by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
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Earthquakes in Oklahoma are shaking up the politics of its natural gas friendly state government. According to a June 27th article in Energy Wire, Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission, under public pressure, will start collecting information and test data on underground injection wells.
The problem is that Oklahoma have become seismically active. Between the months of October and May Oklahoma had more magnitude 3.0 or larger earthquakes (189) than California (with 139). Other reports state that the number of quakes in Oklahoma is double the number in Caliphornia. The locations of the quakes closely correspond with fracking sites. State regulators say to need more evidence of the correlation despite the stack of scientific, peer reviewed studies supporting the correlations.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported 40 earthquakes greater than magnitude 2.5 around the world yesterday as of midafternoon — six of them were in Oklahoma and three were outside this suburb of Oklahoma City.
“You can hear them coming,” said Mary Ternes, who lives near Edmond. “You can hear the rumble and then the house shakes.”
The largest quake so far measured 5.7 and killed two people back in 2011, but the risk of higher magnitude quakes is growing.
While Oklahoman’s are beginning to come out in significant numbers to public hearings to complain, state officials and regulators are taking starting to take the first step to address their concerns.
New rules on injection wells, approved by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin last week, will require operators to perform more frequent mechanical integrity tests of disposal wells and keep daily records of the amount of fluids they inject and the pressures they use.
Meanwhile, Skinner said, state regulators have told operators to shut in several injection wells for minor violations such as excessive pressure. The Corporation Commission also held formal hearings on two injection wells proposed near existing faults and asked the operators to do additional monitoring as a condition of approval. Previously, most injection well permits were approved administratively.
According to The Oklahoman newspaper about four-hundred worried resident of Edmond, Oklahoma came out to a meeting this past Thursday evening to express their fear and concerns. Many of them had been awakened by a magnitude 3.5 quake near Edmond in the wee hours of that same morning.
The Oklahoman report:
Oklahoma Geological Survey seismologist Austin Holland said there is no way to know what has caused the unprecedented increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, although several studies have linked temblors to oil and natural gas activity, particularly wastewater injection wells.
Many residents were no happy with the answers they got at the meeting.
the problem isn’t just happening in Oklahoma it’s happening in Texas and Ohio and many other states where fracking operations are taking place. Alan Brundrett, the mayor of a small town call Azle, in North Texas, said his town has experienced an unusual number of earthquakes. He is upset by the lack of data and transparency of local fracking operations that make it hard to assess the issues.
According to an Al Jazeera report:
Brundrett said the Texas Railroad Commission would not draw a link between fracking activities and earthquakes in the meeting, but promised to investigate the matter further.
Ramona Nye, who handles media relations for the Railroad Commission, told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement that the agency “does not have the jurisdictional authority to shut down an injection well based only on the presence of a nearby earthquake.
“There has been no scientific proof that a specific well or wells have caused the Azle-area earthquakes,” she said, adding that the commission had hired a seismologist in April who is working to determine any links between fracking and earthquakes.
State geologists in Ohio have already made the case that the quake activity there is the result of fracking activity.
According to a report from International Business Times:
Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals down into wells and horizontal pipes to crack open rock and extract oil and gas. Often, the wastewater created is dumped back into the ground, which according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is linked to a sixfold increase in earthquakes from 2000 to 2011. [snip]
ast month, Ohio regulators indefinitely shut down Hilcorp Energy’s fracking operation near the Pennsylvania border after five earthquakes, one of 3.0 magnitude, rattled Ohioans.
According to Oil Price.Com, an oil and energy news site:
In March, 2014. there was a study entitled “Potentially induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, USA: Links between wastewater injection and that 2011 Mw 5.7 earthquake sequence,” [snip]The study
focused its research on seismic activity in Oklahoma over the past two years and concluded that a 4.8-magnitude earthquake centered near Prague on 5 November 2011, was “induced” by the injection wells. Two subsequent earthquakes, including a 5.7-magnitude “event” the following day, was the biggest in contemporary state history, were caused by the first earthquake and existing tectonic stresses in the earth.
The growing body of scientific evidence and the growing public concern about fracking are reaching a critical mass and even the most business friendly politicians are starting to feel the ground shift.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Coal ash is what’s left after coal is burned. It’s a toxic stew containing heavy metals including arsenic, lead and mercury. For many years Duke Energy has mixed coal ash with water and pumped this cocktail from coal fired power plants into huge open pits. In February, one of the sludge pits located in North Carolina began releasing millions of gallons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River, a source of public drinking water for thousands of people.
Duke Energy spent millions over the years to keep government from properly regulating their waste products. For all those decades the stockholders and upper management of Duke energy have profited from this arrangement. Now that the inevitable has occurred, clean up effort will take years and cost a billion dollars. Millions more will have to be spent to correct the improper disposal problems that Duke Energy has practiced for decades.
Safely storing coal ash should have been a cost of doing business for Duke Energy all along, but they have deferred that cost to boost their profits. Now Duke Energy’s president and CEO, Lynn Good, thinks taxpayers should bear the cleanup costs. She said, “Ash pond closure has been a plan for very long time. And because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash pond disposal costs are ultimately a part of our cost structure.” She believes the burden of this clean up should be shared by everyone equally. (Corporate socialism? Again?)
Corporation are legally obligated to maximize profits for their shareholders. This would be fine if they were also legally obligated to paid the full cost of doing business without cutting corners. Cleaning up toxic spills is far more expensive than preventing themand regulations to enforce safe disposal are less expensive in the long run. But asking the victims of their environmental crimes to pay for cleaning up their mess and fixing their problem should not be an option.
(See also: http://www.politicususa.com/2014/03/14/republican-hypocrites-force-nc-taxpayers-pay-duke-energys-toxic-coal-ash-dumping.html )
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Let me tell you about my free rooftop solar energy system which I recently had installed.
I’ve wanted solar energy for a long time, mostly because my wife and I are concerned about the global warming. We didn’t convert years ago because of the high cost and slow rate of return on the initial investment. We live in Northern New Jersey which has considerably less sunlight than, say, Arizona. When I first looked into it, solar panels were far less efficient than they are today so the cost/benefit for us couldn’t be justified.
Now we are retired and improved solar panels have really lowered investment recovery times, but we may want to downsize or relocate in the next few years. We don’t want a solar energy project that won’t be paid off before we sell.
The solution for us was one of the new solar energy lease program that installs and maintains the entire system for free over a period of years. The solar panels send power directly to the power grid in an arrangement with the utility companies know as “net metering”. The solar electricity generated is deducted by the utility company from the power that I use. When we generate more power than we use the utility company gives us a credit. On months when we use more power than we generate we apply the accumulated credits and pay for any difference.
There is a catch, of course. The company who owns the system on our roof also owns the electricity it generates. We pay them for the solar electricity that we use, power which the original utility company no longer supplies. In effect, the solar energy company becomes our energy provider. For the use of our roof the solar company sells us this electricity at a discounted rate. In our case we paid nothing for the system, we will pay nothing for its maintenance over the next 20 years and we will save on our electricity bill each month. Our solar electric rate is structured to increase the amount we will save each year over time relative to our current provider. We were told that over twenty years we should save about eighteen-thousand dollars by switching to solar through this lease program.
The real beneficiary in all this is the environment. Over the course of one month we prevent over a quarter ton of carbon from entering the atmosphere. That’s three tons a year or sixty tons over the next twenty years. Through conservation measures our electric use is already half what a typical homeowner uses, so most people would save even more on carbon emissions. If everyone on our block had rooftop solar the atmosphere would be spared well over 3,000 tons of carbon a year.
How did we pick a solar energy company? I would like to say we shopped and compared, but it didn’t happen that way. I stopped to talk with a person offering information on rooftop solar at a kiosk in Home Depot. This lead me to invite a sales representative from Rooftop Diagnostic to come to our home. The representative explained how the lease option worked and confirmed that our house was a candidate for a solar based on our homes orientation and the amount of sunlight it gets. Rooftop Diagnostics only designs, installs and maintains the system for a company called Enphase Energy and neither of these two companies are affiliated with Home Depot.
Under a net metering arrangement homeowners are not allowed to produce more power than they use. This means that rooftop solar installations can’t be designed to produce more than 100% of the homeowners average annual energy use. The initial electricity rate the solar company charges is somewhat negotiable, but it should be at or slightly below what the utility company charges now. Under our Enphase Energy contract our initial electric rate will increase by 3.5% per year, which they say is half of the historic rate increase for our current energy provider. That might sound like a lot, but the inflation rate over the past 10 years is 2.3%, so inflation alone accounts for most of the increase. In our specific case, our energy charge would start at about $36.00 per month and it will end up about $67.00 per month in twenty years. The power utilities also charges a delivery service charge each month based on energy use. Since about 96% of our electricity will come from the electricity generated on our roof, our delivery service charge will be 96% less per month as well. Also, while our current electric rates vary seasonally, our solar energy rates remain the same each month.
After I first met with the solar representative, I searched the internet for more information to comparison shop, but didn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted a database listing companies that provide solar leasing options but there are none at present. A lot of companies on the internet offer solar instillations but important details are lacking. Unfortunately, internet information about solar electric companies is not as organized as is information about the sham alternative energy retailers that “compete” to sell you lower electric rates. These companies are wholesale purchasers of electricity who offer crazy gimmicks and low introductory rates to get you to buy power from them. It is a dog and pony show masquerading as a competitive energy market, but the only real competition the utility companies face is from the nascent “distributed energy” alternatives such as rooftop solar and wind power systems. Even though these true alternative energy sources are a tiny fraction of the energy market, the big utility companies are already organizing to protect their business model and market shares. If you think you might be interested in a rooftop solar system, to buy or lease, it would be wise to act soon because the current financial incentives will disappear if the energy industry has its way.
[PS: If you live in New Jersey and already have a rooftop system from Rooftop Diagnostics, they will pay you a referral fee for any new customers you refer to them. Other companies might offer similar incentives,so if you are thinking about getting a system, check with friends and family members who might benefit from this incentive program. To be clear, I am not soliciting referrals and I have no pecuniary motivation in writing this post.]
The following is from an email to a friend who denies global warming as having a man made cause. He dropped of a 1975 Newsweek article on Global Cooling:
Read the article. Interesting. Thanks. Looked it up some and found this on Wikipedia, that great source of information for Rand Paul speeches:
Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth‘s surface and atmosphere culminating in a period of extensive glaciation. This hypothesis had little support in the scientific community, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s and press reports that did not accurately reflect the full scope of the scientific climate literature, i.e., a larger and faster-growing body of literature projecting future warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. The current scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth has not durably cooled, but undergoneglobal warming throughout the 20th century.
Also, found the graph of global warming and cooling cycles for the past 425,000 years covering 5 glacial periods. The data stops at 1990 on this chart:
And between 1990 and the present the rate of temperature rise has exceeded the highest peeks from the past 425,000 years to about +4 degrees celcius. You will also notice that we really should be entering into a global cooling period based on the pattern you see above. Here is the current trend:
So to say the temps have been rising since the last ice age is as true as it is irrelavant. We should be heading into the next ice age, not shooting up to tempretures that haven’t been seen for a million years.
I also reminded my friend that Acid Rain was once a much bigger problem. Everyone accepted back then that it was a man made problem caused by sulfer released from coal and oil fired electric plants. A sequestration plan and cap and trade system was passed, which was a Republican plan opposed by many Democrats. But it worked and acid rain is not the critical problem it was back then. So here we are facing an even bigger man made problem and the opposition is from the party that solved acid rain with a cap and trade method that worked. go figure.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
If you asked most forward thinking Americans to name a disruptive challenge we face today, global warming would be high on the list. Climate changing levels of carbon dioxide have been released into the air and the impacts on weather, on raising ocean levels and melting glacier are underway. The most socially responsible among us are already reducing their carbon footprint by recycling, buying more efficient cars, better insulating their homes, buying Energy Star appliances, using florescent or LED lighting. More and more people are also taking advantage of incentive programs to install rooftop solar or wind power generation systems.
The impact from these early pioneers of change is still quite small relative to the problem, but it is significant. So significant, in fact, that the industries which release carbon dioxide to produce the energy we buy are feeling threatened. After all, every time you replace an incandescent light bulb with an LED bulb you reduce their revenue.
Our power generation and distribution companies can adapt by getting into the LED lighting business for example, or they can maladapt by killing government regulations and initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. It appears they have chosen to do both. Some energy companies are investing in wind, solar or other renewable energy technologies while others are busy hatching plans to manipulate the democratic process in order to scuttle government incentives and regulations that threaten their bottom line.
When the power generation utilities think about the disruptive challenges we face as a nation they quite literally see a mirror image of what the rest of us see. The threats they see include “demand side management” (DSM) which refers to consumer energy conservation measures, and “distributed energy resources” (DER) meaning residential power generation such as rooftop solar systems. This is explained in an national industry report released this past January by the Edison Electric Institute. Entitled, “Disruptive Challenges, Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business,” the report describes how disruptive consumer conservation and residential energy generation can be to their business. To help electric utility executives better understand the disruptive forces of socially responsible citizens it offers this useful flow chart: [http://tinyurl.com/m5py4rg]
Edison Electric Institute, Washington, D.C. – www.eei.org
Another study conducted for PacifCorp was released in March of 2013 by The Cadmus Group, Inc., another D.C. based firm. This industry study looks at the potential impact of consumer conservation on corporate energy sales over the next 20 years in states served by the Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power Companies. The Cadmus Group defined DSM this way:
Demand-side management involves reducing electricity use through activities or programs that promote electric energy efficiency or conservation, or more efficient management of electric energy loads. These efforts may:
- Promote high efficiency building practices
- Promote the purchase of energy-efficient ENERGY STAR® products
- Encourage the transition from incandescent lighting to more efficient compact fluorescent lighting
- Encourage customers to shift non-critical usage of electricity from high-use periods to after 7 p.m. or before 11 a.m.
- Consist of programs providing limited utility control of customer equipment such as air conditioners
- Promote energy awareness and education
This report suggests that energy conservation efforts and residential power generation over the next twenty years will reduce these energy company sales by up to 15%. About 76% of this reduction will come from residential customers, mostly from conservation measures. Numbers like these are causing energy companies everywhere to start defending their business model. The Arizona Public Service Company, for example, recently funded non-profit agencies to start what looks like a grass roots attempt to turn public opinion against both rooftop solar and the states’ publically elected Arizona Corporation Commission, which has final authority over utility rates. Rooftop solar initiatives are a prime target for utility companies both because of its rapid growth and the direct way these installations impact utility company profits. The reason why conservation efforts and residential power generation may be scary to utility companies from a business perspective becomes clear when you look at the bigger picture.
The history of U.S. energy use is one of annually increasing demand. Population growth and consumer purchases of more energy reliant products guarantee increased electric demand well into the future. It remains a growing market, but the rate of growth is slowing. This has been true since the 1950’s. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “The growth of electricity demand (including retail sales and direct use) has slowed in each decade since the 1950s, from a 9.8-percent annual rate of growth from 1949 to 1959 to only 0.7 percent per year in the first decade of the 21st century.” The following chart shows how the increase in electric demand is declining in this country.
US. Energy Information Agency http://tinyurl.com/nnz9rgg
Meanwhile coal continues to be the biggest fuel source for power plants. The use of coal accounts for about 42% of the electricity we generate. Coal is expected to remain predominate though 2040, although its share of the energy generation mix will fall to around 35% of the total as natural gas and renewable energy soruces grow. This means that for the foreseeable future carbon emissions and growing electricity demand will still be with us if nothing changes. Of course nothing ever stays the same. The real question is whether the energy utilities, reacting to market forces, will dominate the direction we take in producing carbon based energy or whether pressure to save the planet will rise to a point where we can achieve meaningful reductions in green house gas emissions.
The rapid growth of rooftop solar in the US has caught the attention of electric utilities companies who now see distributed power as a threat to their business model. In the past ten years the number of rooftop solar instillations taking advantage of net metering (explained below) has grown 60 fold to cover over 300,000 homes nationwide. The following graph from the U.S. Energy Information Administration depicts the growth of rooftop solar. The full EIA report can be viewed here: http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/update/?scr=email
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Power Industry Report (Form EIA-861)
While the number of homes with rooftop solar is still less than 1% of all residential customers, the trend suggests this mix will rapidly change in the coming years. At present, all but four states have passed laws permitting net metering incentives for homeowners. California presently leads the nation in the number of homes with rooftop and other home based power generation. The next graph shows how net metering instillations are distributed among the states.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Power Industry Report (Form EIA-861)
The economics behind the jump in solar instillations is largely influenced by an 80% decline in the cost of solar panels over the last 10 years and by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which requires all public utilities to offer net metering to customers upon request.
Net metering allows consumers to directly subtract the kilowatts they generate from the kilowatts they use at the retail rate they pay for electricity. If they generate slightly more electricity than they use they are credited and can carry over that positive balance for a time so they can use it to offset periods where they use more power than they generate. Additionally, net metering requires that rooftop solar systems may not be designed to generate more power than the average use for a given home. In other words, a rooftop solar system cannot be used to generate more power than the homeowner typically uses in a year. The exact details of how net metering works varies from state to state, but the concept is the same.
The problem, as framed by the energy companies, is that they are buying back electricity from customers at the same retail rate that they are selling it rather than buying it at the wholesale rate they pay power generation companies. The marginal difference between the wholesale rate and retail rate includes the expenses associated with transmission, distribution and maintenance of the electrical infrastructure (in addition to the utility company’s administrative expenses and profits). They claim that rooftop solar customers are no longer contributing their fair share towards these essential costs, shifting this burden to the utility companies and their non-solar customers. In their view, the per/customer cost of maintaining the power system will rise as the number of non-solar customers fall. Additionally, grid operators say they face additional costs associated with modifying the distribution system that allows electricity to flow both directions.
Solar and renewable energy advocates say the energy companies arguments are specious and disingenuous. They say that the utility companies their real agenda from the beginning has been to preserve their profits and basic business model.
In a recent article by EE News’s Climate Wire, Bryan Miller of the Alliance for Solar Choice is quoted as saying the alleged cost burden for upgrading the utility grid for two way transmissions isn’t true because solar companies are already paying for any legitimate circuit upgrades needed to connect solar customers to the grid. He also pointed out that the peak hours of solar generated power corresponds with periods of peak demand. This relives transmission congestion which saves money utility companies money. Peak shaving more than offsets grid interconnection costs, according the Mr. Miller.
Other advocates have pointed out other value added savings for utility companies. Distributed generation by rooftop solar customers reduces line transmission losses. According to one source, in California, the largest solar market, distributed generation is cutting transmission losses by up to six-percent. Because solar generation peaks during peak demand periods, utility companies need to buy less electricity on the spot markets at higher wholesale prices. Additionally, customer based solar instillations improve the renewable energy mix for utilities relieving them of costs related to meeting federal guidelines for improved efficiency and greater use of renewable energy over time. On balance, advocates claim that rooftop solar delivers more value than it uses while utility companies argue that government grants and tax breaks offering up front incentives for solar conversion are better than ongoing rate-based incentives.
The net metering debate in California could set a precedent for the rest of the nation. In a recent article published by Greentech Solar, both sides in the net metering debate seem to be coming together in a bill ( AB 327 ) that would modify net metering for future rooftop solar customers. In the case of California, the net metering regulations passed in that state were set to expire. Also, a provision in the law specified that the net metering would not be available to customers once the total of distributed generation reached 5% of the utilities total electricity. The agreement that is emerging would keep in place the net metering arrangement for those who already have it and preserve their rate structure. It would also remove the 5% cap on the net metering arrangements, but establish a different rate structure for new net metering customers going forward. If passed, AB 327 would require the California Board of Public Utilities to come up with a new rate structure that is more acceptable to the energy utility companies. The bill states that after January of 2017:
[…] all new eligible customer-generators shall be subject to the standard contract or tariff developed by the commission and any rules, terms, and rates developed pursuant to subdivision (b) of this section, and shall not be eligible to receive net energy metering pursuant to Section 2827. There shall be no limitation on the number of new eligible customer-generators entitled to receive service pursuant to the standard contract or tariff after January 1, 2017″.
Early adaptors of rooftop solar or other consumer based energy generation systems are likely to have an financial advantage over those who come later. In general, net metering based on retail energy rates is considered an incentive program to encourage development of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. The upfront conversion expenses for consumers will remain substantial in the near term. Government grants, tax breaks and current net metering structures are designed to overcome these barriers. Just how much value distributed solar energy has for utilities is still an open question complicated by the fact that laws and regulations vary from state to state. Advocacy groups are needed in every state to balance the interests of consumers and environmentalists against the interests of the big utility corporations.
Correctional note of 9/6/2013: The emerging agreement on California’s AB327 bill would keep the net metering rate structure in place, not eliminate it as I mistakenly stated prior to this update. Also, a few technical corrections were made to the net metering paragraph.
It seems possible that Halliburton Energy Services didn’t what it’s three-dimensional computer simulations of what when wrong in the Macondo Well blow-out to get into the hands of federal prosecutors. The simulations were destroyed and the DOJ filed criminal charges against Halliburton for this destruction of evidence. Halliburton was subsequently allowed to settle the charges of destroying evidence with the DOJ, pleading to just one count. Sen. John McCain is among those who feel that justice was not being served here. The following excerpt is from E&E News. A link to the full article is found below as is a PDF copy of Sen. McCain’s letter.
Republican questions Halliburton’s Gulf spill settlement
Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, August 1, 2013
Arizona Sen. John McCain today expressed deep concerns about the Department of Justice’s recent settlement with Halliburton Energy Services Inc. over the destruction of evidence following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The Republican asked DOJ several questions about how the $200,000 settlement came about and whether it is sufficient given the nature of the allegations. [SNIP]
Halliburton admitted to one count of destroying evidence and agreed to pay the maximum statutory penalty of $200,000. Additionally, Halliburton faces three years of probation and has agreed to cooperate with DOJ’s ongoing investigation into the Gulf of Mexico explosion and spill that killed 11 rig workers.
The settlement stems from three-dimensional computer simulations that Halliburton ran after the blowout on the Macondo well. Engineers were trying to determine whether BP PLC’s decision to use fewer centralizers around the well’s casings than Halliburton had recommended may have caused the blowout. [SNIP]
“Why did DOJ settle this case for such a relatively small fine rather than choose to prosecute Halliburton to the full extent of its culpability in the Deepwater Horizon disaster?” McCain asked.
McCain also raised questions about Halliburton’s decision to contribute $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation separate from the settlement.
Read John McCain’s Letter Here: http://www.eenews.net/assets/2013/08/01/document_pm_01.pdf