Governor Pawlenty has picked 51 people for the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG). Sadly, but predictably, no one from Energista was invited.
This group will be working with the Center for Climate Strategies to develop a Minnesota-tailored plan to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. I'm excited to see John Brandl, a professor and former Dean from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, appointed to the group.
Thanks to those of you still reading - Energista will now begin getting regular updates again.
Governor Pawlenty and a bipartisan gathering of legislators will speak on theÂ importance of E85 as a home-grown, lower carbon, renewable & clean fuel.Â The goal of the E85 Everywhere campaign is toÂ makeÂ the fuel available to everyone in MinnesotaÂ who wants to use it.
Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda
Governor Tim Pawlenty and a bipartisan gathering of legislators from both the Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House of Representatives will speak on the importance of maintaining the lead in E85 development and on their support for the E85 Everywhere push. 11:00 a.m. Remarks by Governor Tim Pawlenty 11:20 a.m. Remarks by a bipartisan gathering of legislators representing both the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives For more details, please contact the American Lung Association of Minnesota at 651-227-8014Â Â
The NY Times has an interesting article today on the debate in the Pacific Northwest over removing hydroelectric dams to restore wild salmon populations. The article talks about how Indians and commercial fishermen have been hurt by the decimated salmon populations, and how farmers could stand to lose if the dams are removed My personal position is this should be carefully evaluated on a case by case basis. If the dam is fairly small, then it may be worth removing. If the dam is relatively large, then firm plans must be developed to replace it with other renewable sources. Simply saying replace it with solar or wind is not sufficient since those are intermittent sources. If dams are haphazardly removed, it is likely they will be replaced with more coal or natural gas plants.
Last week's Minnesota House Session Weekly (pdf) details some of the wrangling over the Global Warming Mitigation Act and discusses increases in biofuels funding.
I hope to return to a regular posting schedule after in 1-2 weeks. As soon as I finish my coursework for the grad degree, I will devote a lot of time to creating original posts and covering local energy events. Thanks for sticking with us.
It is mostly about C-BED, a great set of rules that we have barely touched upon here. However, Article 2 deals with greenhouse gases and sets up a goal to reduce greenhouse gas reductions in MN by 80% by 2050. Nothing binding mind you, but it would be nice to reduce those pesky emissions.
Also, we need a plan.
By February 1, 2008, the commissioner of commerce, in consultation with the commissioners of the Pollution Control Agency, the Housing Finance Agency, and the Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Employment and Economic Development, and Transportation, and the chair of the Metropolitan Council, shall submit to the legislature a climate change action plan that meets the requirements of this section.
The plan must consider a cap and trade approach.
I cannot hide my disappointment over this bill. We have a Republican Governor who proposed requiring offsets for new large sources of greenhouse gases. We have a DFL in charge of the legislature. We don't have a bill that will actually force us to stop digging a deeper hole.
What he have is a bill to start studying how to stop digging. The utilities claim that Big Stone II will be a viable source of electricity even under a nationwide cap-and-trade system. Simultaneously, they claim that putting any price on their greenhouse gas emissions will prevent it from being built. I wonder if I am the only one who doesn't get that.
Fortunately for them, both parties in the Legislature appear to have understood their logic because the Senate stripped out offset language from the climate change bills. Odd that they claim people listening to all the worlds' scientists about global warming are alarmists while they decry that Minnesota will be without any electricity if they do not build a coal plant in South Dakota in 6 years.
Looks like the Minnesota Senate Energy Committee is having a nuclear-themed week. They are taking testimony on the bills on Thursday; the agenda for Tuesday is as follows:
Legislative History of Nuclear Power in Minnesota
Report by PUC Concerning Certificate of Need for Dry Cask Storage
Overview of Nuclear Energy
S.F. 2081-Murphy:Nuclear powered electric generating plants
certificate of need issuance prohibition elimination; legislative
electric energy task force expiration date extension; nuclear energy
S.F. 1930-Murphy:Nuclear powered electric generating plants
certificate of need issuance prohibition elimination.
S.F. 1491-Jungbauer, M. J.:Nuclear powered electric generating plants
certificate of need issuance ban repeal.
S.F. 1608-Jungbauer, M. J.:Nuclear powered electric generating plants
certificate of need issuance prohibition elimination.
S.F. 1414-Kubly:Monticello nuclear plant phaseout, contingency
planning and storage approval.
S.F. 1794-Kubly:Dry cask storage at Monticello stay extension.
S.F. 2144-Kubly:Monticello nuclear facility routine radiation
emissions health report.
S.F. 2199-Anderson, E. R.:Nuclear waste storage modification;
utilities greenhouse gas infrastructure costs recovery.
Currently, nuclear power plants are not permitted to receive a certificate of need by the PUC and therefore may not be built. Several of these bills aim to change that. I find it interesting that Senator Jungbauer is leading the fight to bring nuclear plants to MN as he has proven to be a major skeptic of climate science.
A super quick post - word has it that the Administrative Law Judge has released findings of fact, conclusion of law, and recommendation on the potential IGCC power plant in northern Minnesota. Conclusion: not so much.
The Administrative Law Judges conclude that it is not an "Innovative Energy Project" within the meaning of Minn. Stat. §216B.1694, subd. 1. Therefore, we also conclude that Excelsior Energy is not entitled to enter into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to provide baseload capacity and energy to Xcel.
The Administrative Law Judges conclude that neither the technology nor the Project is or is likely to be a least-cost resource. Therefore, we also conclude that the Project is not entitled to supply Xcel with at least two percent of the electric energy Xcel Energy provides to its retail customers.
The Star Tribune covered this story, noting that the PUC will decide this plant's fate in the summer.
For those unfamiliar with the original story: Over the weekend, every blog and news outlet started reporting that Ford CEO Alan Mulally told Detroit News (while at the NY Auto Show):
...he intervened to prevent President Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of Ford's hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid at the White House last week.
However, as Mulally followed Bush out to the car, he noticed someone had left the cord lying at the rear of the vehicle, near the fuel tank.
"I just thought, 'Oh my goodness!' So, I started walking faster, and the President walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all the protocols. I touched the President. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front," Mulally said. "I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen. This is all off the record, right?"
This never passed the smell test for me. For this to be an actual danger to the President (and VP Cheney who was close behind Mulally) the tank would have to be actively leaking hydrogen. Furthermore, Bush would have to choose not to read the large "HYDROGEN" label next to the tank cap. I decided a post theorizing whether Ford's hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid was fatally flawed or if Mulally thinks Bush doesn't read (or both) wasn't worth the time.
Thank god for Keith Olbermann who actually pulled the video of the event. Turns out, none of what Mulally told Detroit News was true. The extension cord was near the correct end of the vehicle and he didn't touch the President.
Why would the CEO of Ford suggest that the President almost blew himself up using a Ford hydrogen test vehicle? Energy blogger amazngdrx has a theory - Mulally was sloppily trying to discredit alternative fuel vehicles.
Outrageous exaggeration or shadowy conspiracy? You decide.
(Photo of Bush/Mulally/Cheney by Mark Wilson - Getty Images).
Photon Consulting, based in Germany, is projecting that electricity from leading (mostly silicon) photovoltaic (PV) crystalline cells will cost around 10¢/kWh - almost equal to the average residential grid price of 9.8¢/kWh. Many sunny states already exceed the 9.8¢ average: California - 14.48 ¢/kWh, Florida- 11.21 ¢/kWh, Texas- 11.54 ¢/kWh and Nevada - 11.22 ¢/kWh.
Only problem? Cheap solar energy will continue to be a victim of its own success The report predicts that demand will continue to greatly outstrip supply. Prices will remain high until production can ramp up to global demand. Photo Consulting should know - demand for PV cells in Germany is a large component of the global silicon shortage which has seen silicon rise from $9/kg early this decade to $60/kg this year.
Good news - technologies in the pipeline will help solar power simultaneously increase production, reduce material costs and increase efficiency.
Researchers at Massey University in New Zealand figured "if it ain't broke don't fix it". If you want to harvest solar energy, use chlorophyll! Nano-engineers unveiled a titanium dioxide solar cell dyed with synthetic chlorophyll that can produce electricity at 1/10th the cost of current silicon based PVs (once commercialized).
Savings arise from cheaper production costs (the cells can be easily mass produced and titanium dioxide is plentiful) and higher efficiencies under low-light conditions. The dyes can even be used in tinted windows.
Boeing researchers are succeeding in improving efficiencies at the other end of the spectrum - concentrated light conditions equivalent to 240 suns. These cells double the efficiency of standard PVs (22% to 40%) by combining multiple layers of semiconductors with light concentrators. Their cost goal once commercialized?
8 - 10¢/kWh.
Hat tip to The Sietch blog for info on the synthetic chlorophyll solar cells.
Marketplace of American Public Media reported that natural gas producers were meeting in the Middle East to discuss the possibility of forming a cartel akin to OPEC. This is possible in the near future as liquified natural gas (LNG) becomes more of a worldwide commodity and reserves become increasingly concentrated in the Middle East. This is bad news for consumers and also bad from the standpoint of moving to alternative fuels, as cartels like OPEC can manipulate prices and give inconsistent price signals to the market.
The US needs to consider setting a price floor on oil and also natural gas in the future, as Thomas Friedman and others have called for.
The Star Tribune recently ran an editorial on Big Stone II that covers much of what I planned (but never had time) to write about it. The Supreme Court's Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy decision should hurt Big Stone II's chances of survival.
Big Stone II is affected because it has been justified by claiming it will not increase emissions of any criteria pollutants (those regulated explicitly by name under the Clean Air Act) due to retrofits of the existing Big Stone I plant that will lower its emissions by an amount comparable to the new emissions from Big Stone II. Big Stone II will greatly increase GHG emissions however even though it will be more efficient than nearly all other existing plants.
From the Strib:
The existing Big Stone plant has been retrofitted several times, most significantly in 1995, without seeking new permits from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Sierra Club has served notice that it intends to sue the Big Stone operator for that failure, and the practicality of a suit gained ground Monday in the court's decision in Environmental Protection Agency vs. Duke Energy. Duke had argued, much as Big Stone has argued, that its retrofitting of existing coal-fired power plants was too "minor" to trigger a requirement for new permits. Numerous American utilities have used that subterfuge to avoid seeking permits obviously required under the Clean Air Act. In the Duke case, the Supreme Court finally slammed the door on that behavior.
If it were only that easy! A press release from Duke Energy suggests they do not agree that the door has been slammed shut.
The U.S. Supreme Court considered only whether an hourly emissions standard was appropriate to use when triggering NSR – and did not review what constitutes routine repair and replacement activities under NSR.
Depending on how the courts interpret "routine repair and replacement activities," Big Stone I may be forced to upgrade its pollution abatement equipment regardless of whether it builds Big Stone II or not. If that happens, the justification for building Big Stone II is much weaker because it will increase all pollutants rather than just GHGs.
We'll see what the courts find on this, but it looks like the issue is not over. Big shocker there.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce has two interesting reports on its site in the "What's New" section. One study looks at plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and the other is a Green Institute report on the potential of biomass fuels to supply the Rock-Tenn plant with energy.
The "Air Emissions Impacts of Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles in Minnesota's Passenger Fleet" report resulted from legislation calling on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) "to evaluate the emissions impacts of incorporating PHEVs into the vehicle fleet."
This study models the environmental impacts, specifically criteria pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, associated with converting portions of all light-duty vehicles operated in Minnesota to PHEVs. We also evaluate the emission consequences of converting the fleet of light-duty vehicles owned or leased by the State of Minnesota to PHEVs. Light-duty vehicles include compact cars, sedans, and station wagons. Emissions are evaluated for 2020. To understand how PHEVs would affect emissions in 2020, a base-case non-PHEV scenario relying on conventional vehicles operating with standard internal combustion engines (ICE) was developed. As an additional alternative to conventional ICE vehicles, a scenario involving pure hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) was considered.
They examined four future electricity generation scenarios - 100% coal (eek, a bleak future), 80% coal / 20% wind, 60% coal / 40% wind, 100% wind (I'm not sure this is plausible, even in the most blustery days of an autumn with Winney the Pooh).
They also considered different PHEV adoption rates as the cars become available - but if you want to know more about that you'll have to go to the trouble of reading the Executive Summary.
To summarize, generally the use of PHEVs in place of conventional gasoline-driven ICE vehicles will reduce air emissions. The sole exception appears to be SO2 emissions, which rise due to the high sulfur content of coal combusted to generate electricity. The effectiveness of PHEVs depends on the all-electric range capability; a PHEV with a 60 mile range has greater impacts on emissions than a PHEV with a 20 mile range. In comparison to hybrid electric vehicles, PHEVs emit less NOx, VOCs, CO, and particulate matter, but more CO2 and SO2. This results from the high sulfur and carbon content of coal per MMBtu. Depending upon our choices for electricity generation in 2020, it is possible that the impacts on carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide could change.
No real shock that PHEVs will emit more carbon dioxide than convention hybrids in this region given our reliance on coal. The take home message should be that we need to incentivize low carbon options - from increased miles-per-gallon efficiency to mass transit.
The report on the Rock-Tenn plant is particularly interesting to me - we have discussed it previously and I have a neighbor who works there. The report is "Renewing Rock-Tenn: A Biomass Fuels Assessment for Rock-Tenn's St. Paul Recycled Paper Mill."
The Rock-Tenn St. Paul mill is the largest paper recycling plant in the Upper Midwest, recycling 1,000 tons of paper per day and employing approximately 500 people. It is also one of the largest energy users in the Twin Cities. Since the mid-1980s, Rock-Tenn has received its process steam via pipeline from the Xcel Energy High Bridge coal-fired power plant near downtown St. Paul. The High Bridge plant is closing by the end of 2007, to be replaced by an adjacent natural gas-fired power plant currently under construction. Thus this source of steam will no longer be available, and Rock-Tenn must find another energy source.
I poked through the executive summary and it offers some insight into the modern world of biofuels - what is available, what is reliably available, what will be reliably available for 20 years, and the like.
The solution appears to be a microcosm of the world-wide energy challenge posed by climate change ... they may need an amalgamation of several solutions rather than one (struggling NOT to write "silver bullet") all-encompassing solution.
There are sufficient quantities of biomass fuel sources within 75 to 100 miles of Rock-Tenn to provide all of Rock-Tenn’s energy needs. However, considering current and projected future demand for these sources, no single source of biomass considered in this study could supply all of Rock-Tenn’s long-term fuel needs. The one possible exception is agricultural sources, which could be sufficient if a long-term fuel contract were signed with an entity (or entities) with the necessary capabilities and assets to securely back up a 20-year contract.
The Twin Cities Daily Planet recently covered the Rock-Tenn plant with the background behind the study and where the process goes next.
Decision-making rests with several players. Obviously, Rock-Tenn will decide what kind of fuel to use and whether to keep the plant open. The St. Paul Port Authority, Ramsey County, Washington County and the City of St. Paul are among the public entities whose decisions factor in the process, including decisions on financing and public subsidies. District Energy currently has an agreement with Rock-Tenn to build an energy plant on Rock-Tenn's campus, and can decide either to continue or to end this agreement.
Once the various parties have reached a decision, a proposal would need to be made to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) with an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. After the MPCA evaluates this worksheet, it will decide whether a full-scale (time-consuming and expensive) Environmental Impact Statement is necessary.
Community input into the process could happen at community meetings to be scheduled in May, and through a citizen advisory committee still under formation.
Last night, I joined many others in a forum on climate change. Elizabeth Wilson was on a 5 person panel discussing the topic and taking questions from the audience. Listen to the show here.
Energista has been sagging in its MN Legislature coverage over the past two weeks, but Loon Commons has continued with great weekly updates. The Leg has the week off and I hope to catch up with their antics over the next couple of days. I have no clue what is happening in the Leg in relation to biofuels and would be thrilled if someone else can help us out with that.
Looks like the Global Warming Mitigation Act is pretty much dead in the Senate. At this point, I can do little more than quote the Loon Commons story:
The final curveball from the Senate this week was some significant struggles around passage of the Global Warming Mitigation Act we have been promoting. We were informed by Sen. Yvonne Prettner-Solon (DFL-Duluth), chair of the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Policy Committee that the Global Warming Mitigation Act (SF192 authored by Sen. Ellen Anderson) would not be receiving a vote in her committee. The most significant power a committee chair holds is setting the agenda for the committee. She indicated that any global warming provisions would be in her omnibus bill, but the language we were initially provided this week was a far cry from anything in the Sen. Anderson legislation we support.
The little more I can add is that I have heard that Chair Prettner-Solon is herself the stumbling block in her desire to forge consensus on this issue. She appears poised to move a do-nothing climate change bill through rather than proceed with a close vote (though I don't know that there are enough votes for the Global Warming Mitigation Act to survive). As someone who applauded her efforts to create consensus on the RES issue, I am disappointed that she feels consensus is needed on this bill as well. I'm tired of rhetoric suggesting Minnesota will be in the dark if new coal plants are forced to pay to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is that a worst-case scenario involves higher prices, not rolling blackouts. This is not trivial, but neither are massive investments into long-lived power plants that may not be economical in a carbon-constrained future.
How many states have Republican governors who will sign a bill requiring new large sources of GHGs to offset their emissions? That our Senate Energy Committee cannot move a strong bill out of committee is hugely disappointing.
The news is not all bad as the energy conservation bill pushed by Dibble in the Senate and Kalin in the House has passed the whole Senate and made it out of the House Finance Committee. The bill is not as aggressive as proposed, but should still encourage more conservation that we currently have. The switch from a spending mandate to a savings mandate should help and the decoupling part should provide better incentives for utilities to conserve. All in all, these are significant steps - ratcheting up the conservation requirement can be done overtime if there is evidence the utilities are capable of reaching higher targets.
I'm curious to see what I have been missing over the last two weeks of House Energy Finance Committee hearings. Chair Hilty has moved his (really the Governor's) Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 out of committee but Magnus (climate-change denier) has been stricken as an author. I'm curious to learn what happened there and what purpose the bill serves at this point (several pieces of it having already been passed in the RES and conservation piece I just mentioned).
Finally, the omnibus energy bills are hitting the committees soon. The House Energy Finance & Policy (H.F. 1392) is available for energy-obsessed masochists everywhere. The Senate Energy & Utilities Committee appears to have turned the Governor's Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 (S.F. 145) into their omnibus bill.
As noted yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA in Massachusetts v. EPA. I put up a post about the case when it was argued back in November, 2006. Though the decision is exciting, its impact on the EPA will be minimal but may have larger implications. Compare it to throwing a pebble in a pond and creating larger ripples the farther they travel.
I'll get into the meat below but I want to first note that the Supreme Court has not ruled that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs). The EPA must reconsider its decision not to regulate them. Regardless of what happens next, no one expects it to happen quickly. I doubt if anyone expects the Bush Administration to move on this issue before leaving office.
More importantly, the next administration will enter office with an understanding that the EPA has the authority to regulate GHGs. This may not be the best way to regulate them but it will be an option. Most importantly, this case removes a hurdle from California's efforts to develop a forward-looking energy policy (hat tip to MoJo Blog for reminding me of this). The Supreme Court, speaking with a split voice, has now resolved the question of whether the Clean Air Act (CAA) allows for greenhouse gas regulation. It does. A ruling in the opposite direction would have opened many of California's new energy initiatives to challenge.
Now into the decision.
This case came about because Massachusetts and other groups petitioned the EPA to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions from new cars under its authority under the Clean Air Act. The EPA said that the CAA did not give it the proper authority for regulating against climate change and that even if it had that authority, it wouldn't be prudent to do it now because it conflicts with other policies pursued by the executive branch and it would interfere with foreign policy and U.S. emissions from the auto sector are a minimal part of the total worldwide emissions anyway. Massachusetts asked the court to review this decision because the EPA based its decision on political factors rather than on the factors required by the Clean Air Act.
Summarizing the decision (emphasis added):
Under the Act's clear terms, EPA can avoid promulgating regulations only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do. It has refused to do so, offering instead a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, including the existence of voluntary Executive Branch programs providing a response to global warming and impairment of the President's ability to negotiate with developing nations to reduce emissions. These policy judgments have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change and do not amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form a scientific judgment. Nor can EPA avoid its statutory obligation by noting the uncertainty surrounding various features of climate change and concluding that it would therefore be better not to regulate at this time. If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment, it must say so. The statutory question is whether sufficient information exists for it to make an endangerment finding. Instead, EPA rejected the rule-making petition based on impermissible considerations. Its action was therefore "arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law," §7607(d)(9). On remand, EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.
This basically says that the EPA must find that climate change either poses a danger to human health and welfare or it does not (skip to sections VI and VII if you want to read this part of the decision). If it does pose a danger, the EPA is required to regulate it. The EPA may not just decline to regulate based on political concerns.
Much of the decision focuses on jurisprudence issues such as standing, which are interested but may be beyond the interests of the average energista reader... so I'll just write about some of the interesting parts.
Justice Stevens wrote the opinion and Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas dissented. The first couple of pages of the opinion (just after the syllabus) recount the history of climate science in an accessible manner. The Court notes that "harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized."
In response to the EPA argument that regulating greenhouse gases from cars would do little overall to stop climate change, the court wrote:
Agencies, like legislatures,do not generally resolve massive problems in one fell swoop ... but instead whittle away over time, refining their approach as circumstances change and they develop a more nuanced understanding of how best to proceed
This strikes me as being a brilliant retort to those who continue to argue that because Kyoto has not succeeded, all attempts to mitigate climate change are doomed to failure. Many argued that it does not matter whether the EPA regulates these emissions because other countries are increasing their emissions. The Court did not agree.
A reduction in domestic emissions would slow the pace of global emissions increases,no matter what happens elsewhere.
The Court argues further against those who trivialize U.S. auto GHG emissions (6% of total GHG emissions worldwide) as being trivial by noting
To put this in perspective: Considering just emissions from the transportation sector, which represent less than one-third of this country's total carbon dioxide emissions, the United States would still rank as the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, outpaced only by the European Union and China.22 Judged by any standard, U. S. motor-vehicle emissions make a meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations and hence, according to petitioners, to global warming.
The dissenters mostly challenge the right of Massachusetts et al. to sue because they feel MA did not show particularized harm from global climate change and did not demonstrate that action by EPA would stop such harm if it were demonstrated. But they also cast doubt on climate science.
Scalia's dissent focused on how they would have decided the case if MA had standing to bring it. He argues that the Clean Air Act does not force the EPA to make a decision but that the EPA could essentially defer making a judgment on whether or not to deal with climate change forever. Additionally, they argued that greenhouse gases are not pollutants.