Thursday, February 28, 2013

Coal To Win 2013 Battle With Gas, As Coal Regains Significant Generation Market Share

Cheap natural gas made last year a terrible one for coal in the power generation markets, as coal's market share dropped from 42% in 2011 to 37.4% in 2012, a loss of nearly 5 percentage points or more than 10% decline in market share in just a year. But coal's fortunes began to improve even at the end of 2012.

At this point, gas will be the loser and coal the winner in 2013 battle for power generation market share between America's two leading sources of electricity. One result of coal's resurgence this year will be that US carbon emissions will likely increase modestly in 2013, after falling in 2011 and 2012.

While gas prices are still low, they are currently about 55 cents per thousand cubic feet higher than the average spot price for 2012, or up about 20%.  The price competition between gas and coal is intense and so the reality of higher gas prices improves significantly the outlook for coal in  2013 and 2014.

In fact, EIA is now projecting that natural gas's generation market share will drop from 30.3% in 2012 to 27.6% in 2014, while coal's share will rebound to 39.1% in 2014 from 37.4%.  Gas loses 2.7 percentage points of market share or about 9%, and coal gains 1.7 percentage points or about 5%.  See page 9 of:

A 9% drop for natural gas and 5% gain for coal underlines how sensitive this nation's generation mix is to even relatively small price changes in natural gas or coal. The question becomes, will coal's 2013 resurgence continue in 2014? Not sure. But the price of gas will largely answer that question.

Scrubbers & Gas Slash Air Pollutants By 55% To 70% Just Since 2005

Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides are the two principal air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act, and the emissions of both have been slashed since 2005.  In fact, sulfur dioxide pollution is down 70%, or from 10 to 3 million tons per year, and nitrogen oxides are down 55% or from 4 to 1.8 million tons.

Why the massive decline in air pollutants?  In the above link, EIA states two reasons explain the huge drop. First, modern pollution controls have been installed on 91,000 megawatts of coal fired power. Second, especially since 2008, cheap natural gas has displaced large amounts of coal.

The air we breathe today is much cleaner than just 5 years ago and is getting cleaner still, thanks significantly to pollution controls and more gas-fired generation.  That's a wonderful fact!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Governor Rendell's State Forest Gas Drilling Moratorium Continues For Another Year

In October 2010, after a bill imposing a moratorium on gas drilling in the state forests passed the then Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House of Representatives but died without a vote in the Republican State Senate, Governor Rendell issued a moratorium on leasing further state forest acres for gas drilling.

Just prior to the November 2010 election, Tom Corbett promised to rescind immediately Rendell's executive order imposing a moratorium on state forest gas drilling.  That's a promise I am glad that Corbett so far has broken. Why?

Professional biologists and scientists stated further drilling in the state forests would endanger the sustainable forestry certification that the state forests have and would take place in especially ecologically precious and sensitive parts of the forest.  Importantly, the loss of certification for the forest would cost thousands of timber jobs that rely on the certification of the timber in markets.  Those are the reasons why Governor Rendell issued the 2010 executive order imposing a moratorium on leasing further state forest acres for gas drilling and remain the reasons why the moratorium must continue.

In the linked to piece, Secretary Allan of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says that no plans exist to rescind the Rendell executive order imposing the gas drilling moratorium.  And so it the moratorium continues for another year.

Pennsylvania Made Gas Cheap For The Nation By Jumping Its Production From 1% to 9% Of US Gas Supply

In 2007, Pennsylvania produced about 1% of America's gas and natural gas prices were consistently around $8 for a thousand cubic feet and were on the way to $13 by July 2008.

By 2012, Pennsylvania was supplying 9% of America's gas, and the spot price averaged $2.73 for the year. Pennsylvania's production jumped to 2 trillion cubic feet in 2012 from about 200 billion cubic feet, and Pennsylvania played a key role in crashing the price of natural gas across America.

For the 51% of consumers who heat their homes with natural gas, cheap gas has saved them about $5 per thousand cubic feet or about $450 per year.  Cheap gas has also cut wholesale electricity prices by about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and residential power bills by about $500, at least in states where retail consumers get the benefit of falling competitive wholesale power prices.

These consumer savings have been vital to poor families and important to families with the median income of about $49,000 per year.  The extra disposable income created by falling heating and lighting bills cumulatively stimulated the national economy and helped it to maintain slow economic growth, and avoid a double dip recession, in 2011 and 2012.

Cheap gas has also led to a large shift from coal-fired production to natural gas, with coal's generation market share falling from 48% in 2008 to 37% in 2012, while gas increased to 30% of the nation's electricity. The shift to gas slashed toxic air pollution by 19% just in 2010 and contributed substantially to reducing US energy related carbon emissions to 1995 levels.

Cheap gas is the result of increased gas supply, and Pennsylvania led the nation in increasing its share of the national gas supply, jumping from 1% to 9% of America's gas. No state did more than Pennsylvania to crash the gas price. That cheap gas benefits consumers, the economy, and has displaced large amounts of coal and oil that would have otherwise been burnt over the last 5 years.

The enormous benefits delivered to America by Pennsylvania's gas production makes even more painful Governor Corbett's refusal to impose a reasonable drilling tax and to take seriously complaints about gas drilling.  Both are huge blunders that must be corrected.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

US Nuclear Power On Track To Have Lowest Production Since 2000-2001

Nuclear power had another poor month in November 2012, with production down 8 billion kilowatt-hours or about 12%, compared to November 2011.  For the whole year of 2012, US nuclear production is likely to be back at 2000-2001 levels or approximately 760 billion kilowatt-hours or down about 6% from the record 2010 level.

The decline in nuclear generation opened the door to increased coal-fired generation that was up 5% in November 2012 compared to November 2011.  Natural gas generation was also up about 3% in November 2012 compared to November 2011.  See Chapter 7 in the link above for all data.

Since its record production year in 2010, the US nuclear industry has suffered from mechanical and operational problems at a number of units. The decline in US nuclear production is a big, new trend in US power markets and it deepened in November 2012.

One result of the struggles in the US nuclear fleet is increased coal generation and rising carbon emissions in November 2012. Both monthly carbon emissions and coal generation increased, for the first time in a year, during November.  These trends bear watching in 2013.

Falling Nuclear & Rising Coal Generation Cause Rising Carbon Emissions In November 2012 For First Time In A Year

Every month of 2012, from January to October, saw monthly energy related carbon emissions lower than in the corresponding month in 2011.  That trend to lower emissions reversed in November 2012.

For the first time in a year, US monthly carbon emissions rose in November 2012 when compared to November 2011.  See table at Chapter 12.1 of the link that shows November 2012 carbon emissions were 7 million tons higher than a year before.

Total carbon emissions in 2012 will be considerably lower than in 2011, but November, 2012 may well mark the beginning of a trend toward higher emissions in 2013 than in 2012.

The rise in energy related carbon emissions in November 2012 was substantially the result of a 12% drop in monthly nuclear generation or 8 billion kilowatt-hours less nuclear power and 7 billion kilowatt-hours more of coal generation. See Chapter 7 of the above link.

Indeed, monthly coal generation increased during November 2012, when compared to November 2011, also for the first time in a year.

Coal, nuclear power, and gas remain the big 3 power generation sources, providing about 87% of all electricity in the USA.  The market share of each drives heavily total US carbon emissions.  That's a fact, whether recognized or not.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stunning Fact: PA's Top Producing Gas Well In 6 Months Supplies 51,724 Homes For 1 Year

The tale of one gas well in Pennsylvania offers a big window into why a natural gas supply glut exists and prices are about $3.30 for a thousand cubic feet.

Just one gas well in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania produced enough gas to supply fully for a year 51,724 residential customers of the Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW).  To make Cabot's A. Heitzenroder 3 gas well's production even more amazing, the gas well did so in just 6 months!

Cabot's A. Heitzenroder 3 gas well is Pennsylvania's top producing gas well, and it yielded an incredible 4.5 billion cubic feet of gas in just 6 months--July 1 to December 31, 2012.  Indeed, a true gusher!

Six months of production yielding 4.5 billion cubic feet supplies 51,724 homes for a year when each home consumes on average 87,000 cubic feet per year.  And the average PGW residential heating customer annually uses 87,000 cubic feet of gas to stay warm in Philadelphia.

Another way to look at the amazing production from Pennsylvania's top producing gas well is that it alone supplies in just 6 months the annual gas needs of about 1 of every 9 gas heating homes in Philadelphia.  Wow!

It's No Ponzi Scheme: PA Reaches 2 Trillion Cubic Feet Of Gas Production

A major reason why 2012 was another record year for US natural gas supply is roaring production in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania produced a startling 2 trillion cubic feet or 6.2 billion cubic feet per day during 2012.  The Commonwealth's production accounted for 9% of the nation's gas, up from 1% in 2007.

Amazingly, those already remarkable numbers would be about 20% higher, had all the gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania had been connected to pipelines in 2012.

The record amounts of natural gas have crashed the price of natural gas and saved the 51% of families heating with natural gas about $500 and still more in lower electricity bills.  Low natural gas prices have also caused a substantial shift from coal-fired generation to natural gas power plants, with the result that carbon emissions and toxic air pollution have plunged.  These savings have been welcome relief to median income families and vital to poor households.

Shale production in Pennsylvania began in 2007, and 6 full years of production has now taken place.  This year, 2013, will be the seventh for the shale boom in Pennsylvania and the tenth, eleventh, or more in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and other places.

The sustained, enormous production numbers, despite low gas prices, show that the shale boom is no Ponzi Scheme.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Stunning Fact: 100% Of New US Generation In January Were Renewables

The startling data underlining the boom in renewable energy keep coming.  Stunningly, in January 2013, renewable energy supplied every megawatt of new power generation--100% of the market.

A total of 1,231 megawatts of new generation came on line in January.  Of that total, wind accounted for 958 megawatts; solar 267 megawatts; and biomass 6 megawatts.

All data comes from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  And it understates renewable energy, since the FERC data does not include large amounts of behind-the-meter or distributed generation that is almost exclusively solar or small wind systems.

In the case of solar, the amount of distributed solar is pushing toward about 150 megawatts per month. That adds up to an impressive number over the course of a year.

Even without the inclusion of distributed solar in the FERC data, renewable energy had an extraordinary month in January 2013!

Stunning Climate Change Bill Arrives: NJ Utility Invests $3.9 Billion To Fight Stronger Storms

"It's clear that Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and the October ice storm represents extreme weather events that have become commonplace." 

Who said that?  Ralph Izzo, the chief executive officer of Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc., the parent of the NJ utility PSE&G, as quoted in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer.  Climate change is here and now!

And what does Ralph Izzo propose to do about the climate change that has already arrived?  For sure, he is no ostrich with his head in the sand.  Instead, Izzo is the first utility executive in America to my knowledge that seeks to spend billions to deal with the reality of climate change.

Izzo wants to invest an incredible $3.9 billion that will be repaid by ratepayers with a return on investment to change fundamentally the grid in the PSE&G utility service territory.  Miles of cable in key areas would be put underground. Equipment would be raised to prevent it from being inundated by sea surges and flood water.  Poles would be strengthened to withstand higher wind speeds.

All that investment is to be better able to keep the lights on in an already changed climate, with even higher temperatures and seas on the way. No matter the ridiculous denial of climate change, businesses and families cannot tolerate being plunged into the dark for days, weeks, even months by the wind and water of more frequent big storms.

Sitting in the dark and cold is not an acceptable option. The costs of doing nothing are much higher than the costs of preparing for bigger storms.  The costs of doing nothing are also much higher than the costs of reasonable prevention--reducing heat trapping gas pollution in smart ways.

PSE&G's $3.9 billion grid hardening investment proves the climate change bill has arrived, and it is expensive.

Gas & Renewable Energy Boom Together: Combined Market Share Jumps 43% From 2007 To 2012

Is gas killing renewables, as is often said?  Or perhaps are renewables hurting gas, as a few state?  The facts strongly argue that "no" is the answer to both questions.

In the power production markets, gas and renewable energy are both thriving.  Indeed, the last 5 years have been very good to both as the market shares of gas and renewables increased by almost identical, large amounts.

The combined electricity market share of gas and renewables rose 43% from 2007 to 2012. That matters!  For example, the rise of gas and renewable energy has led to rapidly declining carbon and toxic air pollution numbers across the country.

Five years ago, in 2007, gas and renewables provided 30% of America's power, with gas at 22% and renewable energy at 8%. At the end of 2012, the gas-renewables combination provided 42% of our electricity, with gas at 30% and renewable energy at 12%.

Again, the gas-renewable combined market share increase over the 5-year period was 43%.

The rest of Uncle Sam's power came from coal and nuclear that provided respectively about 37% and 20% of our juice.  While nuclear power's market share has been essentially flat, coal has lost substantial market share, falling from 48% in 2008 to 37% or about a 23% market share decline.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stunning Fact: Renewables Increase Electricity Market Share 44% From 2007 To 2012

Back in 2007, prior to the on-going boom in wind and solar, all renewable generation sources together provided 8.3% of America's power.Even then, renewables were an important part of power generation across America and totally vital in states like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Most of that power came from hydro and secondarily from biomass.

At the end of 2012, renewables provided 12.1% of our national electricity supply.  They had gained 3.8 percentage points of market share.  Their national market share had risen 44% from 2007 to 2012. Wow!

Hydro remains the top source of electricity generation, but wind is now providing about 4% of America's total power and is still growing.  States like Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, and soon Texas get 10% or more of their electricity from wind turbines, while the wind provides 5% of California's. Just amazing!

Though solar provides less than 1% of all electricity generated, the solar industry is now installing about 4,000 megawatts per year, and its growth rates remain extraordinary.  Solar is already adding about the equivalent of a small nuclear unit each and every year.

Over the next 5 years, continued wind and solar growth will increase further renewable energy's market share that is highly likely to move past 15%.  Indeed, within the next 10 years, a combination of renewable energy growth and declining nuclear production probably means that America will get more power from renewable energy than nuclear power!

Amazing Fact: Wind Passes Nuclear Power In China

In the next 20 years, it is possible that wind generation may provide more electricity in the USA than nuclear. For that to occur, both wind would have to grow considerably and nuclear production would likely have to decrease significantly.

Meanwhile, during 2012, China generated 100.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity from wind, pushing it pass nuclear.  By contrast, in the USA nuclear generated 778 billion kwh or about 5 times wind's total.

The Chinese wind sector still suffers from inadequate transmission to carry power produced to market.  An incredible 20 billion kilowatt-hours of wind power in China is wasted!

The king of production in China remains coal, and hydro is a distant second.  Unlike the USA, where gas provided 30% of our electricity, gas barely registers in China's power sector.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stunning Fact: US Carbon Emissions Drop 13% From 2007-2012

US carbon emissions began to plateau in 2005 to 2007.  Since 2007, US carbon emissions have plummeted 13% and are back to 1994 levels. The drop is driven by the boom in gas, renewables, and efficiency.

Or is the sharp drop driven by the near depression from 2007 to 2009? The answer is no.  US GDP resumed growth, starting July 1, 2009.  The US economy measured by GDP was bigger in 2012 than in 2007, 2005, and 1994.  Our population was too.

The 13% decline in carbon emissions is not the product of a smaller economy or population but the result of zero or lower carbon fuels gaining market share and growing energy efficiency.  Starting in 2007,  simultaneous booms in natural gas production as well as wind and solar power commenced and reached impressive scale by 2012. Those booms combined with drops in total US energy consumption produce a 13% decline in carbon emissions.

Good Fact: First Results Within A Year Of Gas Drilling Health Study

Geisinger Health Systems, a first class provider of health care, serving portions of central Pennsylvania, will have within a year the first results of a scientific, rigorous health study of gas drilling.  

Geisinger will initially focus on asthma, trauma, and cardiovascular disease.  The study will provide preliminary data quickly and decades long monitoring. It, indeed, will be scientific and rigorous.  And important!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Slow, Slow Fact: Natural Gas Use For Transport Rises 26% From 2008 To 2011

Natural gas use for transportation rose 26% from 2008 to 2011. That's the fact.

Here is the commentary. The increase in natural gas for transportation is much too slow to make any real difference to our economy, national security, and how we power vehicles.  Gas usage for transportation is rising at a glacial rate from a very low base, even though gas was typically a dollar or more cheaper per gallon during the period from 2008 to 2011.

And the slow pace will continue, until and unless a rational program is launched by the states or federal government to build natural gas fueling stations to remove consumers' fear that a natural gas vehicle cannot be conveniently refueled.  Political and policy failure blocks such a fueling infrastructure program and means that we remain hooked to expensive, dirtier oil and so put our economy, national security, and environment at risk.

US Nuclear Generation Drops For Two Years Running

Nuclear power generated a record amount of power in 2010, when it produced 806.9 billion kilowatt-hours, just slightly more than in 2007 or 2008. But the nuclear industry produced less electricity in 2011 and will have another decline in 2012, when it is likely to generate about 778 billion kilowatt-hours.

The total drop in nuclear generation will be about 29 billion kilowatt-hours or 3% off the peak 2010 production.  The decrease in nuclear generation is equal to enough power for 2.9 million American homes and is about 6 times the solar power production recorded by EIA.  EIA solar data, however, does not include large amounts of solar generation that is not utility scale.  

After adjusting the EIA solar data to include distributed solar generation, the 29 billion kilowatt-hour decrease in nuclear generation would be about 3 times the total solar generation in the USA.  That fact both expresses the large amount of power generated by nuclear and still the small but growing rapidly solar production.

Given that nuclear power has seen production declines in 2011 and 2012, it will be worth watching to see if 2013 continues or reverses that trend.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Electricity Monopoly Ripoff: Captive Florida Ratepayers May Pay $4 Billion For Inoperable Nuclear Plant

Here is a true tale from Florida proving once again that electricity generation monopolists can inflict immense financial pain on their captive electricity customers. The tale also shows why only utilities with government-granted generation monopolies and captive ratepayers to pay for immense capital costs are building the very few nuclear plants currently under construction.

The 860 MW Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida has not operated since 2009 when an effort to upgrade the plant went terribly wrong. "The company that owned the nuclear plant, Progress Energy, messed up in a big way. In an effort to upgrade the plant's steam turbines, company employees cracked the reactor's containment building. When they tried to fix it, they cracked it again."

For some reason not clear to me, Duke Energy decided to buy Progress Energy, a deal that was completed last year but blew up into a front-page regulatory drama.  A report commissioned by Duke Energy about what it would take to really fix Crystal River found that it would cost $3 billion and 8 years to do so.

For the $3 billion cost of repairing the 860 MW Crystal River Plant, more than 3,000 megawatts of new, gas-fired electricity generation could be built. Given that repair bill, Duke Energy has decided to close forever Crystal River.

And now the pain really begins for Duke Energy's 1.5 million, still captive electricity customers in Florida.  As NPR reported, "It's those customers, not the company or its stockholder, who will pay the bill from Crystal River--and it's a big one."

The costs of closing Crystal River are enormous--$4 billion is one estimate--and include plant decommissioning expense and the cost of buying power to replace the electricity not generated by the nuke.  Even though the plant has not been producing power for nearly 4 years, is not now, and will never again produce a single kilowatt-hour, the captive ratepayers in Florida are likely to pay most of the bill for a nuclear plant gone terribly wrong.

That injustice is at the heart of why I led the successful effort in 1996 to end electricity generation monopolies in Pennsylvania.  In Pennsylvania, where electricity customers have a legal right to buy electricity generation from any willing supplier, the Crystal River ripoff is not possible!

Stunning Fact: 3,000 Megawatts Of New Gas-Fired Electricity Generation Could Be Built For The Cost Of Just Repairing Florida Nuke

On Saturday night, I was doing a radio interview and call in show on KDKA in Pittsburgh.  The host is a libertarian conservative who is smart and funny.  Though he is well-informed, he was surprised when I said that nuclear plants require enormous subsidies to be built or, in the case of the Crystal River nuke in Florida, to be repaired.  Many people, and especially conservatives, still think nuclear power is cheap, competitive, economic.

Unfortunately, nuclear power is among the most expensive power sources in the USA, as shown by the experience at the Crystal River plant.  The plant has not run since 2009, and $3 billion is needed to fix it.

Were Crystal River repaired the plant would bring on line 806 megawatts of capacity.  Yet, for the $3 billion repair bill, more than 3,000 megawatts of new gas-fired generation could be built.

Were a new nuclear plant built about the size of Crystal River, the capital cost would be at least $6 billion and likely more. For the capital cost of about 1,000 megawatts of new nuclear plant, 6,000 megawatts of new gas-fired capacity could be built or about 3,000 megawatts of wind, or more than 2,000 megawatts of solar.

And as Crystal River proves, once built, nuclear plants require substantial capital to run and maintain them. These enormous costs of building and running a nuclear plant are why it takes a national government or a government-granted monopoly to build a nuclear plant anywhere in the world.  And it is why the few nuclear plants under construction in the USA are in places where state governments give a generation monopoly to a power company or supplier.  Captive ratepayers must be on the hook for the costs otherwise investors will not make capital available for their construction.

Nuclear power is the opposite of too cheap to meter, as its proponents famously suggested 60 years ago. Instead it is too expensive and risky for free markets, even with tax subsidies, to build!

Ironically, internalizing the now external costs of climate change would be the only thing that could fundamentally change the economics of nuclear plants. Why? Nuclear plants generate substantial amounts of carbon-free power, and Japan's carbon emissions jumped, when it took off line nearly all its nuclear plants following Fukushima..

Friday, February 15, 2013

Stunning Fact: Renewable Electricity Product Priced 28% Below Pittsburgh Utility Generation Rate!

Would you like to cut your power bill by $225.96 per year?  And while slashing your power bill, would you like to reduce carbon emissions by 15,800 pounds per year?  But do you think that renewable energy is more expensive than generic power provided by the local utility?

In the Pittsburgh region, residential electricity customers of the Duquesne Light utility can switch to Green Mountain's 100% renewable energy power product, save $225.96 per year, and slash their carbon emissions by over 15 ,000 pounds. Amazing!

Duquesne Light's default generation price for residential service is 9.89 cents per kilowatt-hour, while Green Mountain's 100% renewable energy product is priced at 7.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Green Mountain customers save 2.69 cents per kilowatt-hour or about 28%, compared to those customers staying with Duquesne Light. Cheaper and cleaner electricity!

Good Fact: Number of PA Customers Shopping For Power Passes 2 Million Milestone!

Ending state-sanctioned electricity generation monopolies and allowing retail electric customers to choose their power supplier has unleashed growing competition for customer accounts in Pennsylvania.  For example, the number of companies competing for residential accounts in the PPL service territory and the PECO service territory are 44 and 46 respectively.

In response to the active competition for their business, customers are choosing a competitive power supplier in growing numbers.  The number of customers who have switched to a competitive electricity supplier just passed the 2 million mark.

Competitive electricity suppliers now supply 60% of all the electricity sold and consumed in Pennsylvania.  More than 90% of the statewide industrial load and nearly 50% of the residential customers in the Duquesne Light and PPL service territories have moved to competitive suppliers.

Why are customers shopping? Lower prices, renewable energy products (see, different contract periods, free power on weekends are some of the benefits consumers can find when they shop.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stunning Fact: Duke Energy Says Solar Projects Costs Down More Than 50% Just Since 2010

"We really ramped up our solar in 2010.  Today most of the projects are half or less of the cost now than then."  That's not the Sierra Club but Gregory Wolf, the President of Duke Renewables, the subsidiary of Duke Energy.  Duke Renewables owns 1,700 megawatts of mostly wind but also solar.

The fundamental reason why solar is booming is the extraordinary and continuing price declines in the industry. Duke reports a 50% price decline in about 2 years. That's a real fact of importance.

DEP Should Investigate Thoroughly Bromide Levels From Washington County Mine Discharges

It's important neither to rush to judgment nor dismiss concerns about gas drilling.  That's my reaction to the story by Natash Khan in the Observer Reporter about reportedly high levels of bromide in acid mine discharges in Washington County. Khan writes about water sampling and testing done by volunteers that reportedly show bromide levels in the acid mine discharges 10 times higher than expected.

One source of bromide is gas drilling wastewater, and the article speculates about the dumping of gas drilling wastewater in the area.  The speculation rests in part on one proven case of dumping in the region that led to criminal convictions.

I certainly would like to know more about this matter. I expect Auditor General Depasquale, who is auditing DEP's programs to protect our water from gas drilling pollution, would like to know more about this case and DEP's response.  I hope DEP and the Governor would like to know more as well. 

Amazing Fact: US Oil Production To Increase 40% From 2011 To 2014

Few, very few, would have thought it possible 10 or even 5 years ago.  But domestic oil production is likely to increase about 40% just from 2011 to 2014.

According to EIA, the US averaged 5.6 million barrels per day in 2011 and 6.4 million in 2012 and will average 7.3 million this year and 7.8 million in 2014.

Again, that works out to about a 40% increase. Amazing!

Though rising domestic oil production combined with falling oil consumption is cutting substantially US oil imports, the amazing boom in domestic oil production has also coincided with high globally-priced oil.  Indeed, high global oil prices is the major economic reason that domestic oil production is surging.

Simply put, there is lots of money to be made in producing oil today.  The other side of that coin is that there is substantial pain for consumers in paying high oil prices.  In fact, the average family is paying 4% of their pre-tax income for gasoline, an amount that strains families and the US economy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shale Boom Fact: Gas Generation Increases Market Share by 41% In Just 5 Years

Shale gas has changed substantially how America generates electricity by crashing the price of natural gas and making it competitive with coal.  From 2007 to 2012, the portion of our nation's electricity coming from gas-fired power plants has risen from 22% to 31%, with most of that gain coming at the expense of coal. In fact, natural gas's electricity generation market share rose 41% during just the last 5 years.

Made possible by the shale gas boom, low-gas prices means more gas usage. In turn, more gas usage produces less carbon and toxic air pollution and stable or falling electricity prices in many parts of the USA.  The rise of gas has brought cleaner and cheaper electricity than what preceded it. Those are important facts.

Stunning Fact: New NYC Flood Maps Double Flood Zone & They Don't Even Include Sandy's Inundation

The seas around New York are up 9 to 11 inches over the last century, and the new flood maps just released double the flood zone compared to the 1986 maps that they replace.  That's stark enough.  But the new maps don't even put in the new flood zone large areas that were inundated by Sandy.  Wow!

Even without including all the area flooded by Sandy in the new flood maps, the soon to be adopted new maps put for the first time billions of dollars of property into a flood zone.  Insurance rates for affected property could jump from $1,500 to nearly $10,000 per year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency now intends to update the nation's flood maps every 5 years. Climate change and its already risen seas already are costing Americans tens of billions of dollars. As the seas continue to rise, flood zones will expand and costs will jump further. Denial does not make this go away!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The State Of Our Energy Union Is Stronger Than In 40 Years

As President Obama gives tonight the State of the Union Address, the state of our energy union is stronger than anytime in 40 years. America's domestic energy resources are bountiful, diverse, cleaner, and affordable.

Just consider these 10 energy facts:

1. US energy related carbon emissions fell from over 6 billion tons annually in 2007 to less than 5.3 billion tons in 2012, and toxic air emissions from energy production are plummeting as a result of more natural gas, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and pollution controls on coal plants.
2. Oil imports in December 2012 fell to 1997 levels.
3. Oil consumption currently is at 2000 or lower levels, though our GDP is much bigger than in 2000.
4. Domestic gas production set record levels in 2011 and 2012, and America became the largest producer of natural gas in the world.
5. Domestic oil production surged toward 7 million barrels per day, reaching the highest levels in nearly 20 years.
6. Total US Energy consumption declined 6.4% from 2007 to 2012, even though GDP and population in 2012 was bigger than in 2007.
7. Wind generation capacity skyrocketed from 25,000 megawatts in 2008 to 60,000 megawatts in 2012, with a record 13,000 megawatts installed just in 2012.
8. Solar generation capacity increased 14 times, rising from 500 megawatts in 2008 to 7,000 megawatts in 2012, with a record 3,000 megawatts installed in 2012.
9. Solar costs plummeted by up to 80% from 2006 to 2012, and wind also cut costs significantly, making both solar and wind increasingly cost competitive.
10. Natural gas, coal, and electricity prices all either fell or were essentially stable.  Oil prices measured from June, 2008 to today also declined, though gasoline costs in 2012 set a record high for a whole year.

Biodiesel, ethanol, and nuclear reached in the last 3 year record production levels.  Electric vehicles, hybrids, and natural gas vehicles are taking to the road in growing numbers and offer a means of curtailing oil imports and consumption further. 

Despite improving oil substitutes, increasing domestic oil production, and falling oil consumption, the high price of oil and oil's status as still America's top energy source remain energy threats to our economic and national security.  Though oil imports are falling, America still imports about 40% of the oil consumed here, and our economy shudders whenever gasoline prices near $4 per gallon.

While challenges remain, America's energy independence grows and the clean energy revolution of energy efficiency and renewable energy gallops forward.  The state of our energy union is, indeed, stronger than anytime in 40 years.

Solar Boom Brings Toxic Sludge & Contaminated Water, Reminding Solar Is Not Perfectly Clean

The Washington Post ran a story on Sunday reminding that solar is not perfectly clean.  Of course, no energy source is, and every energy source is going to flunk the environmental test, if a passing grade requires perfect cleanliness and safety.

The real environmental question is, how does solar compare to alternative ways of making power?  And that is the question that should be asked and answered for all energy sources.

The Washington Post piece focuses on the toxic sludge and contaminated water generated by the large and rising amount of solar panels now being manufactured in California.  The solar boom creates more waste.

An academic who specializes in life cycle emission accounting is quoted in the above piece saying that a solar panel would have to operate one to three months to pay off the emissions associated with transporting the solar manufacturing wastes to dumps.

While solar often has the lowest environmental footprint of any energy source, the search for the energy Holy Grail--the perfectly clean energy source--continues.  Yet, every solar panel installed now avoids the need for that power coming from a source that likely creates more emissions or risks.  Solar is not perfect, but it helps to clean and lower risks at this stage of our energy development.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stunning Fact: Total Energy Use Falls 6.4% Between 2007 To 2012

America's GDP is bigger than in 2012.  Our population is larger. But our energy usage is down.

In fact, America's total energy usage fell 6.4% from 2007 to 2012.  The battleship of energy usage has turned direction from heading higher nearly every year to falling.

Vehicles, buildings, appliances, lighting, and consumer behavior are all becoming more energy efficient.  These changes are structural.  They are deepening, spreading. One consequence of the shrinking energy pie is intense competition between energy supply sources for sales. And declining use and the resulting intense competition for sales  is a major reason why electricity and natural gas prices over the last 5 years have been so affordable for consumers.

Inside The Fox News Solar Bubble Where Facts Die

Fox News created a political bubble for viewers who desperately wanted to be told that Romney would beat Obama so it should not surprise that most of its reporting is deliberately false. That's the case with Fox's solar reporting, where Fox builds for its viewers a solar bubble where facts go to die. Watch the following:

Fox News tells its viewers that solar is collapsing in the USA, though doing well in Germany.  Why is solar doing well in Germany?

The Germans will be surprised to learn that they enjoy more sunshine than in the US, at least according to Fox.  In fact, Germany has less sun that just about anywhere in the lower-48 states of the USA.

In addition to getting basic weather facts wrong, Fox paints a portrait of solar collapse in the USA.  In the real world, a record amount of solar--more than 3,000 megawatts--was installed during 2012.  US total solar capacity jumped from about 4,000 to 7,000 megawatts.  That's not a collapse or bust but a boom!

Fox also fails to report the true collapse that is going on in the solar industry--the collapse of solar costs.  Solar costs have crashed and are going lower still. The plunge in solar costs makes solar competitive with bundled electricity rates in more and more utility service territories.

The collapse in solar costs and the intense competition in the solar industry is also why some solar manufacturers don't survive and go bankrupt.  Fox, of course, focuses endlessly on the bankruptcies, especially those like Solyndra's that it turns into a political weapon against the President, but never manages to tell its viewers about how intense competition has crashed solar costs and led to a global solar installation boom.

Anyone viewing Fox's solar reporting is as well informed as viewers of Fox's political reporting.  No wonder so much misunderstanding about the reality of the global solar boom exists.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Stunning Fact: US Oil Imports Fall To Lowest Level Since 1997

Surging domestic oil production, switching from oil to alternatives like natural gas, biofuels, and electricity, and rising fuel efficiency continue to decrease US oil imports.  The latest data puts 2012 oil imports back to 1997 volumes.

The drop in US oil imports made the December 2012 balance of trade better than expected and will add to preliminary estimates of a falling 4th quarter GDP.

Good Fact: 2013 Electricity Prices Down 8% In NJ Power Auction

New Jersey ranks second in the nation in solar installations, and its electricity generation prices are 8% lower in 2013 than in 2010, according to Andy Makykuth writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The falling power prices in New Jersey reflect lower natural gas prices than in 2010 for sure.  But neither the recent increased retirements of old plants--coal, oil and natural gas--nor the rising amounts of renewable generation within the regional PJM grid, of which New Jersey is part, has led to higher retail generation costs for consumers.  Indeed, substantial amounts of new solar push down regional wholesale prices by adding more supply and more peak period supply too.

Back To Future: Gasoline Consumes 4% of 2012 Pre-Tax Income Just Like 1983 & Threatens US Economy

The portion of pre-tax household income consumed by gasoline is in the danger zone for the US economy.  In 2012, gasoline cost an average household $2,912 and devoured 4% of pre-tax income.  Ouch!

The last times that gasoline hit the 4% mark was in 2008, and high gas costs contributed to plunging the US economy into a near depression, as consumer demand collapsed and millions of jobs were lost in just a year.  But with the exception of 2008, you have to go all the way back to 1983 to find the last year when gasoline ate 4% of pre-tax income.  Indeed, from 1978 to 1983, gasoline costs consumed 4% to 5% of pre-tax income and the results were both high unemployment and inflation--stagflation--that drove up and up the Misery Index.

As in the 1978 to 1983 period and in 2008, high oil and gasoline prices remain a principal threat to the US economy. But what is different now is that the US need no longer be over the oil barrel.  Yet, we are.

Why?  A massive market failure and policy failure continues to prevent the widespread, rapid deployment of compressed natural gas, electricity, and biofuel fueling stations and vehicles.

More Solar Capacity May Be Built In 2013 Than Either Wind Or Coal

This may be the year when solar beats wind or coal.  Amazingly, more solar capacity may be built in the USA during than new wind or coal capacity.  That indeed would be an historic first.

Bloomberg projects that 3,900 megawatts of solar will be built this year, a new record, while wind may build between 3,000 megawatts and 4,000 megawatts.  New coal plants coming on line this year are also likely to be well below the 4,000 megawatts mark.

Wind and solar combined are likely to account for about 50%, or even more, of all capacity built in the US this year, as they did in 2012.  The rise of the sun, however, is just starting.  Soon more solar capacity will be installed every year than any other generation type.

The size and speed of the changes in the new generation markets are simply stunning!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stunning Fact: Air Emissions From "Fracking" Can Be Cut By 90% & 4 Actions Would Do So!

Now is the time to maximize the net air benefits of using more natural gas, and there are 4 key actions that must be taken to do so.

No doubt, by displacing coal and oil, the use of more natural gas cuts air emissions, including toxic air pollutants like mercury, lead, and arsenic, throughout America and Pennsylvania.  But gas could create even more net air benefits, if the air emissions from producing the gas itself are cut.

The 2012 EPA gas drilling regulation , the MIT study of methane emissions/green completions at 4,000 shale gas wells, the Rand study of gas drilling emissions in Pennsylvania, plus pilot efforts by Apache and EQT to switch from diesel to gas during drilling and hydraulic fracturing map how 4 big, key actions could cut air emissions by up to 90% from natural gas production. 

The big 4 emission reduction steps are: 1. green completions; 2. best available pollution controls on compressor stations; 3. fuel switching from diesel to gas for gas drilling rigs and fracking pumps; and 4. excellent maintenance of gas delivery infrastructure.  Each of these actions greatly reduce the biggest sources of air pollutants from gas drilling and so provide together a means of slashing total air emissions by up to 90%.

Now is the time to maximize the air benefits of natural gas!

Key Fact: Hydro Capacity Totals 90,000 Megawatts & Two-Thirds Of Renewable Generation Capacity

A strength of the renewable energy sector is the diversity within it.  Wind and solar attract most of the attention, but renewable energy includes biofuels, biomass, geothermal and, last but not least, hydro.

Hydropower provides 50% or more of the power in several states and operates all across America.  The  total capacity is 90,000 megawatts and accounts for more than 60% of all US renewable generation.

As big as hydro is today, it could provide much more electricity.  For example, Navigant estimated that another 60,000 megawatts of generation could be added. Major opportunities for increased hydro production is in so-called mini-hydro installations, where small turbines can turn rushing water in conduits into power.

To move forward such smaller hydro projects, the Hydro Regulatory Efficiency Act has been introduced. Happily, this bill may even enjoy broad bi-partisan support. Hopefully that hopeful remark was not a kiss of death for it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cabot Adopts New Policy, Prohibiting Use Of BTEX Chemicals & Diesel In Fracking Fluids

Drillers sometimes take the posture that they have little or no control over what chemicals are used by the companies with whom they contract for hydraulic fracturing. Not so.

And so it is good to see that Cabot is prohibiting those companies with whom it contracts to use BTEX chemicals and diesel in the fracking fluids used at Cabot gas wells.

Cabot's new policy responds to a shareholder resolution that was withdrawn after Cabot made its announcement concerning BTEX chemicals and diesel. This exercise shows once again that shareholders do have the ability to affect, for better or worse, the operations of the companies in which they invest.  Congratulations to Cabot and its shareholders for taking this step.

Natural Gas Investors File Environmental Shareholder Resolutions: Methane Leakage Targeted

Shareholder resolution season has begun, and investors concerned about environmental performance and risk have filed resolutions with 9 gas producing companies, including Cabot Oil and Gas.

The resolutions seek quantifiable actions that cut environmental impact and risk in natural gas production.  A particular focus is green completions and other actions that can cut methane leakage. 

Methane leakage rates can be reduced and often in ways that boost the revenues and even the profitability of companies.  Every gas company would be well-advised for multiple reasons to target methane leakage rates and drive them toward 1%--a tough but achievable standard of excellence that would protect environment, public safety, and companies' bottom lines.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stunning Facts: Net Metered Capacity Exceeds 2688 MW & 225,000 Customers

The net metering and distributed generation revolution is truly underway.  As of 2011, 225,578 customers are net metering a total of 2,668 megawatts. Even more important than those impressive facts is that net metering is experiencing explosive growth.  From 2003 to 2010, the number of customers who were net metering increased at a rate of 56% per year,  while net metering capacity jumped 71%.

Solar dominates the net metering market with 97% of the net metered capacity being solar.  Indeed more than half of the 7,000 megawatts of solar that was installed across America by the end of 2012 was likely net metered.

While 2012 data is not yet available, the growth of net metering certainly continued in 2012.  And so the number of net metering customers almost certainly exceeds 300,000, and net metered capacity now tops 4,000 megawatts. Net metering and distributed generation are now big enough to impact power markets!

ERCOT May Add More Wind In 2013 Than It Did In 2012: Another 1,191 Megawatts Of Wind In 2013

Perhaps, 2013 won't be such a bad year for new wind construction after all.

For sure, after a blowout year in 2012 that saw more than 13,000 megawatts of wind installed, and after a much delayed extension of the Production Tax Credit, the conventional wisdom is that 2013 will be a comparatively poor year for new wind farms.  Yet, ERCOT is projecting more wind will be added in Texas, during 2013, than was the case in 2012.

Texas saw 803 megawatts of wind added in 2012 but may see more than 1100 megawatts built in 2013.  Texas remains the national leader in wind, and it may well defy the view that little new wind capacity will be built this year.  It will be interesting to see if Texas has company, and other states see significant wind development even in 2013.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Texas Grid Operator Report Says Renewables Are Competitive With Gas Over Next Decade

The economics of wind and solar engenders lively discussion on this blog and elsewhere.  In part, the reason for the robust discussion is that the facts about the economics of wind and solar change rapidly.

Indeed, among energy technologies, only solar saw prices decline as sharply as natural gas did since 2008.  Not too far behind gas and solar in the price drop race has been wind that also has had large improvements in its competitiveness over the last 5 years.

Now in a biennial report to the Texas Legislature, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) states at page 2: "Scenario analysis indicates that both natural gas generation and renewable resources are likely to be competitive across a broad range of potential future market outcomes."  At pages 18 to 19, ERCOT which operates the grid for the most of Texas states that the most recent information about wind and solar documents their much improved economics and ERCOT's planning models indicate that 17,000 megawatts of wind will be added in Texas by 2032.

What does the continued boom of wind and solar in Texas mean for consumers and the price of power?
ERCOT states at page 20: "The added renewable generation in this sensitivity results in lower market prices in many hours and lowers the revenue potential for all intermediate and base-load units (including the combined cycle units)."

Colin Meehan who works for EDF has also written an excellent analysis of the ERCOT Report:  The ERCOT report is another piece of evidence documenting the rapidly improving economics of wind and solar, and their improved economics is the principal reason why wind, solar as well as natural gas will dominate America's market for new electricity generation.

Stunning Fact: Compressor Stations Account For 60% to 75% Of "Fracking" Non-Carbon Air Pollutants

Smart hunters know where to go.  Smart anglers know where the fish are. And smart efforts to cut air pollution from the gas production process must go where the biggest sources of emissions are.

Rand's Pennsylvania "fracking" air pollution study that this blog discussed in a posting on Friday, January 31st provides a strong guide for air pollution hunters and for the gas industry itself.  To put it simply, the lion's share of non-carbon air emissions coming from drilling, producing, and delivering gas are from the operations of compressor stations.

In fact, stunningly compressor stations alone account for 60% to 75% of total air pollution from the gas industry, according to Rand.  This finding means that slashing emissions from compressor stations slashes total gas industry air emissions, perhaps by about 50% or more.

The great news furthermore is that multiple means--from fuel switching to technology fixes--exist to cut by as much as 90% emissions from compressor stations. Those fixes should be required.

Slashing air emissions from gas production will boost further the considerable net air benefits from using more gas to make electricity, power homes, and fuel vehicles.  Already, more gas usage is a major reason why the emission of  toxic air pollutants, soot, as well as pollutants that cause smog and acid rain are plummeting.  Cutting compressor station emissions will enable gas to make our air even cleaner.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Important Rand Study Of PA Gas Drilling Air Pollution Puts Spotlight On Compressor Stations

Rand yesterday published a must-read study of air emissions (but not carbon dioxide) from gas drilling and production in Pennsylvania that puts a bright spotlight on emissions from compressor stations.  The study (p.5) finds compressor stations are responsible for 60% to 75% of air pollution from gas activities.

The Rand study puts a premium on installing the best pollution control technologies on compressor engines or not using diesel to fuel them.  Doing so will cut the bulk of air pollutants coming from gas production, if the Rand study is correct.

The Rand study also draws conclusions about the total emissions coming from gas drilling during 2011, while recognizing uncertainty and managing that doubt with ranges.  I have no reason to doubt the Rand's range estimates of various pollutants, but Rand understates the gas drilling industry's portion of Pennsylvania's total air pollutants.The Rand study compares emissions from gas activity in 2011 to total emissions in Pennsylvania during 2008.  Total air emissions in Pennsylvania (and the nation), however, have dropped substantially since 2008.

As a result, if Rand compared emissions from gas activity in 2011 to total air emissions from all sources in 2011 or 2012 (not 2008), Rand would find that air emissions from gas drilling accounts for a higher portion of the total today.

Of course, the irony is that the use of much more gas to make electricity, as well as more scrubbers installed on coal plants and more renewable energy, have cut sharply air emissions since 2008.  Simply put, more gas usage means less total air pollutants, because gas displaces large amounts of coal and oil that otherwise would be used and that otherwise would release much more air pollutants.

PA DEP Opens Comment Period On New Air Regulation For Compressor Stations

On the same day that Rand published a study finding compressor stations are the major source of air pollution from gas production, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced a rule that its press release asserts cuts emissions from compressor stations by 75% to 90%.

Comments on the regulation are due March 19th.  Emissions from compressor stations can be slashed by running them on electricity or natural gas or by installing the best available pollution control equipment on engines using diesel for power.