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Aggregating Energy Since 2006
We focus on energy policy and issues relating to climate change. Anyone may comment on an item; all views solely reflect the opinion of the author. Please email us if you have comments or questions.

More on the Corrigan resignation

The City Pages has a new article on the recent resignation of the MPCA commissioner.

"The official story—that Corrigan wanted to spend more time with her family before returning to the private sector—may have been correct; then again, that line or one like it is almost always invoked when a high-ranking political appointee abruptly resigns."

We may never really know the actual reasons behind the resignation but there have been many theories going around about the political motivations behind it. Governor Pawlenty has been making some noise on environmental issues and some view Corrigan as too big of a liability in an election year.

Price Ceilings

Can you believe that people still try to implement price ceilings for fuel? TheWatt has a fun story that reveals many recent failures from this policy. Does anyone actually know of a situation where a price ceiling worked when dealing with fuel?

Ethanol, Practically

More studies are showing that ethanol, despite being energy positive, should not be held up as the savior of our consumption habits. An article from details several recent ethanol studies, including one from the great Golden Gopher home:

As far as alternative fuels are concerned, biodiesel from soybeans is the better choice compared with corn-produced ethanol, University of Minnesota researchers concluded in an analysis Monday.

But "neither can replace much petroleum without impacting food supplies," the researchers concluded in the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

I liked the conclusion of a different study, also cited:

Biofuels such as ethanol are "not a practical long-term solution," and their widespread use - even from nonfood crop sources - could have a "devastating" impact on agriculture, two researchers at the Magleve Research Center of the Polytechnic University of New York, argued recently.

We need to change our habits! No fuel will allow us the externality-laden luxury of one car per person commuting. This article clearly makes an often muddled point:

He said the University of Minnesota study is only the latest to conclude that ethanol produces more energy than it consumes. "More importantly, there is a significant reduction in petroleum use with ethanol," he added.

While ethanol is energy positive, the energy it needs in production are less from fossil fuels (depending on production method, I believe - no coal) than that used for gasoline currently. So that is nice.Nevertheless, this is at best a stopgap that can buy us some time to change our habits. It is not a practical solution without serious changes to our habits.

Advanced wind turbines

Renewable technologies keep getting better. The Worldwatch Institute reports that wind developers in China recently unveiled the world's first full-permanent magnetic levitation wind turbine. They claim annual output can be boosted by as much as 20 percent over current technology, making it ideally suited for areas where wind output was not previously enough to make wind projects feasible and for getting electricity to more people in rural China.

New Podcast Available

Ben has just published the latest podcast from theWatt. I am a panelist on this episode (65) and talk about our site briefly.

This was my first podcast and was loads of fun. The podcast is 50 minutes long and weighs about 20 MB. Give it a listen - we had good discussions about oil from tar sands, Al Gore, solar energy, and food scarcity. We also talked about butanol - which was something I hadn't heard of prior to this weekend. Anyone else know much about this one?

If you like it, use iTunes or your Newsreader to subscribe to the weekly podcast. I hope to be back on it in the future, but regardless, it features good discussion of topical energy issues.

When we reconvene in the fall, I hope we can start some sort of regular podcast to look at energy issues within Minnesota. We have tons of local people we could attempt to interview or include.


Looks like Walmart is back in the news after asking Al Gore to speak to executives on sustainability. I think I would be more impressed if an expert spoke to them, but I suppose Al knows more than the average Vice President...

It seems like Wal-Mart is staying true to its recent enviro-friendlier pledges. While I like to encourage business models based locally, most aren't asking me. In the meantime, I think Wal-Mart's efforts could have a significant multiplier effect across the economy as Wal-Mart's supply chain is admired and oft copied.

I believe Wal-Mart will improve the efficiency of its supply chain and stores - reducing waste and fossil fuel usage. Others will copy their model and this will have a significant cumulative effect. We clearly have much work remaining, but so long as Wal-Mart is not going away, the more efficient it becomes, the better.

NJ: We Hardly Knew Ye

Who knew that New Jersey recently created one of the most stringent renewable energy standards? Well, technically, the RES was old but recent amendments helped it to shed baby teeth and make way for bigger teeth.Quote from the DSIRE USA Database:

New Jersey's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) -- one of the most aggressive in the United States -- requires each supplier/provider serving retail customers in the state to include in the electricity it sells 22.5% qualifying renewables by 2021. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) made extensive revisions to the RPS in April 2006, significantly increasing the required percentages of "Class I" and "Class II" renewable energy, as well as the required separate percentage of solar electricity. By reporting year 2021, 2.12% solar electricity is required.

This is projected to be about 1500 MW. I learned about this from a podcast via Renewable Energy Access.

The little light bulb that could

At the beginning, LEDs were only useful for indicator lights. Small, low power consumption...and dim. In my previous life we used a lot LEDs to build lights for doing industrial machine vision systems. Since you only need to have the light on while the image is being exposed we would strobe the lights and overdrive the LEDs to increase the output (you can do that if you only have them on for milliseconds). Each LED only puts out a little light but they're small so you can put a whole bunch of them together to get a light with pretty good output.

When we first started, the only option with enough intensity was red. Over time LEDs greatly increased their intensity over a greater number of colors. Still, they were only available for fairly narrow frequency bands. The prices have also continued to drop considerably. LEDs became more widely used in lighting applications and even started appearing as indicator lights on trucks (they're also very durable).

Then, the holy grail came about...the white LED. This was a great feat that has opened a much wider variety of applications. In my previous line of work, their appearance coincided well with the increased use of inexpensive color imaging can't get by with colored light for those.

When the white LEDs came out I was immediately thinking that they would make wonderful room lights once they price goes down and the intensity goes up. According to the Star Tribune we may be getting closer to that future (so....why didn't I buy stock in LED companies back then?) The white LED systems are still too expensive and the energy consumption is much higher than single color LEDs, but, it is all getting better. Maybe someday soon we can laugh about the days of using vacuum tubes and mercury infested light bulbs.

If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming

There has been an op-ed floating around about why we humans are not able to properly appreciate and react to the dangers of global climate change. Here is a copy of it I found at the LA Times.

I've been reading the book Elizabeth recommended in Environmental Classics, "Rational choice in an Uncertain World" by Rastie and Davies, and it has a number of interesting things about how people are hardwired to not make rational choices. One that is relevant here that David Gilbert left out is the propensity to over estimate the unlikely (or smallest) and underestimate the most likely (or largest). This explains our focus on stopping terrorists or the bird flu but not on Global Warming or transportation safety, among other things. There is also the disproportional weight given to something that is very vivid or traumatic, like 9/11.

Science Friday

Last Friday, Science Friday featured a 30 min discussion of the CO2 case before the Supreme Court (listen to it from the right sidebar). It featured a Sierra Club dude and some guy from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (they make those awesome CO2-is-great commercials). Actually, the discussion was very helpful if you want to understand exactly what is before the Supreme Court and why it is important for them to hear this case.

The second hour also featured 30 minutes or so on the electric car.

A Milestone

Somehow we have quietly passed the 100 post milestone.

Good job Energistas.

Viva La Energista!

Carbon Tax

It looks like Quebec is implementing a carbon tax. TheWatt has a brief look at this story and a couple of interesting comments about it with links to further sources. However, many of the links are from the Globe and Mail which apparently requires registration to view.

Wind-to-hydrogen project

There was an article in yesterday's Mpls/St. Paul Business Journal that Xcel is collaborating with NREL on combined wind turbine/hydrogen engine demonstration project. The idea is to use the excess electricity to create hydrogen, which can power the engine when the wind isn't blowing.

I wonder how cost effective this would be. Generally, wind power is used when it's available, assuming the transmission is there. Also, as I recall, electrolysis is a pretty inefficient process...

Saving the Rock-Tenn plant

The Pioneer Press had an article on June 28 on the effort to save the Rock Tenn paper-recycling plant in St. Paul. The plant has operated for the past century and provides good paying jobs. The plant relies on steam piped across the river from the High Bridge coal plant for its process heat. Unfortunately for the plant and its employees, the planned conversion of the High Bridge plant to natural gas as part of the MERP (Metro Emissions Reductions Project) agreement with Xcel, the plant will lose it supply of steam.

City and county officials are looking to switch the plant to burning garbage (formally, RDF) as a long term option. Understandably, at least one environmental group (Eureka Recycling, based in Mpls, who is consulting on the project) and some neighborhood groups are concerned about this. However, in contrast to the Minneapolis incinerator, the garbage would be sorted beforehand to remove noncombustibles, which is supposed to make the process cleaner.

An Inconvenient Truth???

The Pioneer Press reported that the city of St. Paul has renegotiated a 20-year franchise contract with XCel energy to provide electricity and natural gas to the city businesses and residents. The new agreement is not much more than an extension of the status-quo. This is notable for a number of reasons.

First, it is a long term agreement making it the last best chance for the city to affect regional energy policy for a generation (there is a possibility of renegotiate at 10 and 15 years so this isn't entirely true). The agreement is particularly weak on several of the cornerstones of energy policy in a carbon constrained world: conservation, efficiency, and renewable sources. Instead of pushing for more aggressive efforts on any of them it largely stays with a continuation of the status-quo. XCel trumpets their industry leading customer conservation programs but that really just skirts the question of what should be done for the next 20 years. The city had the opportunity to specify more strenuous goals in each category than currently required by the state and passed on it.

Second, there has been a lot of interest in renegotiate the contract to increase the payout to St. Paul. The budgetary implications are that over the length of the contract, a greater portion of the burden will be transferred to property taxes, local government aid, and budget cuts (property taxes and budget cuts being the only two that city government can control). An interesting question is what is more regressive...Property taxes or increased electricity bills from a higher franchise fee? The franchise fee also varies depending on actual consumption in the city so it could vary considerably. Especially if the city should undertake their own conservation programs.

Third, is the political aspect. Mayor Coleman ran on environmental issues and has been making a lot of headlines for his efforts to make St. Paul a green city and cut the greenhouse gas emissions.

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