Monday, June 26, 2006

477 excuses to do nothing on energy

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives through June 26 had introduced 267 energy-related bills this year, and senators have introduced 210, according to a New York Times editorial "Waste of Energy." Everybody wants to be thought of as doing something but precious few bills have even a ghost of chance of clearing both chambers and securing the President's signature by the end of the current Congress. One exception: Rep. Richard Pombo's (R-Calif.) bid to end a moratorium on oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continengtal Shelf, subject to state approval. Some states, such as Virginia, are ready to approve. Others, such as Florida, could witness stiff opposition from the tourist industry. That said, the Times argues even it should not pass without other substantive legislation, e.g. to raise CAFE standards.

Friday, June 23, 2006

GE's Immelt sees only small premium for coal gasification plants

In a bid to heighten interest in integrated gasification combined cycle plants, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt contends the closely-watched technology is on the verge of commercialization. He told the Edison Electric Institute's annual meeting this week (June 20) in Washington that GE can help lower the cost of "IGCC" plants to "just a slight premium" to traditional pulverized coal. "We need to help make energy and energy technology a core competency of the country ... and to do that it means driving new coal technology now," he said. "Don't use the excuse that it's not ready. Assume it's ready and let's get it going," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On the Nov '06 Calif ballot: oil tax to fund alternative energy

Here's a donnybrook in the making: Golden State voters are slated in November to vote on a constitutional amendment that would tax oil production to fund alternative energy projects. In one corner: "Californians for Clean Alternative Energy;" in the opposite corner: "Californians Against Higher Taxes." Can the anti's risk being cast as against renewables? Test your energy IQ on this important fact: Which of these states does not tax the extraction of natural resources? Alaska, California, Louisiana, Texas. If you selected California, you're correct (according to Californians for Clean Alternative Energy). Here are the tax rates for the other oil-rich states: Alaska, 15%; Louisiana, 12.5%; Texas, 4.6%. The proposed California tax rate would depend on the price of oil. At $58 per barrel, for example, the rate would be 4.5%.

More hot air on Cape Cod but a deal may be in the offing

A way may be paved for the hotly-debated Cape Wind project off Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod to prevail due to a compromise struck by Sens. Bingaman and Domenici with, of all people, Sen. Kennedy. Kennedy is quoted in the Thursday, June 22 Washington Post saying "It's a significant victory in our effort to deal with the legitimate safety concerns (to shipping and navigation) of the project." Might he be signaling a rear-guard strategy? If so, Gov. Romney apparently is not a part of it. Under the deal, we wouldn't be able to scuttle the project, although the Coast Guard -- which is not likely above influence -- would be able to. Meanwhile, the battle between Cape Wind and its opponents -- mainly the "Alliance to Proect Nantucket Sound" -- is heating up.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Resource swap: Uranium for Oil

Developing an effective naitonal energy policy isn't just a Western concern, as editors at Zimbabwe's Sunday News demonstrated in an editorial on June 18.

Word that the country's government had forged a $1.3 billion (U.S.) deal with China for thermal power stations and coal mines prompted editors in resource-rich, energy-poor Zimbabwe to call for a comprehensive plan, because "by diversifying the energy options at our disposal, we enhance economic security." The paper sees no hope in recruiting "London or New York" as partners in energy development, and recommends turning instead to "Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Tehran, or Moscow" for assistance.

While the paper suggests that solar and wind -- along with higher capacity factors at existing coal plants -- could fill the gap in the short run, the editors say that Zimbabwe's uranium deposits may be the key to the future.

But, rather than trying to find investors willing to building nuclear plants in the country, the Sunday News recommends a trade: "For instance, an oil-producing country with enough resources to develop a nuclear power reactor could easily supply Zimbabwe with petroleum in exchange for uranium shipments."

No wonder they see the future in partnership with Tehran.

Meanwhile, one concern that never appeared the editorial: the environment. Right now, Zimbabwe, which continues to face international economic sanctions for political and human-rights abuses, is concerned almost exclusively about economic growth. As the editors said, "Companies and individuals with the capital and willingness to produce goods and provide services must not be bogged down by shortages or electricity, coal, and diesel."

Point taken, but it leaves any would-be Western support over a barrel: Drop the sanctions and start investing (while ignoring Zimbabwe's offenses), or stand by and do nothing as a rogue uranium-for-oil, emissions-be-damned economy takes off in Africa.

Ethanol and water use in Illinois

The Associated Press ran a story on June 18 about ethanol's water demands in Illinois, reporting that some city officials in Champaign and Urbana are concerned that production of the corn-based fuel could strain local water supplies. The story quotes the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association as saying that it takes about 300 million gallons of water to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol. New plant technologies continue to improve this ratio.

The story also cites some downstate residents' concerns about chemicals and wastewater from ethanol plants contaminating local water supplies. An Iowa RFA spokesman quoted in the story rejected the notion, adding that the water that "comes out of the plant may be cleaner than was pumped into it."

Does this story sound a bit familiar? It should -- the local concerns about energy-industry plants taxing the water supply or contaminating local groundwater are similar to the issues anti-nuclear activists often raise with regard to neighboring plants. If this matter continues to mirror anti-nuclear battles, expect to hear questions about clean water leaving ethanol plants at a slightly heated temperature endangering local aquatic systems.

But, before Illinois ethanol producers write off the controversy as an annoying chapter from the anti-nuclear playbook, they'd be wise to remember that Illinois residents may be super-sensitized to this issue -- earlier this year, the Braidwood nuclear plant was in the news for several weeks after Exelon disclosed finding tritium in on-site groundwater after a small leak.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sen. Feinstein with the Dem's next bid for a carbon cap

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., Wednesday signaled the next bid to create a limit on carbon emissions in the U.S. Look for it later this summer. She told the annual Energy Efficiency Forum at the National Press Club in Washington that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is helping lead the way. She contends the bill her staff is working on with other like-minded senators will be more flexible than the McCain-Leiberman effort from the summer of 2005 and will involve the ag sector in a significant way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Blair says energy prices trump nuclear worries

Reuters is reporting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is standing by his position that nuclear energy must be a part of Britain's future energy strategy.

Responding to questions in Parliament on June 14, Blair said that rising energy prices, as well as concerns about global climate change and energy independence, mean that new nuclear power development will be part of his new energy policy.

Blair plans to announce the findings of an energy-policy review his government has been conducting since last year. The review will mark the first major energy-policy statement from Blair since a 2003 paper that raised concerns about nuclear economics and high-level radioactive waste disposal.

News that Blair is determined to keep nuclear power in the mix continues to confound some British policymakers and environmentalists, including a few of Blair's own advisors. The Scotsman reported on June 14 that the government's Environment Agency believes the energy review is "biased towards the nuclear options."

Most of Blair's recent comments about nuclear power over the past year have focused on the technology's potential to mitigate global warming. But in recent weeks, Blair has cited high energy prices as being the determining factor.

On May 17, he told the Confederation of British Industry that high prices and reliance on oil and gas suppliers in turbulent regions make both nuclear and renewables essential. "These facts put the replacement of nuclear power stations, a big push on renewables, and a step-change on energy efficiency...back on the agenda with a vengeance."

He echoed this theme in his comments to Parliament today: "I certainly can tell you what has changed [since the 2003 report]...Energy prices are rising the entire time, which is the whole issue to do with nuclear energy is back on the agenda -- not just for this country, but in many other countries around the world."

Giuliani plants energy policy flag

In an address to the Manhattan Institute on June 13, possible Republican presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani tweaked the Bush administration's current energy policies and staked his claim to being out front on energy and environmental issues -- issues some of his prospective Democratic presidential rivals are also mulling these days.

The New York Times reported that Giuliani said the Bush administration "lacked an energy policy and that greater reliance on nuclear power, ethanol-based fuels and hybrid vehicles was more realistic than President Bush's goal of independence from foreign energy sources."

Focusing more on the political overtones of Giuliani's speech than the energy-policy substance, the Times also noted that Giuliani "did not criticize Mr. Bush by name." Small wonder, considering that Giuliani's broad proposals are very close to the measures Bush is promoting.

In the 2006 State of the Union, in addition to calling for less reliance on oil, Bush specifically mentioned investment in nuclear energy, hybrid and electric car development, and new technologies that could make "ethanol practical and competitive within five years."

At least one environmental group noticed the similarity between the two positions. The Times quotes the Natural Resources Defense Council's Ashok Gupta as saying of Giuliani's speech, "There's not a lot here that's different from what Dick Cheney would say."

Meanwhile, one of Giuliani's highest-profile potential presidential rivals, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), is set to receive the Energy Leadership Award from the Energy Efficiency Forum, an annual event that the United States Energy Association and Johnson Controls sponsor.