of November 2011, America had a total of 1,052,633 megawatts of capacity from all generation sources.

Why is the amount of coal-fired generation falling, when the amount of coal-fired capacity actually increased slightly?  Low-priced gas means that existing natural gas plants are running more and coal plants less.  Conversely, high natural gas prices mean coal plants run more and gas plants less.

Since the shale gas boom crashed the price of natural gas in 2009, gas plants have been displacing more coal generation. That is a fact with which some in the environmental community have a hard time accepting.

The 6 Keys To Gingrich's South Carolina Triumph & What They Portend

Newt Gingrich just pulled off something that had been thought impossible.  Never before had a candidate been clobbered in both Iowa and New Hampshire and then won South Carolina.  Let's remember Gingrich finished 4th in Iowa, 5th in New Hampshire, and then won a landslide in South Carolina, winning 40-28.  How on earth did that happen?

The 6 keys to Gingrich's South Carolina triumph are:

1. Gingrich's debating ability to say compelling things to Republican primary voters that literally cause standing ovations in the debate hall is an unprecedented weapon in politics.  Normally a candidate is pleased to have gotten off one memorable attack line that gets repeated after a debate by pundits. Not Newt. Gingrich has reached new levels of debate performance and success that can devastate opponents.

2. The high number of nationally televised debates has not meant that each debate has become less important but instead more important.  The sheer number of debates makes debates an opportunity to speak repeatedly  to millions of voters, and each debate then triggers at least a day or two of commentary that reaches many more voters.

3. The Citizens United decision that allowed one friend of Newt Gingrich to write a $5 million check to his Super Pac, just as Gingrich was getting crushed in New Hampshire and finishing 5th there.  Prior to Citizens United, the combination of a 4th and 5th place finish in Iowa and New Hampshire would have meant that Gingrich had no money for South Carolina. Instead Gingrich had a powerful paid media television campaign in South Carolina that went after Romney and his weaknesses with hard hitting negative ads.  Negative ads worked once again.

4. The power of regionalism in American politics remains dominant, with Romney who has a home in the Granite state winning New Hampshire and Gingrich  from neighboring Georgia taking South Carolina. After competing in New Hampshire with the ball and chain of being from below the Mason Dixon line, Newt Gingrich found himself in South Carolina against two rivals--Romney and Santorum--who are Yankees.  In South Carolina, history is never dead or even over, with big parts of the Republican party of South Carolina deeply rooted in events going back to the firing on Fort Sumter.  History is not dead or over, but it can be ironic.

5. Gingrich successfully used Romney's refusal to release his tax returns, his Cayman Islands offshore bank accounts, and his Bain record of acquiring companies by loading them with debt (leveraged buyout) to maximize investor gains to turn Romney's wealth and business history against him.  Romney only won voters with incomes above $200,000.  Gingrich destroyed Romney among voters with incomes less than $100,000

 6. Gingrich is blessed by Romney's weakness that begins with his endless pandering, social awkwardness, and falsity.  The latest Romney flip flop is that he will now release some of his tax returns.  Mitt Romney is no John McCain who won New Hampshire and then nailed down the nomination by winning South Carolina.

What does all this mean going forward? First this primary season is going to be hotly contested into at least March. Second, Newt Gingrich will do very well in Southern states where he is on the ballot (Virginia incompetence of Gingrich hurts him), but remember that Florida is no longer politically a Southern state, as a result of the massive immigration to it.

Lastly,  if Newt Gingrich gets another huge dose of money--either another big check from his Casino mogul patron or an internet money bomb--and if Gingrich keeps getting national debate platforms and he excels, Gingrich will win the nomination.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gingrich Rises From Political Death Bed: Up 40-26 In Last Night's Polling

Ahead 40-26 in South Carolina on the last night of polling by Public Policy Polling (www.publicpolicypolling.com), Speaker Gingrich is on the verge of a genuinely stunning second comeback from the political death bed in which he has spent much of the last 7 months.

PPP has a tracking poll of South Carolina that consists of a rolling three day poll. The January 20 sample has Gingrich leading Romney 40-26, while the full 3-day poll has Gingrich ahead 37-28.

Mitt Romney has gone from leading by 10 to 15 points to losing by 10 or more points in about 10 days.  Amazing.

Newt Gingrich's compelling debate performances this week--on monday and thursday-explain mainly his rise.  Beyond Newt's gift of gap that Democrats had better not underestimate, sustained political nuclear attacks on Romney are causing a Romney collapse.

Gingrich and his super pac, Paul, Santorum, Perry all have nailed Romney for running to the left of  Ted Kennedy, loading companies with debt to leverage large returns for his investors at Bain, having a terrible job creation record as Governor,  not releasing his tax returns,  having bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, and being an Olympic champion of pandering and flip flopping.  Those attacks are working, because they are true.

A big Gingrich win in South Carolina will catapult him to a national polling lead that he will need in Florida and its primary that is 10 days ahead.

Romney has spent more than 3 million dollars advertising in Florida, with no other candidate contesting the airwaves.  Romney will flood Florida with even more cash, with the goal of ripping to shreds Gingrich once again and putting him back into his political death bed.

To keep Gingrich there, Romney may also refuse to do any more national debates and yesterday was saying he may back out of a previously scheduled debate on Monday night. Without debates, Gingrich will need a huge money bomb after South Carolina to allow him to compete in Florida.

At this point, remarkably the Republican nomination is not the coronation of Mitt Romney.  It is still a contest between Romney and Gingrich  that may make Ron Paul a kingmaker.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Howarth Responds to Cornell and Other Studies Ripping His Work

Prof Howarth remains the king of media and distortion.  Just published by Climate Letters, Howarth's reponse to the avalanche of academic studies that took apart his original work claiming that gas's global warming emissions are greater than coal's has already drawn more media than did the multiple studies critiquing him.  I will add in my small way to the attention given Howarth, though this blog has postings on the Carnegie Mellon University, Worldwatch Institute, University of Maryland, National Energy Technology Laboratory, and the competing Cornell studies. Here is the link to the Howarth response:

Paid for by the Park Foundation that is financing the most aggressive anti-shale gas advocacy, Howarth's response with one big and one small exception is simply a repeat of his paper and its extreme assumptions that all head in one direction--skewing numbers to make coal look cleaner than gas.  The big exception involves an area of agreement between Professor Howarth and myself--the importance of the EPA proposed July 2011 proposed rule on air emissions. 

Howarth now says of July 11, 2011 EPA proposed rule on air emissions from gas drilling: "EPA...estimates the regulation would reduce flowback emissions from shale gas wells by up to 95%, although gas capture would only be required for wells where collector pipelines are already in place, which is often not the case when new sites are developed.  Nonetheless, this is a very important step, and if the regulation is adopted and can be adequately enforced, will reduce greatly the difference in emissions between shale gas and conventional gas in the U.S. We urge universal adoption of gas-capture policies." 

Later Howarth adds at page 11 of his response:  "Can shale-gas methane emissions be reduced? Clearly yes, and proposed EPA regulations to require capture of gas at the time of well completions are an important step."

The above is an indirect way of Howarth saying that even he would concede his fugitive methane emission assumptions would no longer stand if the EPA rule is promulgated and enforced.

The only other small concession Howarth makes in his response is to concede that the assumption in his original paper that 100% of flowback gas is vented is wrong.  "Note that estimates we published in Howarth et al. (2011) for emissions at the time of well completion for shale gas could be reduced by 15%..." See discussion at page 6.  This is a small, inadequate concession.  Based on my experience in the Marcellus, Howarth's estimate that 85% of all flowback gas for a 10-day period is vented, as opposed to flared or captured, remains a huge exaggeration.

In the rest of the paper, Howarth makes no adjustments for leakage rates from shale gas to reflect the fact that the pipes and infrastructure being deployed in these new plays is of course new and very high quality, with low leakage problems.  In fact, for this reason, shale gas infrastructure almost certainly has lower leakage rates than the infrastructure serving conventional gas wells that often is decades old.

Howarth continues to reject and attack the IPCC's 100-year period for estimating the global warming potential of natural gas.  Methane comparatively quickly dissipates compared to carbon dioxide, with most of it gone within 15 years.  Consequently, were Howarth to accept the science published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, his paper substantially collapses so he attacks the IPCC science consensus.

Howarth continues to refuse to do a full life cycle comparison of coal and gas through combustion, refusing to even deal with the fact that nearly 100% of coal is combusted in power plants.  Nobody disputes that the carbon emissions from burning coal at a power plant are vastly greater than carbon emissions using gas.  But Howarth just stops his life cycle analysis prior to combustion at the power plant, because again his paper essentially collapses if he did not.

The paper does nothing to make clear to the public and reporters that even Howarth is not arguing that gas is dirtier than coal on emissions like mercury, arsenic, lead, soot and all the pollutants that directly sicken and kill people.  The failure to do so is most unfortunate, because many people simply hear the Howarth claim that gas is dirtier than coal and do not understand that Howarth is focusing only on global warming pollution.  This is a prevalent confusion not directly sowed by Howarth, but one which he shows no interest in correcting.

Yet, to end on a hopeful note, Howarth's concession that the EPA proposed July 2011 rulemaking is a game changer is important.  For that point and that alone, I will thank Professor Howarth.

Congressional Research Service Confirms Air Toxic Rule Will Not Spike Power Reliability or Rates

Could it be that the Wall Street Journal editorial page that has been lambasting the EPA Air Toxic rule has rested its opinion on false information?  A shocking thought, but the recent review of the rule by the non-partisan Congressional Research service or "think tank" of Congress suggests attacks on the EPA rule are hot air.

The Congressional Research Service finds in a report that the EPA's Utility MACT rule or Air Toxics rule will not cause the lights to go out or electricity price spikes. Here is the link to the CRS report: www.supportcleanair.com/resources/studies/file/MATS-CRS-Jan.pdf.

CRS notes that the vast majority of America's electricity generation capacity meets the requirements of the rule.  Specifically it states that 56% of coal fired power plants have controls that comply with the rule and 55% of the  nation's electricity supply comes from natural gas, nuclear, and renewable plants, all of which meet the rule.

Approximately 15% of the nation's total capacity does not currently meet the requirements of the rule that goes into effect in January 2015. These plants can install pollution controls, refuel with gas, or retire.

CRS confirms that the nation has substantial excess generation reserves and most retirements of old coal plants that may take place generally are in locations of large excess reserve margins.  For that and other reasons, CRS writes: "As a result, it is unlikely that electric reliability will be harmed by the rule."

Another reason the lights will not go out is that the nation builds new generation every year that typically exceeds electricity plant retirements.  Indeed EIA's most recent data shows more than 16,000 megawatts of new generation came on line in 2011, while less than 3,000 megawatts retired.

What about the impacts of the rule on national electricity prices? The rising amount of new generation also helps  keep electricity prices low in jurisdictions where markets and not regulators set generation prices.

CRS states that: "Electricity prices have declined more than 20% in real terms since 1980.  The impact of price changes would be relatively small compared to this downward trend, and well within the normal range of historical price fluctuations."

The Air Toxic rule will not turn the lights out, will not cause any noticeable impact on national electricity prices, but will significantly reduce air pollutants.

Comparing Tax Rates Paid By Obama, Biden, Gingrich, and Romney

Look no further than the effective tax rates paid by President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker Gingrich and Governor Romney to see the inefficiency, economic distortions, budget deficits, and unfairness caused by the US tax system.  Obama, Gingrich, and Romney all have annual incomes in excess of $1 million, but their effective tax rates range from 15% to 31%.

While Governor Romney  refuses to release so far his tax returns, he says that his effective tax rate is around 15% on what apparently is many millions of dollars of annual income from returns on  investments.  Of this elite group, Romney by a great deal has both the highest annual income and the lowest effective tax rate.

By comparison, President Obama and the First Lady paid an effective tax rate of 26% on $1,728,096 of income derived mostly from sales of books.  Vice President Biden and his wife had an effective tax rate of 23% on 2010 income of $379,178.

Of this gang of four, Speaker Gingrich, who released yesterday his 2010 taxes, has the dubious distinction of  paying the highest effective tax rate--31% on his income of $3.1 million. Gingrich paid more than 3 times the national average effective tax rate of 9.3%, but his income was about 63 times the national median income.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shocking Poll Shows Ohioans Favor 3-1 Halting FrackingThe

Call it an earthquake in public opinion. A shocking Quinnipiac poll shows Ohioans favor 72% to 23% a halt to fracking, while studies are conducted on its impact. Go to www.quinnipiac.edu.

 The wording of the polling question may partially explain the result, but does not seem like a classically biased question. It, however, does not use the word "moratorium" or contain any information about putting people out of work who now are employed by the Ohio oil and gas industry. Yet, I have to believe that the Youngstown earthquake has produced a seismic shift in public opinion.

 The political risk in Ohio to shale development just skyrocketed. World class operations and a credible certification process of excellent safety standards is indispensable to protecting the environment and to preventing further loss of public confidence.

Robbing Rick Santorum: The Iowa GOP Heist

Rick Santorum was robbed on election night and again last night. Who is the robber? The Iowa GOP establishment that runs the once fabled, now notorious, GOP Iowa caucuses.

Santorum got 34 more votes than Governor Romney, but the Iowa GOP political establishment is so desperate to promote its anointed nominee that it refuses to declare even now Santorum the winner. You see the GOP ran such an incompetent election that it just lost the votes from 8 precincts and so pathetically and conveniently declares the result a "split decision." Like basketball and baseball, there are no ties in elections. One person wins and everyone else loses, even if it takes a coin flip. In Iowa no coin flip is needed.

Senator Santorum got 34 more votes than Mitt Romney, the man of the Cayman Island bank accounts and so many positions on each major issue that he can't keep them all straight. Romney crowed after his home court New Hampshire win that he had made history by winning both Iowa and New Hampshire. False. Rick Santorum won, and the theft of his victory that disgracefully continues snatched the possibility of consolidating many conservatives behind him right after Iowa and probably reduced his financial bounce by $5 million.

Santorum is far, far from my ideal candidate. Yet America, Republican party primary voters, and Rick Santorum deserve fair elections. Rick Santorum was robbed in Iowa to the benefit of Mitt Romney, and that is a loss for all Americans.

BP Forecasts Renewables To Grow Fastest Of All Fuels

Is BP beyond petroleum or not? If not, why not?

Those questions come to mind when reviewing BP's 2012 version of its Energy Outlook for 2030 that forecasts that renewable energy globally will be the fastest growing energy source--and by a lot--from 2010 to 2030. Specifically BP forecasts that renewables will grow 8.2% per year for the 20-year forecast period. That rapid global growth rate for renewables compares to 2.1% per year growth for gas and 0.7% per year for oil.

You can see the report here

Not surprisingly gas is the fastest growing fossil fuel, with BP projecting that coal loses market share, starting in 2020. The relatively slow annual oil demand increase reflects declining usage in developed nations being more than offset by increasing oil consumption in especially China and India. The annual increase compounded over 20 years adds 16 million barrels of daily demand or close to 20% more by 2030. Oil supply will strain to keep pace with this modest rate of increase, making current high oil prices a probable fact of life for the next 18 years. BP's oil demand forecast makes the economic case for natural gas vehicles, electricity vehicles, and biofuels look sound. The slow movement toward forms of transportation that do not use oil remains a colossal failure of policy.

While the BP forecast is bullish for renewables, BP projects that fossil fuels will provide 80% of global energy in 2030, even with its forecasted rapid increases in renewable energy production. BP's forecast, however, refutes the claims of some that renewable energy is a passing fad that will be extinguished by shale gas or something else. Renewable energy is instead a big, rapidly growing global industry, where investment in new renewable power plants matches or exceeds investment in fossil fuel power plants. Moreover, as bullish as the BP forecast is for renewables, I suspect its inevitable errors include underestimating the growth of renewables. Time will tell.

Gas Glut Slashes Electricity Prices 60%: Fact Checking Bloomberg News

For more than a year, I have said that the gas glut has slashed wholesale electricity prices and, on January 17th, in an article that is worth reading, Bloomberg News joins my chorus. It reports: "A shale-driven glut of natural gas has cut electricity prices for the U.S. power industry by 50 per cent and reduced investment in costlier sources of energy." .

The Bloomberg piece notes that the PJM West Hub (think western Pennsylvania) price averaged the equivalent of 8.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the first quarter of 2008 and 3.9 cents per kilowatt-hour in the 4th quarter of 2011. It further states that new coal plants, new nuclear capacity, and new wind have all been cancelled due to the low power prices caused by the "shale-driven glut of natural gas."

Here are a few quibbles with a generally good piece that is actually overdue. First, the peak in wholesale electricity prices was the summer of 2008, when gas reached $13 for a thousand cubic feet, and not the first quarter of 2008 that the article uses as the comparison point. The wholesale electricity price decline from the summer 2008 peak is more than 60%.

Second, while the article does focus on the negative impact of low-power prices on electricity generation companies, it does not adequately describe the large savings for electricity consumers. A typical Pennsylvania residential electricity consumer using 9,000 kilowatt-hours would be paying today about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour more, or $450 per year, if power prices were at their 2008 peaks. Shale gas has slashed power and natural gas bills, saving households who use gas for heat approximately a combined $1,000 per year.

Third, low power prices driven by shale gas are increasing natural gas generation and have caused the cancellation of new coal and nuclear plants and the retirement of existing old coal plants. The piece, however, fails to note that the wind industry doubled its generation capacity from 25,000 to 50,000 megawatts from 2008 to 2011 and may have a record year for building new wind capacity in 2012.
 While the current unsustainably low power prices are an obstacle for all new generation, including wind as well as gas plants, the major threat to new wind farms in 2013 is the expiration of the production tax credit at the end of 2012 and uncertainty about its renewal.

Lastly, Bloomberg notes that the cost of a new natural gas plant in the third quarter of 2011 is the equivalent of 6.2 cents per kilowatt-hour but does not point out that current power prices of 3.9 cents would not support construction of a gas plant. When power prices are below the cost of the lowest-cost new source of generation, they are not sustainable and will rise. For consumers, that means now is a great time to get a long-term electricity contract to lock in low power prices made possible by shale-driven gas glut.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Ron Paul Might Be The President's Toughest Opponent Or His Ticket To A Second Term

The probability of Ron Paul winning the Republican nomination was zero in 2011 and remains so today, but Paul is running a remarkable campaign, so remarkable that in head-to-head match ups with the President, Paul does better than Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry and as well or better than Romney.

Public Policy Polling yesterday had the President defeating both Romney and Paul respectively by 49 to 44 and 47 to 42, while the President defeated Gingrich by 7, Santorum by 8, and Perry by 11. Paul and Romney were both within 5 points, but Paul's mix of ending wars, slashing defense and other spending, legalizing drugs resonates best with voters who are under 30 and white, a key demographic for President Obama.

While a Romney versus Obama election will follow conventional political battle lines in this closely divided country, Ron Paul scrambles the electorate in a way that might make him the President's toughest opponent in these times. These Obama versus Paul polling numbers are a real triumph for Ron Paul and his message, the "cause of liberty" in his words. Paul is not fringe anymore, despite the viciously racist Paul newsletters that were printed over many years and from which Paul made substantial income. He is the powerful wild card of the political deck.

The Republicans will not select Paul and probably will stick with this month's version of Governor Romney who has a terrible 35 to 53 favorable-unfavorable rating in the PPP poll, a real red flag for the GOP. But what will Paul do? Ron Paul cannot make Governor Romney President, but he is the only person that alone can re-elect President Obama. If Paul runs a third party campaign, or possibly even if Paul strongly endorses the Libertarian candidate who may be former Governor Johnson of New Mexico, if not Paul himself, Paul will give the President a second term.

Paul has built Libertarianism so that its supporters today are more numerous than Nader's were in 2000. Nader caused both Florida and New Hampshire to end up in George Bush's electoral vote total. Paul has real power to shape not just opinion but national election outcomes. More than any other single person, including Romney and Obama, Ron Paul could write the ending to the 2012 political drama. That is an amazing fact.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Addicted To Expensive, Dirtier Gasoline When Cheaper Alternatives Exist

President Bush said famously that America is addicted to oil. But why are we?

Is our addiction rooted in oil costing less than alternatives? Is it mainly fueling infrastructure advantages for oil or the scarcity of vehicles able to run on something other than oil products? The oil addiction is so strong that we use it when cheaper alternatives exist.

Both electricity and compressed natural gas are much cheaper transportation fuels. Compressed natural gas averaged nationally $2.09 per gallon equivalent in the most recent Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report. It ranged from a low of $1.48 in the Rocky Mountain region to a high of $2.46 in New England. On average, CNG cost $1.37 less than gasoline, but our addiction is so powerful that we keep fueling cars with the expensive, dirtier oil option.

Electricity costs about 2 to 4 cents per mile to power a vehicle, while gasoline costs 10 to 20 cents per mile.

How do the the price of biofuels compare? Ethanol averaged $3.19 per gallon in the latest Clean Cities price survey or 27 cents less than gasoline, while biodiesel averaged $4.18 or 37 cents more than petroleum diesel. Ethanol, however, on an energy equivalent basis was $4.51 per gallon or $1.05 more than gasoline.

Price is not the root cause of our addiction to oil, since both natural gas and electricity are much cheaper. Plainly, ending our addiction to more expensive, dirtier oil products will require an intervention, policies that accelerate the deployment of alternative fueling infrastructure and vehicles.

Telling Iran To Shove It: 5 Keys To Energy Independence

With the exception of oil, the US is energy independent but oil remains our number 1 source of energy, accounting for approximately one third of total US energy use and we import about 47% of it.

For the first time in 40 years imports of oil are declining, down about 20 per cent since 2005, but 100% of our oil is priced in the global market. The oil threat to our security is not having supplies cut off. Instead it is the price of oil that can damage, even cripple, the US economy, whenever it exceeds $125 per barrel for sustained periods.

To secure our economy from the oil weapon that Iran is wielding in its showdown with the international community over its nuclear bomb program, America must use 5 keys to decrease both oil imports and, just as importantly, the oil intensity of the US economy.
  1. Increase domestic oil production;
  2. Increase fuel efficiency in transportation;
  3. Substitute natural gas for oil, gasoline, and diesel; 
  4. Substitute electricity for oil, gasoline, and diesel; 
  5. Substitute biofuels for oil, gasoline, and diesel. 

Three of these 5 keys are moving forward as needed. Domestic oil production is now actually increasing for the first time in 35 years. Fuel efficiency standards for cars have been raised once since 2009 and are proposed to be raised again to an impressive 54 miles per gallon. Ethanol and biodiesel are approaching the 1 million barrels per day equivalent, a meaningful contribution to energy security, and continue to increase. But the use of natural gas and electricity to substitute for gasoline lag far behind where they must be, for the oil weapon to be removed from Iranian and other malevolent hands.

Using more natural gas and electricity and less oil must be a strategic imperative for US national defense and economic policy. Why? One answer. Unfortunately $150 per barrel oil remains both distinctly possible in any year and devastating to the US economy. To remove this threat, the US must use all 5 keys to energy independence.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chinese Per Capita Carbon Emissions May Exceed New Yorkers

For years Chinese global warming pollution has been given a pass of sorts, because per capita Chinese pollution was low and much lower than the average American. Time to rethink the pass is now.

China's total emissions exceeded by 50% in 2010 US emissions, and its per capita emissions may well now be as great as the typical New Yorker. The average New Yorker is responsible for 9 tons of carbon per year, and New York has the lowest per capita emission of any state, a full 8.6 tons less than the American per capita average of 17.6 tons, according to an EIA study of state-level emissions released last week.

China has a population of 1.33 billion people as of 2011 and may have carbon emissions of 11.5 billion tons by the end of 2011. Assuming 1.33 billion people and 11.5 billion tons of emissions, Chinese per capita emissions would be approximately 9 tons--the same as an average New Yorker.

If China has not already exceeded New York's per capita emissions, it will soon. Given current trends, China also will have greater per capita emissions than the US within a decade. Any future international climate treaty must treat China as the number one carbon polluter it is. No more climate passes to China for any reason and most certainly not because 10 years ago China had low per capita emissions.

$7 to $3.20 Per Watt For Solar In Harrisburg PA

The solar revolution is not just shining on California and Southwest states. It has reached Harrisburg Pennsylvania where prices for a 50 kilowatt rooftop solar system are now just $3.20 per watt, down from $7 just since 2009.

Those price facts come from Doug Neidich, a friend and businessman, who builds sustainable commercial real estate projects, runs a restaurant, and is a board member of a local hospital. Three years ago Doug installed a 48 kilowatt system in Harrisburg that was at the time one of the largest in Pennsylvania. On Friday of last week, Doug said he had just received a $3.20 bid from Advanced Solar Industries, a solar installer, for his second rooftop system in Harrisburg.

The price drop is so great that Doug is thinking of expanding his next solar system from 50 to 250 kilowatts. Revolutionary solar prices are now powering the solar revolution that gains strength as prices go down, down, down!

Friday, January 13, 2012

2011 Was Best Jobs Year In 5 Years

Until 2000, the US economy was a job creating juggernaut.  Those days, however, vanished, well before the total meltdown, after the Lehmann bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, so the creation of 1.64 million new jobs in 2011 is a most welcome development and meant that 2011 was the best year for job creation in the last 5 years.  The number of jobs created nationally jumped about 66% from 2010, when 940,000 jobs were created.

Manufacturing and mining jobs (includes oil and gas drilling) were among the top job performing categories in 2011.  Factory jobs increased by 225,000 or the most since 1997, and one has to go back to 1981 to find a year when more jobs in the BLS mining category were created than during 2011, according to Bloomberg News and BLS data. See http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2012/01/11/bloomberg_articlesLXN5EY1A74E9.DTL.  Bloomberg notes that car sales increased to 12.8 million vehicles during 2011, spurring job gains in the vital auto industry.

While the job picture brightened in 2011, the damage done and the depth of the hole created by the job loss from November 2007 to June 2009 is enormous.  A total of 8.75 million jobs were lost in that period of which about 2.5 million have now been regained.

US Passes China to Be Number 1 in Clean Energy Investment

While the normal story line is that the US lags behind the world on clean energy, that narrative is often exaggerated and was just wrong in 2011.  The United States reclaimed from China in 2011 the top spot in global clean energy investment, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance at http://bnef.com/PressReleases/text/180.

But whether the US will remain number 1 or even competitive in the battle for clean energy markets beyond 2012 is uncertain, given strong attacks from Republicans in Congress on clean energy. The fate of the wind production and biodiesel tax credits and whether they are extended in 2012 will be a clear sign of what path the US will take. As used in the Bloomberg report, clean energy investment includes solar, wind, biomass, hydro, geothermal, and energy efficiency/smart grid.

The US boosted clean energy investment by 33% to 55.9 billion in 2011, while China invested 47.4 billion, up just 1% from 2010. This surge in US investment is part of the reason why US wind power has doubled since 2008, why solar capacity has increased ten-fold since 2008, why biofuel production is up sharply since 2008, and why energy efficiency is booming.

Since 2004 the world cumulatively has invested one-trillion dollars in clean energy, with the US, China, and Europe leading the way. Global clean energy investment in 2011 rose 5% to $260 billion. Joining China and the US as major investors, Europe invested 100 billion in 2011 alone.

More than 50% of the world's clean energy investment went to solar power.  An amazing 136.6 billion, a 36% increase from 2010, globally was invested in solar during 2011.  Wind energy ranked second, with 74.9 billion, a 17% decline from 2010.  More had been invested in solar in 2004 and 2010 but the 2011 gap between solar and wind this year is unprecedented in size.

The 2011 US number 1 ranking in clean energy investment is made precarious, by both Republican congressional attacks on clean energy investments, and by China and other nations targeting clean energy markets and products.  The competitive battle for clean energy products and markets is already intense and will intensify, as both India and Brazil, rising economic powers are sharply boosting clean energy investment.  Whether the US competes or surrenders fast-growing clean energy markets to other nations may depend on the outcome of the 2012 elections.

Global Nuclear Capacity Declines In 2011, Despite Growing Energy Consumption

Nuclear power had a bad year around the globe in 2011. Though the world's energy demand grew and while more oil, coal, gas and renewable energy met the growing demand, alone among energy sources, nuclear energy declined.

The decline did not the result just from existing power plants operating poorly or temporary shutdowns from the Fukushima disaster.  More troubling for the future of nuclear power, the total installed global nuclear capacity declined from 375,500 megawatts at the end of 2010 to 365,500 megawatts, as of October 2011, according to a Vital Signs report from the Worldwatch Institute.  See www.worldwatch.org and the Vital Signs archive. Also see windpowerengineering.com/policy/environmental/world-nuclear-power-output-slowing/

Germany shutdown 8,000 megawatts by itself.  France, United Kingdom, and Japan shutdown also a handful of plants, though only 10 of Japan's 54 reactors are operating today.  A total of 13 reactors around the world were shut in the first 10 months of 2011, lowering to 433 the total of reactors operating in the world.

The portion of the world's energy coming from nuclear power stood at 5% in 2010, down from 6% ten years earlier.

It was not all bad news for the nuclear industry in 2011.  About 5,000 megawatts of new nuclear plants began operations.  Another 65,000 megawatts of new nuclear is under construction, though about 12,000 megawatts of that total has been under construction for an incredible 20 years.

Such long construction periods are a main reason that new nuclear plants around the world are very expensive and risky.  These enormous capital costs and risks to capital mean that new nuclear plants cannot be built anywhere in the world, without governments in many different ways providing capital and insulating private investors, if they are involved, from loss of their capital.

The future of nuclear around the globe will hinge on whether costs can be driven down substantially and safety improved at the same time.  That is a huge challenge for the industry that so far it has been unable to meet.

The cloudy future of the industry makes the challenge of stabilizing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and heat trapping pollution even more daunting.  Addressing successfully climate change may well require a cost-effective, successful nuclear industry.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

BP Building Major PA Wind Farm In 2012: Another Dream Comes True

More green energy dreams are coming true.

BP will build in 2012 one of Pennsylvania's biggest wind farms yet, pushing Pennsylvania rapidly toward 1500 megawatts of wind power, a truly extraordinary amount, and enough for about 500,000 homes or close to 10% of all the state's residential electricity accounts.

BP will construct the 141 megawatt Mehoopany wind farm in Northeast Pennsylvania.  Seehttp://planetark.org/wen/64373.  The wind farm probably represents a $250 million investment in the Commonwealth and will put hundreds of people to work in the construction phase and create permanent maintenance and operations positions.

BP is saying that its Mehoopany wind farm will be the biggest wind farm in Pennsylvania, but it actually will be trumped by Everpower.  Everpower  is building in 2012 an even bigger wind farm in Somerset county.

The Mehoopany wind farm, nonetheless, will at least be number 2 in Pennsylvania and will generate enough zero pollution power to supply about 45,000 homes.

Consumers can support wind energy and renewables by switching to electricity power products that use wind or renewables to generate the electricity.  I have been buying a green power product since 1999 and encourage   all to do so.  The Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate has a good electricity shopping guide.  Go to www.oca.state.pa.us.

When buying a green power product, check to make sure that the renewable energy is coming from Pennsylvania renewable energy generators. Buy local renewable energy.

Finally, when I was Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, it was my privilege to work with other DEP staff on the permitting of the Mehoopany wind farm, and it is a personal pleasure to see  this wind farm be built.

2012 Natural Gas Prices Going Still Lower & 6 Big Things It Means

Natural gas prices are going lower in 2012 than they were in 2011, posing 2 questions:  What are the 6 Biggest Results of still lower gas prices in 2012? Where is the floor for natural gas prices?

In 2008, when daily spot prices hit as much as $13 during the summer, many would have said that $6 for a thousand cubic feet was the absolute floor.  Those days were before the shale gas boom, when shale gas was just beginning to ramp up production and still accounted for less than 5% of total gas supply, as compared to 34% of all gas supply today.

The shale gas boom has made $6 natural gas probably the new ceiling on prices and not the floor.  So just where is the floor?

More recently many would have said the floor for gas pricing is $4, the annual average spot price for all of 2011.  The 2011 price was 9% lower than in 2010 and the second lowest average annual price since 2002.

Yet, in its Short-term Energy Outlook, EIA projects that the average annual spot price for gas in 2012 will be $3.53 or about 12% lower than in 2011. See page 7 at www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/pdf/steo_full.pdf.

How good is the EIA forecast and how would it shape 2012 if accurate? Last year EIA nailed just about to the penny its forecast of the 2011 annual average spot price, when it forecast a $4.02 price and the annual price ended up at $4.  And if the first two weeks of January 2012 are indicative, when spot prices have often been under $3, the EIA 2012 forecast may just err on the side of being high, even though the $3.53 projected price is low, low, low.

Down, down, down go natural gas prices as shale gas production goes up, up, up. Gas demand is increasing, with more than half of the increased demand attributed to  more gas displacing coal to make electricity.  EIA states, "Increases in the consumption of natural gas for power generation are likely to continue as domestic production continues to grow and natural gas remains a relatively inexpensive option for generators."  Despite the rising use of gas to generate power, demand for gas has not kept pace with supply increases. Hence the $3.53 2012 projected price.

Here are 6 Big Results of $3.53 natural gas in 2012:

1. Still lower natural gas bills for consumers, with a residential consumer saving probably another $45 on top of the approximately $500 per year the gas price drop from 2008 has already provide.

2. Still lower electricity bills for those consumers in competitive electricity markets where natural gas pricing importantly impacts electricity prices.  All other things being equal, another 50 cent decline in gas prices could reduce electricity bills by about 0.5 cents per kilowatt-hour and save electricity consumers about $50 during 2012. This $50 saving would be added to $500 per year in electricity costs that lower natural gas prices have already provided.

3. Lower natural gas bills and electricity bills will again prevent a broad energy shock, even though oil prices are at record levels for a full year and would go much higher if conflict with Iran erupts.

4. Another decline in the number of producing shallow, traditional gas wells in Pennsylvania will take place.  Pennsylvania had 57,000 producing gas wells in 2009; 44,000 in 2010; and will have still less in 2011 and 2012, as low natural gas prices lead producers to shut-in marginal shallow gas wells.  These wells cumulatively provide probably less than 150 billion cubic feet of gas per year, a small percentage of the more than 1 trillion cubic feet that Pennsylvania will produce in 2012, as Marcellus well production increases will more than compensate for reductions from shallow gas wells.

5. Gas will continue to displace coal in electricity generation.  Power plants that can run on either coal or gas will use gas. More decisions will be made to convert coal plants to gas. Gas's electricity generation market share will rise and coal's fall to below 43%, into the 42% zone.

6. More natural gas displacing coal and oil will cut carbon emissions and other pollutants like soot and mercury.  US carbon emissions will likely fall in 2012, in significant part due to natural gas.

The 2012 pricing may well be the new floor on gas pricing.  It is really hard to see how prices can go any lower, given that gas demand is rising, more drilling rigs are moving to oil, and prices are so low that more marginal wells are being shut in.  EIA itself is forecasting an increase in gas prices for 2013 to $4.14, up but sill low.

Finally, perhaps another year of record gas supplies and establishing a new floor on gas prices will mean that the ridiculous smear that shale gas is a "Ponzi Scheme" and those that spread it will be ridiculed by one and all in 2012.  I am not counting on that one, but another year of low, low natural gas prices looks almost guaranteed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Alarms Blaring: 2011 Oil Price Sets Triple Digit Record For Full Year

The price signal coming from global oil markets has never been more foreboding, and the economic, national security reasons to move to oil substitutes like electricity for vehicles, natural gas, and biofuels have never been more compelling.

For the first time in history, as measured by the Brent price index averaged, global oil prices averaged for a full year triple digits--$111, according to EIA data. Never before had global oil prices averaged more than $100. See www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=4490.

These sustained, record high prices are less shocking than the price spike to $147 per barrel in July 2008 but they cause more damage to the economy.  Oil remains the number 1 fuel powering America, supplying about one-third of our total energy.  At current levels of oil use, high oil prices decrease GDP growth. A rule of thumb is that, when oil prices are $125 or higher, economic damage done is substantial and can tip the US into recession if other energy prices are following oil.

Fortunately, in 2011, the number 2 fuel powering America--natural gas that supplies about 24% of our total energy--dropped substantially in price.  The natural gas price drop and booming renewable energy supplies led to lower electricity prices in many parts of the country, even though coal prices delivered to electricity utilities increased by 6%.

The combination of lower natural gas prices and lower electricity bills created a continuing stimulus for the economy and prevented a broad energy shock that could have derailed the economic recovery that began in July 2009.

Yet, the oil wolf is very much at the door of America's economic house, especially given the possibility of conflict with Iran during 2012.  Using oil efficiently with steps like raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and moving to oil substitutes must accelerate in 2012 and beyond to tame the oil wolf.

PA New Jobs Fall 20% Despite Gas Boom

 Despite a booming gas industry that increases employment and a rising number of jobs being created nationally, the number of new jobs created in Pennsylvania dropped about 20% from November 2010 to November 2011, when compared to jobs created from November 2009 to November 2010. Pennsylvania has fallen out of the ranks of being a national leader in job creation and is now below the national average in its rate of job creation.

Pennsylvania's economy had 63,300 additional, new jobs from November 2009 to November 2010 but just 51,000 from November 2010 to November 2011, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.  This is a trend that must be watched, but right now Pennsylvania is the only gas boom state with a slowing rate of job creation.

Pennsylvania's austerity economics and budget policies--especially the 21,000 education jobs directly and indirectly destroyed since May 2011 by public education funding cuts--caused a contraction that has rippled through the entire state's economy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Abolish The EPA? Take A Look At These Pictures

 Representative Paul, Speaker Gingrich, and Governor Perry support abolishing the EPA so let's look at  America in 1972-73, when the EPA was created. The pictures of Cleveland and the George Washington Bridge in 1973 are truly worth a thousand words and are part of a collection created to create a photographic study of America's environment at the birth of the EPA.

See http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/a-photographic-blast-from-the-past/?partner=rss&emc=rss

America then looks like China today. 

Thanks to President Nixon and once-upon-a-time substantial bi-partisan support, the EPA was born and thankfully continues to exist. The Clean Air Act and the EPA's implementation of it has added years to the life expectancy of Americans and is an unmatched success when measured in economic costs and benefits.

Electric Car Sales Triple Prius's First Year But Dangerous Attacks Repeated

As Yogi Berra would say, it is "Deja Vu all over again," when it comes to the reception from certain ideological quarters for electric vehicles and the national effort needed to end US reliance on foreign oil.  The same voices that pummeled the Prius in 2000 are pummeling the Volt and Leaf, while attacking the Pickens plan for CNG vehicles that is dead in the US House of Representatives. They do so even as gasoline prices averaged a record high during 2011 (see the prior posting).

These repetitive attacks on real options to lessen our foreign oil dependence pose two questions: how do the introduction and sales of the Volt and Leaf in 2011 compare to the arrival of the Prius and Honda Insight in 2000? And how dangerous to America are the attacks on moving from oil to electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles, and biofuels?

First year sales in 2000 of the Prius and Honda Insight were 9,350, with the Prius accounting for just 5,000. Since then the Prius has sold more than 1 million, becoming a top ten seller, and 2 million hybrids of all types have been sold, with annual sales in the 250,000 to 350,000 range.

The arrival of the Prius also triggered attacks from right wing pundits like Holman Jenkins at the Wall Street Journal who scorned the economics of owning a Prius, confidently saying that the car needed $2.75 or $3.00 gasoline to make economic sense.  Putting aside that car ownership for some drivers is not driven just by "economic sense," by 2007 and 2008 fuel costs had hit levels that made operating a Prius a bargain, so much so that used Prius's sometimes sold for more than new ones.  That's a lot of economic sense.

Fast forward to 2011, when the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf became the first electric cars on sale in the US.  Again Holman Jenkins and his ideological brethren are in ill-humor about the arrival of a technological jump. But what were the 2011 sale numbers for the Volt and Leaf?

A total of 17,345 Volts and Leafs sold or nearly double the first year sale figures for the 2000 gas-hybrid vehicles and more than triple the number of Prius sales. See postings at http://blog.rmi.org/why_so_many_critics_after_17000_ev_sales_in_first_year.  Fuel costs for electric vehicles are about 3 cents per mile, while fuel costs for most gasoline vehicles range between 12 to 20 cents per mile.

Though foreign oil imports have declined appreciably for the first time since the Johnson Administration, this nation still has its economic security threatened by almost total reliance on oil for transportation and the foreign sourcing of still nearly half our oil.  Do the critics of biofuels, CNG vehicles and Electric Vehicles not see that the 5th Fleet this very minute is in a staredown contest with Iran over oil shipment through the Strait of Hormuz?  Iran is wielding the oil weapon right now. Hello!

The ever present geopolitical risk to oil plus mushrooming Chinese and Indian oil demand meant that the price of oil hit record levels for a full year in 2011.  High oil prices nearly tipped this nation back into recession in the spring of 2011 and would have done so, but for the low-price of natural gas that prevented a broad energy shock.

No matter what the price of oil or ayatollahs do, attacks on moving to alternative forms of powering vehicles litter Congress and the media. It is stunning how dangerous to the immediate and long-term future of the America are attacks on natural gas vehicles, biofuels or electric vehicles.  These attacks are a product mainly of thought-free ideology and a true commitment to Deja Vu All Over Again.

2011 Gasoline Prices Hit Record High For Full Year

"With gasoline prices so high I will have to ride my bike everywhere," said a college junior that I coached during her club soccer days.  She is right that gasoline prices are high.  In fact, they averaged a record high for a full year during 2011--$3.51 across America--according to data maintained by Gas Buddy.

The previous highest year was 1981, when gasoline prices averaged $3.45 in inflation adjusted or constant dollar terms, according to EIA data.

The 2011 gasoline prices were about 66 cents per gallon higher than during 2010.  If a family uses 500 gallons per year, the additional cost was $330 and $660 dollars for families using 1,000 gallons per year.  Just the increase in gasoline prices between 2010 and 2011 represents about 1% to 4% of after tax income for families with incomes up to the median income level of approximately $49,000.

Record high gasoline prices is one reason that demand for gasoline was down 5% in December 2011 compared to December 2010.  They are a compelling reason for the nation to be moving forward with policies to accelerate the deployment of lower fuel cost natural gas vehicles and electricity vehicles as well as biofuels.

Monday, January 9, 2012

DEP Cites Cabot For New Gas Migration Case: Comparing Dimock & Lenox Township

On September 19th, 2011, DEP issued a notice of violation to Cabot Oil & Gas Corp for contaminating a private water well in Lenox Township in Susquehanna County.  Unlike in Dimock, the now infamous site of the first Cabot gas migration case, where no pre-gas drilling testing of the 18 private water wells most at issue was done, Cabot did test the water well in Lenox Township for methane prior to gas drilling.

The September 19th, 2011 DEP notice of violation states the pre-gas drilling water test found methane levels at 0.290 milligrams per Liter (mg/L) or very low.

Methane levels in two samples taken after gas drilling were at 49.200 mg/L on August 16th and 57.600 mg/L or dangerously high. 

These Lenox Township pre-drilling and then post-drilling test results are going to make it hard to claim or find that methane was naturally occurring or pre-existing, as Cabot did in the case of 18 water wells in Dimock that DEP found had been contaminated from 2009 to at least January 2012 by methane migration due to poor drilling.

The NOV states that inspections of three nearby gas wells found "natural gas between the various casing strings of the three wells."

As usual, Laura Legere of the Scranton Times is on the story. See
http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/dep-cabot-drilling-caused-methane-in-lenox-water-wells-1.1255056#axzz1iy0Vd4tk. The article includes a link to the DEP notice of violation.  Legere also writes that a DEP video, taken inside one of the suspected gas wells, showed improper construction of a casing string.

Legere's article speaks of 3 water wells being contaminated by methane.  My read of the NOV to which the story links mentions only one water well.  It is possible that separate NOVs were issued for two more water wells.

Why is this news coming to light 4 months after the NOV was issued? DEP states that the information was mistakenly not posted on the website. 

There is likely much more to follow on this story.

New Jersey Doubles Solar Capacity In 2011: When Will NJ Exceed 1,000 Solar Megawatts?

Some questions are shocking.  Consider this one.  When will New Jersey exceed 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity? Until 2011 asking this question would have been ridiculous.  No more.

Last year was the Garden State's biggest solar year ever, when it approximately doubled its solar capacity, something that also happened nationally.

Specifically, New Jersey installed 230 megawatts of solar during 2011,  nearly doubling the 259 megawatts that had been installed prior to 2011.  The average capacity size of a solar system in New Jersey doubled in 2011, compared to systems constructed during the previous decade.

During 2011, 4,348 systems were built to provide 230 megawatts of capacity or about 53 kilowatts per facility on average. By contrast, 8,351 solar systems were built prior to 2011 to install 259 megawatts.

Estimates are that New Jersey may reach 700 megawatts by June of 2012.  It also seems likely that New Jersey may cross the 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity sometime in 2013. See http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/12/0105/0140.  One-thousand megawatts is an amazing milestone that would have been an unobtainable dream until 2011.

The explosive growth in solar systems in New Jersey has led to a significant decline in the price of solar credits and a bill to raise the solar requirement.  Currently New Jersey is the second largest solar market in America but huge solar farms under construction in states like Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona mean the competition to remain the second largest solar market is heating up.