Friday, August 30, 2013

Here's another example of water as our most valuable resource being depleted quickly in a central area of the US with high food production.  Though the report is not clear on the many issues that could be contributing to the loss reserves, and we can speculate on changing weather patterns, over development, commercial or residential, perhaps even the heavy demands of fracking as they try to feed the thousands of drill sites across the midwest, we can already see cut backs on agriculture production.

Perhaps this forces us to rethink centralized, large-scale food production and pushes us back to local farming?  Or, will farming move inside as hydroponic methods expand?  Regardless, farmers will need to innovate ways of using less water or, as here, cut production.

At least we are managing this water supply to last at least until 2070.  But that is not that many years ahead of us.  What then? This is a huge Aqifer covering an area of 174,000 miles.  It will adversely impact nine states.  That impact will be on jobs and the economy as well.

We'll cover this on a future show.   

Shrinking water supply under threat in U.S. farm breadbasket: report

Date: 28-Aug-13
Country: USA
Author: Carey Gillam

A critical water source for U.S. farmers and ranchers is being depleted at a rapid rate and nearly 70 percent of it will disappear within the next 50 years if the current trend does not change, according to a report issued this week.
Thirty percent of the groundwater from a critical portion of what is known as the High Plains Aquifer already has been pumped and another 39 percent will be depleted over the next five decades, according to the report by environmental science and engineering experts published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The report said limited water supplies will begin to have a significant impact on food production over the next few decades. It laid out different scenarios for how targeted reductions in water usage made now could extend peak agricultural production for many more decades. It said cutting back water use from the aquifer by 20 percent now, for instance, would reduce agricultural production in the near term but would extend the longevity of production well into 2070.
"It is generally understood the groundwater is going down. At some point in the future we need to use less water," said David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University who participated in the study. "We tried to put together some information to help with the planning process. If we are able to save more now, it's going to make the decline that we have more gradual."
The study examined in depth the portion of the High Plains Aquifer in the western part of Kansas, generally the largest wheat-growing state in the country.
The High Plains aquifer system, including a portion known as the Ogallala aquifer, is one of the world's largest. It covers an area of approximately 174,000 miles under portions of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
The aquifer is tapped to irrigate corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops, sustain cattle and other livestock, and for drinking water for millions of people throughout the region.
The researchers said current water policies have not translated to significant reductions in use of the groundwater - people are simply pumping until wells run dry. Although their focus was on western Kansas, they said balancing the water needs of the present with the long-term needs of the future is a global concern.
"Although consumption of freshwater supplies has not yet crossed a potentially dangerous planetary threshold, crop yields have begun to fall in many regions because of water scarcity, and global food security remains a worldwide concern," the report said. "There is a clear need for society to become prepared for the consequences of reductions in groundwater use that shall occur in the foreseeable future."
The study took four years to complete and included an examination of thousands of water usage reports, well readings, climate data and other information, said Steward, one of six co-authors of the study.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In case you missed it...

Tesla outsells Porsche, Jaguar in California; market value tops $20 billion

Since launching in 2003, Tesla has – against all odds and predictions – taken the almost obscure concept of electric-powered vehicles mainstream. 

After 10 long years of production, but only three years as a publicly traded company, Tesla's market value hit a record high of $20 billion at the beginning of this week. Heck, you might not believe it, but with just one model, the company is outselling Porsche in Tesla's home state of California. According to a report from the California New Car Dealers Association, more Californians have registered a new Tesla through the first half of the year than a new Cadillac, Buick, Volvo, Chrysler, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Lincoln, Land Rover or Jaguar. So what's going on?

Change takes time. For years, environmental activists have pushed to reduce energy consumption and cut down on non-biodegradable items, such as plastic bags, that consumers use. Only now, after what feels like more than a decade of struggle and public-service announcements, are people bringing their own bags to the supermarket.

So it follows that after its own 10-year struggle, Tesla is finally reporting profits – albeit not from its automotive salesbut from special revenue sources – and making a real name for itself. We don’t need to tell you that building cars in a market full of nothing but very big players is a heck of a lot harder than bringing a bag to the supermarket. 

This has proved a good year for Tesla, with the Model S being labeled Motor Trend’s and Automobile Magazine's2013 Car of the Year, among other honors. During the first quarter of 2013, roughly 4,900 Model S cars were sold in the U.S., making it the top-selling plug-in electric car in North America, ahead of the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf.

For the remainder of 2013, Tesla intends to deliver 21,000 Model S sedans and projects doubling that figure that in 2014. According to CEO Elon Musk, the demand for the Model S currently exceeds Tesla's ability to make it.

Despite low expectations from independent auto analysts, Tesla has big plans. Slated for production in 2014 is theModel X CUV, which received a warm welcome at its 2012 unveiling at Tesla's design studios in Hawthorne, Calif. There have even been talks of building family-sized minivans and an electric pickup truck.

The sky is the limit for Tesla, as long as the company continues recording profits and cranking out its Model S. Maybe now it can figure out a way to reduce the sticker price so that the common folk can be a little more "green" themselves.

Update on our show and newsletter

ReNewable Biz Header

One of our stories this week.  Find the rest at:

We'll have more news on Formula E over the next few weeks, and look forward to talking to them on the radio side as well.

Beijing, China Welcomes Formula E

"Formula E has been on an impressive tour as of late while at the same time releasing major news stories on a weekly basis. Whether it is naming a new Formula E Race Team, a new host city, or major international sponsor, it seems the momentum is building up nicely.  As we continue to follow Formula E, we wanted to focus a bit on China and their involvement in the sport in our special sustainability series. It's obvious the Chinese are excited and are ready to compete, and when you look at their effort to be a world player in EV manufacturing, what better way to prove their skills than in Formula E.  
Vice Mayor Ms Cheng Hong in June officially welcomed the FIA Formula E Championship to Beijing as one of 10 global cities to host the new fully-electric racing series, beginning in 2014..."

Coastal flooding could cost cities $60 billion by 2050, study says

Good piece from the LA Times.  

Clearly, this is 60 billion we cannot afford to lose on rebuilding from storms.  We will follow up with radio shows on this.  Note the cities listed at the bottom--this is clearly a global issue and risk:

 Superstorm Sandy caused flooding on the East Coast.
Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Transportation Authority vice president and chief maintenance officer, inspects a train station in New York after Superstorm Sandy. (Craig Ruttle / Associated Press /November 28, 2012)

Coastal flooding could cost big cities more than $60 billion a year by mid-century, with losses jumping even more dramatically if nothing is done to counter rising sea levels and subsiding land, a new study has found.

A team of researchers analyzed data on flood exposure in 136 of the world’s largest coastal cities to project steep increases in economic losses, from an estimated $6 billion a year in 2005 to $52 billion by 2050 based on changes in population, economic growth and urbanization.
Even if those cities do as expected and invest in flood defenses to keep their level of exposure at what it is now, they can expect between $60 billion and $63 billion a year in losses by 2050 because of land subsidence and sea level rise, according to the study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
If cities do not pay for expensive upgrades, their annual losses could jump to more than $1 trillion, a figure “so huge it only shows that doing nothing is not a realistic option,” said Stephane Hallegatte, a senior economist for the World Bankand lead author of the report.
“The bad side of it is that the risk is increasing, but the bright side is that there is a window of opportunity to drive urban development toward safe places,” Hallegatte said.
Researchers also ranked cities worldwide based on flood losses and found that the economic damage is not evenly distributed. In 2005, 31% of flood losses came from just three U.S. cities — Miami, New York, New Orleans -- according to the study, “because of their high wealth and low protection level.”
In the future, flood risk is expected to shift to cities that are big, fast-growing, poor, exposed to tropical storms and prone to land subsidence, the study says. To avoid staggering increases in flood damage, cities across the globe will have to adapt by raising dikes and other flood protections at a rate that outpaces rising sea levels, subsidence and socio-economic growth.
Most vulnerable cities in 2005 (By average annual flood losses)
1. Guangzhou (China)
2. Miami
3. New York-Newark
4. New Orleans
5. Mumbai (India)
6. Nagoya (Japan)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This from the Environmental News Network

With sadness, we report on the decline of baby Artic harp seals as the ice melts away around them.  The question you might be asking is, how does this relate to our mission of the business side of green?   Does this enter our prism of contemplating the financial ramifications of investments in green?

We think it does.  The obvious connection is consideration of  loss habitat--what other species will we potentially kill, and what does that mean to our ecosystem which is the lifeblood of our economic system as well (we can't sustain an economy without natural resources)?

Also, where is that water flowing, what levels of rising tides will we see?  Do we flood out businesses and home owners?  Do we need to push development back from our shore lines?  What is the financial impact of rezoning our coastal communities?

Is this cyclical or an unstoppable shifting of nature caused by human over expansion?   We'll see:

From: Alexander Holmgren, MONGABAY.COMMore from this Affiliate
Published August 20, 2013 04:55 PM

Climate change killing harp seal pups

As sea ice levels continue to decline in the northern hemisphere, scientists are observing an unsettling trend in harp seal young mortalities regardless of juvenile fitness. While a recent study found that in harp seal breeding regions ice cover decreased by up to 6% a decade from 1979 on, a follow-up study in PLoS ONE compared the rate of harp seal strandings to total ice cover from 1992 to 2010. The data showed a direct relationship between the two, with seal pup strandings rising sharply as ice cover was reduced.

In the first years of a harp seal’s (Pagophilus groenlandicus) life stable ice platforms are critical to their survival. Mother’s their birth young on se ice and raise them until they are capable of surviving on their own. The rapidly diminishing sea ice along the east coasts of Canada and the United States, however, interrupts this process at a critical state of development preventing pups from reaching maturity. As the ice melt increases, scientists have observed a rising rate of occurrences of "strandings", in which vulnerable pup’s are left stranded on small blocks of ice isolated from their parents and eventually succumbing to starvation or the elements.
As a part of the study, researchers compared the DNA of 106 stranded harp seals with those that had been accidentally captured by fishing boats. The conclusion of this study was that the odds of survival for the young pups were completely independent from their durability, strength, or adaptive capabilities.
"We used measures of genetic diversity to determine if the dead seals that came ashore were less fit than the presumably healthy ones that had been caught by fishermen, but found no difference," noted co-author Thomas Schultz, Director of Duke’s Marine Conservation Molecular Facility. "The stranded animals appear to have come from a genetically diverse population, and we have no evidence to suggest that genetic fitness played a role in their deaths."
The results of this study provide valuable insights into the impacts of rising temperatures on Arctic animals.
"The effects of climate change are acting on younger animals; it’s affecting them during the crucial first part of their life," said Kristina Cammen, a PhD student at who co-led the study.
The world is warming due to rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere primarily from burning fossil fuels, but also connected to deforestation and industrialized agriculture.
Read more at MONGABAY.COM.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Great, balance article on fracking

It is great to see some balanced reporting on an issue that sometimes moves away from science, and economics, and gets very emotional.  In most cases, as with this one, the better we can stay rational and factual, the quicker we will get to an insightful decision.

   Let us know what you think:  

The Controversy Surrounding Fracking Part II

Last week, guest author Paul Batistelli contributed an article about the controversy surrounding fracking in ENN’s Spotlight section. This week, Paul argues the case for and against fracking…

The case for fracking

  • Economic growth
In the United States, companies have struck natural gas gold in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania, the Bakken in North Dakota and the Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford and Permian Basin in Texas. The number of drillers that have flocked to these areas have added significant economic value. According to theDallas Morning News fracking has added about 1.6 million jobs in the United States, with the average worker earning $107,000 per year. In addition to job growth, it estimates that drilling could contribute $197 billion to the GDP by 2015 and double the amount by 2035.
  • Lower natural gas rates
The boom in natural gas has caused the prices of the commodity to drop, decreasing energy bills for millions of Americans. Aside from heating and cooking with natural gas, homes across the nation can use electricity generated by the fossil fuel. Because of the low price of natural gas, many power plants have turned to the commodity instead of coal to generate electricity. Inderegulated markets like Texas, energy rates charged by companies that purchase power from natural gas distributors may be lower than those who rely on coal-generated electricity.
  • Cleaner electricity
Cost savings aren’t the only reason to use natural gas to generate electricity. Natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel, meaning it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its coal or oil counterparts. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions released a report in June stating carbon emissions are at their lowest levels since 1994, partially because of the substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels.

The case against fracking

  • Harmful chemicals
The water pushed into shale rock formations is swimming with chemicals that help kill bacteria and dissolve minerals. Though the exact chemical cocktail used can vary by driller, 65 of the known chemicals used in fracking are considered hazardous. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that some of the chemicals can cause adverse health effects with prolonged exposure, including damage to the kidneys, liver, brain, heart and blood stream. And because the fracking industry in exempt from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, the hazardous waste created in the process is unregulated.
  • High water use
It’s not just a drop of water being used to frack natural gas, it’s millions of gallons. That much water use is an environmental concern for any state, but in drought-stricken areas like Texas, it’s an even bigger issue. Barnett Shale fracking in North Texas used more than a billion gallons of groundwater in 2009 alone, according to the Austin-American Statesman.  And because of the chemicals in the water, it can’t be treated and reused for alternative purposes. Worse yet, it’s possible the fluids pumped in the ground are contaminating drinking water, which the EPA is currently investigating.
  • Methane gas
Though natural gas is thought to burn cleaner than coal, fracking is not without a carbon footprint. When a well is fracked for natural gas, methane escapes as well. Many believe the extra release of methane gas cancels out any climate advantage of fewer carbon dioxide emissions.  Furthermore, it’s thought the added methane gas puts people’s lives in danger, from both water contamination and the risk of explosions at fracking sites.
Paul Batistelli freelances in the energy field for the promotion of a greener society and energy means. He works to raise awareness on ecological issues, energy dependency, and reducing carbon footprints. He currently resides in Dallas, TX with his lab, Copeland.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

From this week's live radio show

We had Katie Greenhaw on this week from The Center for Effective Government, and one of the things we talked about, in addition to getting a great overview of their group and their work, is the dangerous of transporting and storing dangerous chemicals.  Here's a brief clip from an article you can find on their web site:

The Distribution of Toxic Chemicals

Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause a range of serious injuries, from minor irritation to severe tissue burns, cancer, and death, depending on the level and type of exposure. These chemicals are particularly dangerous if they become airborne because they can expose children, the elderly, and families in nearby communities to risk with little warning. Anhydrous ammonia, for example, is used as a nitrogen fertilizer, and exposure to small quantities can cause burning of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, while greater exposure can be lethal due to throat swelling or chemical burns to the lungs.
Currently, registered facilities have reported 14.4 billion pounds of 71 different toxic chemicals. The most common toxic chemicals include anhydrous ammonia, chlorine, propylene oxide, vinyl acetate monomer, and acrylonitrile. These types of chemicals must be reported when quantities exceed a chemical-specific threshold. For example, a risk management plan must be submitted if a facility has more than 2,500 pounds of chlorine; ammonia must be reported if the quantity exceeds 10,000 pounds.
Texas has the greatest amount of toxic chemicals in the country, with more than 2.2 billion pounds stored in the almost 2,000 facilities across the state. The most abundant toxic chemical in the state is anhydrous ammonia (589 million pounds), but the most ubiquitous is chlorine (used at 662 facilities).
Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, and Ohio are the only other states that store over 1 billion pounds of toxic chemicals. The Clarksfield Branch facility in Wakeman, OH, alone houses 1.1 billion pounds of anhydrous ammonia, which is the largest quantity of a toxic chemical in a single facility.
With respect to toxic chemical accidents, Louisiana has had a higher quantity of toxic chemicals (383,032 pounds) involved in accidents than any other state. The most common toxic chemicals in the state include anhydrous ammonia, chlorine, acrylonitrile, chloroform, and ethylene oxide, which are used in a range of commercial and industrial processes and pose a variety of health concerns.

Some info on Katie:  
Katie Greenhaw works in the Center for Effective Government's Regulatory Policy program as a Regulatory Policy Analyst. Her work focuses on the regulatory and rulemaking processes that impact public health, safety, and the environment.
Prior to joining the Center for Effective Government, Katie served as a law clerk for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in both a regional office and at the national headquarters. In this role, she helped enforce health and environmental standards in communities with unique local challenges.
Katie found her work with the EPA to be particularly rewarding, as it allowed her to see how health and environmental protections improve the quality of air, drinking water, and other crucial resources for the public. Through her work, she saw how states and tribes can work together in cooperation with EPA to achieve a better quality of life for their citizens.
Katie most recently worked on a rulemaking effort in EPA’s Office of Compliance. She has also served as an intern on Capitol Hill and worked for a civil legal clinic representing underprivileged clients.
Katie holds a law degree from Vanderbilt University. While pursuing her law degree, Katie spent a summer in Venice, Italy, studying international law. In 2007, Katie earned her B.A. in music from the College of Charleston. In addition to performing with the College of Charleston Opera, she has also performed with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, and at the Spoleto festival in Charleston, SC, where she sang a lead soprano role in Mozart’s The Impresario.
Katie is currently pursuing an Environmental Master of Laws from George Washington University.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Continued from yesterday's radio guest

Fracking or Hydraulic Fracturing? What’s in a Name?

Fractured words

When pressed by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to come up with a specific instance of contamination, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Mark Brownstein conceded, ”the act of hydraulic fracturing itself which is going on many thousands of feet below the surface, OK, the chances of that causing water contamination is in fact remote.” However, he continued, “I think what you’re also hearing is that if wells are constructed improperly or if chemicals or waste water are mishandled at the surface, those can cause water contamination. Those are part of a hydraulic fracturing process.”
Whether the narrower, technical definition or the broader, popular one is more correct isn’t the point. Both are already part of the public dialogue. The point is to insist on clarity, as Sen. Landrieu did, so that we know which one we’re dealing with in any given conversation.

Blame Battlestar Galactica

If only the human mind loved clarity as much as profanity.
Thanks to all the “frack” in the original scifi TV series Battlestar Galactica, and even more “frakking”in its re-imagined early 2000s version, it is next to impossible (at least for some of us—and it CAN’T be just me!) to hear the word and not register the more infamous four-letter “f” word imparted by the show’s creators in efforts to skirt FCC rules governing profane language. Hence, we find things like Yoko Ono’s song “Don’t Frack My Mother,”  the grassroots campaign Don’t Frack with NY, and the documentary All Fracked Up.
The negative connotations of “frack” as a stand-in for the expletive tend to benefit supporters of fracking bans who tap into the public’s subconscious response to reinforce their message.
As if there weren’t enough confusion in the public dialogue already!

A rose by any other name …

In all seriousness, I do not actually know where my mother would come down on natural gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing if she had to make a decision about whether to lease her land or allow fracking operations in her neighborhood. She’s fond of her rose bushes, but she would appreciate the economic benefits, too. And maybe she could have both.
roseWhile  pro- and anti-fracking voices would work hard to court her opinion, I would want my mother to know what her local policy makers were talking about, first and foremost. I would want her to have the vocabulary to follow the public debate so she could hold her leaders accountable.
And I would want her to know what words to use so she could ask the right questions and get the information she needed to make the best decisions for herself and her community.

About the author: Deborah Bailin is a democracy analyst for UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy, where she researches political and societal barriers to formulating science-based policies. She comes to UCS as an ACLS Public Fellow and holds a PhD in English from the University of Maryland. Subscribe to Deborah's posts
Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

We are recording a show tomorrow

With Deborah Ballin from the Union of Concerned Scientist, and thought you'd like to see this blog she posted which is one of the subjects we will cover tomorrow.  Don't forget you can find all of our TV/radio shows, 24/7, at

We'll post in two parts, starting with this:

Fracking or Hydraulic Fracturing? What’s in a Name?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More bad news on 'Dead Zones' and their impact on aquatic life

Did you expect to find a dead zone near Green Bay? We did not. This was an eye opener for us (even though we've reported many times on this same problem destroying parts of the Mississippi River and others getting drained into from Midwest farms).  Of course, it makes sense when you consider the amount of farm land up near Green Bay and throughout the area.

We are paying a steep price for our current dependence on agricultural centers and the chemicals they depend on to produce large quantities of food.  Obviously, too, urban centers contribute large amounts of phosphorous as well.  Our push for locally-grown produce, for organic foods, a trend we've reported on frequently on our radio shows, will help.

At the same time, though, we need to re-think our large-scale production of food, the mistakes we've made, the environmental and economic impact these policies have created, and use history lessons, experience and new technology to change and adapt to farming practices that are safe yet very productive.

'Dead Zone' Near Green Bay Poses Threat To Aquatic Life

Green Bay

Credit Ken Lund (CC-BY-SA) /
The Green Bay, near the mouth of the Fox River.
A “dead zone” similar to those already found in the Gulf of Mexico and in Lake Erie has been confirmed in Green Bay.
The area of dead algae was created because of phosphorous runoff from agricultural fields and urban sources that enters the Fox River and moves north to Green Bay. Algae feed on phosphorous, grow, die, and then fall to the bottom of the bay.
Kevin Fermanich, an environmental science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, says the algae block oxygen, affecting sport fish and the mayfly larvae they feed on.
Fermanich says there's been evidence of the zone for decades. However, he says recent research by the Green Bay Metro Sewerage Department and UW-Green Bay students shows it is getting worse. “It is getting more persistent,” he says.
Fermanich says the dead zone is mobile. It begins in an area off the town of Dyckesville which is located to the north of the city of Green Bay. From there the zone can extend for miles to the north and south.
“It can reach all the way to the mouth of the bay,” says Fermanich. “It may exist for a couple of days, and then we might get a wind from the southwest that will mix the bay … and that will re-aerate the bottom water.”
Fermanich says there are ways to prevent making the dead zone worse than it already is. He says wetlands and buffer strips can keep phosphorous out of the Fox River and its inlets.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Are we too successful in our move towards renewables?

This is the other side of the business side of green. All energy has production costs, transmission requirements and puts stress on a grid to absorb the production and hope it generates on an even, consistent basis.  Depending on what they are paying for the energy--with a premium, in many states, paid for clean energy, it ratchets up costs which, as you might expect, gets passed on to the rate payers.

So, the question is, do we let the market dictate how much and at what rate renewables come onto the system, and get out of government incentive programs that force min production levels and set elevated pricing?

Think about that as you read this story that came off of MSN this week:

Some Vt. utilities try to put brakes on solar boom

Small companies are seeing financial losses from renewable energy use and production.

Green Mountain Power electric meters are seen on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. Vermont's largest electric utility asked the state Thursday for permission to increase its rates about 2.5 percent Oct. 1 and as much as 2.5 percent again next year to help pay for $24 million in additional transmission fees. If approved, the average Green Mountain Power customer's bill of about $100 would go up by about $2.50. The utility has about 250,000 customers in Vermont. | © AP Photo | Toby Talbot
Green Mountain Power electric meters are seen on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. Vermont's largest electric utility asked the state Thursday for permission to increase its rates about 2.5 percent Oct. 1 and as much as 2.5 percent again next year to help pay for $24 million in additional transmission fees. If approved, the average Green Mountain Power customer's bill of about $100 would go up by about $2.50. The utility has about 250,000 customers in Vermont.(© AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — When the tiny Washington Electric Cooperative Inc. announced last week it was moving to slow the growth of customers installing solar power systems and putting their extra electricity on the power grid, it brought to the fore a battle that had been brewing for years.
The Shumlin administration, lawmakers and Vermont's largest utility have been cheering the arrival of solar energy and "net metering" on Vermont's electrical generation scene, while smaller municipal and cooperative utilities have been pushing back.
Net metering allows owners of solar and other renewable power generators to put their excess power on the grid and run their meter backward, reducing their monthly power bills, sometimes to zero.
That's the rub for Washington and some other smaller utilities. They say that when net-metered customers stop paying, others are left to cover the costs of maintaining poles, wires and other operational costs. It's a warning some made during legislative debates at least as far back as 2008.
Supporters of net metering say it's paying for itself in ways not always obvious to ratepayers.
Kerrick Johnson, vice president of the Vermont Electric Power Co., the company that runs the statewide large-scale transmission backbone for Vermont's utilities, said his company is legally required to be neutral about power sources.
But Johnson said power production by homeowners and businesses — known as "distributed generation" — was a big part of the reason his company had been able recently to drop plans for about $250 million in system upgrades.
"These projects, in the right areas, with the right generating characteristics, enable us to not have to build transmission in certain instances," he said.
The announcement from Washington that as of Oct. 1 it would no longer take energy from residential solar systems larger than 5 kilowatts stunned renewable energy advocates who have long admired the East Montpelier-based co-op's pursuit of renewable sources for its power.
For a utility that uses methane gas from the landfill in Coventry as its main power source, and which already exceeds the state requirement for the amount of net-metered power it takes from its customers by about 50 percent, it looked a bit like an organic farmer coming out against labeling genetically modified food.
Washington officials, like those at the Johnson-based Vermont Electric Cooperative and the municipal electric department in Hardwick, say they worry that allowing some customers to roll their meter back to zero will leave others picking up the utility's fixed costs — sending crews out to fixed downed power lines in storms, running a billing department and the like.
Not collecting those costs from all members "results in a cost shift to those members without net metered installations," Washington's general manager, Patricia Richards, said in an email. "As a not for profit electric utility, which is owned by our members, our only recourse for recovering insufficient revenue is to increase rates."
"We really love renewables here," she added in an interview. "This is what WEC is all about. But we need to step back and make sure we're not being irresponsible financially."
Vermont's largest power company, Colchester-based Green Mountain Power Corp., is a big fan of net-metered power, the vast majority of which comes from solar installations, said spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure. She called it "a great fit with the way we peak."
Demand spikes on hot summer days for Green Mountain, whose load is about a third commercial, a third residential and a third industrial. On those summer afternoons, when office workers are turning up the air conditioning, are also precisely when rooftop solar panels are producing at their maximum.
Green Mountain's solar-owning net-metered customers are shipping power to the grid, and the company saves in two ways, Schnure said. It doesn't have to buy as much power off the New England grid when prices there are at their highest, and it doesn't have to run its backup diesel- and jet-fuel-fired generators as hard or as long, saving both in money and carbon emissions.
Wayne Young, board chairman with the Hardwick utility, said solar is a lot less useful to a rural utility that sees its peak loads on dark winter evenings.
"Our peak is on a Sunday night at 6 p.m. in January when it's 10 or 15 below," he said.
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee and a key architect of Vermont's policy of promoting renewable energy, said he did not see a need to change course.
Vermont has gradually expanded its net metering program over the past 15 years and likely will continue to do so, he said. "It's where we've wanted to head."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

An exceptional number of heat waves have been recorded in the past decade, and new computer models project a rapid increase in the future

Heat waves projection: People pack a mammoth pool at Toshimaen amusement park in Tokyo on Sunday.

BERLIN — The areas of the world hit by heat waves are set to double in size by 2020 and continue to grow in coming decades, as heat-trapping greenhouse gases warm the global climate, scientists in Germany and Spain said on Thursday.
The projections — based on new computer models and review of what the scientists said was an "exceptional number of extreme heat waves" in the past decade — are more alarming than the conclusions of the U.N. panel of climate scientists last year.
That report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N. body that collates scientific research from around the world, merely said of heat waves: "It is very likely that the length, frequency, and/or intensity of warm spells or heat waves will increase over most land areas" this century.
Monthly heat extremes in summer — such as the heat waves in Australia this year, parts of the United States in 2012 or Russia in 2010 — now affect 5 percent of the world's land area, the report said.
"This is projected to double by 2020 and quadruple by 2040," the scientists wrote of their new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
The tropics would be most affected by increased heat waves, followed by areas including the Mediterranean, Middle East, parts of Western Europe, Central Asia and the United States.
"In many regions, the coldest summer months by the end of the century will be hotter than the hottest experienced today," unless emissions of greenhouse gases are curbed, said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The IPCC says heat-trapping gases, mostly from burning fossil fuels, are nudging up temperatures and are likely to cause more severe downpours, heat waves, floods and rising sea levels.
Almost 200 governments have agreed to limit global warming to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial times and plan to agree, by the end of 2015, to a deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Global average surface temperatures have risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution.

Friday, August 16, 2013

We knew this was coming

It was inevitable that as gas usage shrunk, thanks to hybrids and other fuel-pinching cars, that the Feds and states would lament their diminishing tax stream and look for other sources.

This is an interesting article from Wisconsin Public Radio News, that how various states are scrambling to replaced loss revenue.  On one hand we decry governments inability to live with less revenue, but in this case, running out of money for fixing our roads has serious implications as well.

This strikes to the heart of the business side of green--efficiency does come with some trade offs, and we are just now navigating some of those offsets, trying to figure out what is the true gain or loss.  Take a look at Oregon's new model they are testing--very interesting:

States Target Hybrids As Gas Tax Revenues Ebb

Americans are buying less gasoline than they did just a few years back. While many people believe this is a good thing, it does present a problem: Most road construction is paid for with fuel taxes. Less gas tax revenue means less money for roads.
One reason gas purchases are down is that more people are driving more efficient cars, such as hybrid and electric vehicles. Now states are looking for solutions, including charging hybrids extra fees or imposing fees based on miles driven.
Sara Busch of Havertown, Pa., owns a 2011 Chevrolet Volt. "I'm really a stickler about staying below the speed limit — not to avoid a ticket but to maintain efficiency," she says. Recently, Busch says, she was achieving 94 miles to the gallon. That means she rarely stops at a gas station — good news for her, but not for the federal Highway Trust Fund.
For each gallon of gas sold in the U.S., 18.3 cents goes into the fund. Most of that is dedicated to road construction. This system worked well for about five decades — until the most recent recession, when people started driving less. In 2008, the fund ran out of money.
Polly Trottenberg, undersecretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation,reminded a congressional subcommittee in July that Congress has been allocating money in recent years to keep the fund solvent.
"By the end of 2014, the Highway Trust Fund will be nearly depleted again and Congress will have transferred, over the course of the recent years, $54 billion in general funds to keep the program afloat," Trottenberg testified. Some members of Congress have talked about raising the federal gas tax, but there's been no movement on that.
On top of the federal gas tax, each state levies its own tax, mostly to pay for roads. These range from 8 cents a gallon in Alaska to about 50 cents a gallon in New York. State lawmakers have been searching for ways to make up the lost revenue.
"We've found more than 240 bills that have been introduced in 39 states and DC," says Jaime Rall, senior policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Rall says 22 states have enacted legislation. She says Vermont, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are moving away from a cents-per-gallon tax and toward a percent-based gas tax. That could raise more money and help gas tax collections keep up with inflation.
Oregon is planning a program that could eventually replace that state's gas tax with a "road usage charge." The state will begin in 2015 with 5,000 volunteer participants who may pay 1.5 cents for every mile they drive.
While details haven't been worked out yet, the state agency plans to make several options available for measuring miles traveled. That may include using "infotainment" systems in newer cars — these often include navigation and smartphone integration along with the stereo system, says the program's manager, Jim Whitty with the Oregon Department of Transportation. If auto manufacturers include a way to track miles traveled, Whitty says, that would make a tax like this a lot easier to administer and simpler for users.
"They wouldn't have to add anything to the car," Whitty says. "All they have to say, is say, 'I want to use my system and agree to the report of those miles to the tax processor.' "
That makes sense to Toyota Prius owner Len Shatz of Cheltenham, Pa. "Let's say I drive 10 or 15 miles a day," says Shatz. "I shouldn't have to pay as much as someone who uses the roads a lot more."
A few states have considered something Washington state and Virginia have already done: charge an extra fee for electric and hybrid cars to make up for lost gas tax revenue.
Prius owner Pamela Harvey of Glenside, Pa., does not like that and argues it's fair for gas guzzlers to foot more of the country's road construction bill. "We should be the ones who get the bonus, for driving hybrids and moving this country forward," she says.
As federal and state policymakers look for ways to resolve the problem of declining gas tax revenue, here's one big problem they are likely to face: The gas tax has been relatively invisible for decades now — it was just part of the cost of a gallon of gas. But whatever comes next could be much more visible, such as a tax bill at the end of the year for how many miles you traveled. That could make implementing a solution to the current problem more difficult.