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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.

One step forward, Three steps back

The NY Times had an article today on using coal to produce diesel through a process called Fischer-Tropsch. This is a logical step considering the cost of diesel compared to the cost of coal. Not only is it now cheaper to produce diesel from coal but it fits into the 'national security' goal by being able to rely on readily available domestic coal supplies instead of imported petroleum.

The technology is not new having been invented in the 1920's by German scientists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch. Coal-rich Germany used the process extensively during WWII reaching 124,000 barrels per day production levels in 1944. The appeal of the process is the ability to convert solid fuels into liquid fuels. The solid fuel mentioned here is coal but could also be biomass. The first step is gasification that produces a number of volitile compounds, gasses, solid waste, and syngas (H2 and CO). The Fischer-Tropsch process is then used to convert the syngas into liquid hydrocarbons. Compare this to the IGCC process that instead sends the syngas to a combined-cycle process to generate electricity.

Fischer-Tropsch plants require a lot of capital to get started, rely on continued high prices for petroleum, and have high operation and maintenance costs. They are are also heavy polluters especially of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Analyses have shown that Fischer-Tropsch processing of coal is a step backward on the environmental front resulting in even higher life-cycle releases of greenhouse gasses than even current petroleum processing. (Note: capture and sequestration of the process CO2 lowers the values by about a third although at a significant cost penalty. Some proposed FT plants are hoping to be able to capture and sell their CO2 for advanced petroleum extraction uses.) I've also hear reports of other environmental problems but don't have any readily available reports to that effect. On the plus side, though, FT results in low-sulphur diesel making it even more attractive with the new regulations taking affect.

Next Green Revolution

Wired featured a bunch of energy related stuff in its May, 2006 issue.

It takes a long look at Al Gore, takes a bunch of shots at the supposedly old school environmentalists, and profiles the "neo-greens" which talks about the importance of organic cotton.

It does profile a bunch of ways to "kick the carbon habit at home" but that was only in the print copy of the mag apparently. I was surprised by some of these ideas.

Regarding dishwashers - some now use less energy than used to hand wash apparently. They point people to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy site. I had never heard of them before. Anyone else? Is this a cool group or a front?

Smart Strips are power strips that detect when your computer shuts down and turns some of the outlets off so the peripherals stop sucking power - via the famous phantom circuits.

Sustainable Communities, Energy and Environmental Justice

Please join a group of
Community Development and Environmental Advocates
For a Community Discussion on

Sustainable Community Development and
Environmental Justice in Minnesota

Invited guests
Dr. John Byrne and Dr. Jong Dal Kim
Drs. Byrne and Kim are founding members of Solar Cities – a pioneering program sponsored by the International Solar Energy Society to assist communities around the world in building sustainable and equitable futures.

They both have served as consultants to cities, states and the federal government on how plan for sustainable communities and have assisted in the implementation of several urban initiatives including a survey of twelve U.S. communities who are providing leadership in areas such as land use, water resource, energy, transportation, materials recycling, biodiversity and ‘green’ economic planning, in order to restore a balance and equity among social, economic and ecological concerns.

July 11, 2006
2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Neighborhood House, Room 212
179 East Robie Street, Saint Paul
Contact for more information

How can the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota pursue sustainable community development?

What are other cities doing to implement Sustainable and equitable Community Development initiatives?

How does our region compare to Sustainable Community Development efforts nationwide?

What should Minnesota policy makers be doing to promote social equity, environmental justice, a prosperous economy and a healthy environment for future generations of Minnesotans?

Sustainable Community Development
Social Equity
Energy Sustainability
Safe and Healthy Environments
Economic Prosperity and
Business Development
Environmental Justice

PUC should reject Big Stone II due to GHG pollution

Speaking of the Big Stone II plant, this article appeared today about how opponents are asking the SD PUC to reject the application for permits on the basis of the GHG emissions. I don't know much about the South Dakota regulatory system but this seems like an odd place to expect any success. Commissioners are suggesting that it is not the place for state level PUCs to worry about regional, national, or international environmental impacts. This seems to me to be a poor argument but one that is likely to carry the day. Perhaps its really just an excuse to allow them to ignore anything that makes it difficult to just do what they were already going to do.

IGCC in South Dakota

Preliminary studies are being done to build an IGCC plant in South Dakota. Mobridge is on Lake Oahe (part of the Missouri River) in north-central South Dakota. Huron is on the much smaller James River in the west-central part of the state. From the article it sounds like opponents to the Big Stone II plant proposed by Great River Energy may be supporting IGCC as a better way to use coal for electricity generation.

George Bush does 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday'

This is not related to energy or energy policy but it was too good to not tell people about. This is evidence of someone having too much time on their hands.

George Bush does 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday'

MPCA Commissioner resigns

Here's something I haven't heard much talk about. They following email was sent to MPCA employees last Thursday by Sheryl Corrigan, MPCA Commissioner. Tom Meersman also has an article in the Star Trib.


Dear All,

When the Governor asked me to be your commissioner, he told me it would be the best job I'll ever have. He was so right. These past years have been the most fulfilling of my career--and the most fun. You are an incredibly talented, committed, and vital bunch--and you make things happen. Thank you for welcoming me, and allowing me to work with you to move our agency forward and to create the environmental outcomes that are so important to our citizens.

Now it's time for me to seek out new challenges and new opportunities, and so today I am announcing my resignation. I plan to spend some much needed time with my family before pursuing opportunities in the private sector. My last day here will be August 1. Between now and then, Leo, Kristen and I will be working with the Governor's office in helping them find an acting commissioner.

Once again, let me thank you for everything you do. It's been a great honor and privilege to serve you and the citizens of this great state.

Sincerely, Sheryl

Sheryl Corrigan
Commissioner MN Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Road North
St. Paul, MN 55155
Ph: 651.296.7301
Fax: 651.296-6334

Central Corridor LRT critique

Related to the article on Metro Transit in the other posting is an article in the Pulse by Ed Felien that is very critical of the decision of where to locate the LRT line. He is advocating running it along the train tracks to the north of University. He doesn't seem to consider to be major impediments, though, that those lines are currently being used for long-haul freight and coal and that there is no development along the tracks to serve. Along most of the length they are several long blocks from the University corridor. It seems to be unimportant to build transit where the people are only where it seems less messy.

He also trudges out the apples to oranges comparison opponents of LRT down University like to use. That's the one comparing the time from downtown to downtown by LRT to that of the 94 bus. The thing is that they don't have comparable service. The 94 picks up at one downtown and jumps on the interstate to go to the other. The LRT is servicing the length of University. It is better to compare the LRT to the 16 or the 50 with the 50 being the most similar bus route. I'll have to find the numbers but what I seem to remember is that the comparison to the 50 is pretty comparable.

He also brings up concerns about safety to pedestrians and motorists sighting the accidents along the Hiawatha line. Ironically, today's Star Trib has an article about how the auto driver in one of those accidents was just charged with DUI.

What he does bring up that are good points are what the impact is going to be on the small businesses and residents along the route. Some of them are pushing very hard for the line. Others are feeling like they're getting trampled over in the rush. It might be interesting to ask Andy Driscol about it all since he's working for one of the groups.

LRT Update

As for light rail in the Central Corridor, it is rolling along. MPR reports that the Met Council has approved the LRT plan. As the plan is rather expensive (coming in at just under a cool billion), Council Chair Peter Bell is looking to cut some costs.

One idea is to shorten the line in downtown St. Paul, but that would prevent it from reaching its current endpoint, the Union Depot. Another is limiting the landscaping along University Ave., and a third option would eliminate a tunnel that would go under the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus.

November could prove an important election for transit - though it may not directly affect this project.

State voters could also play a role in the project's fate. The November 2006 ballot will ask Minnesotans to approve a constitutional amendment designating the state's motor vehicle sales tax to be spent only on transportation. The measure would raise tens of millions of dollars annually, with 40 percent dedicated to transit.

These may be baby steps. but they accumulate.

Al Gore on the Daily Show

Jon Stewart interviews Al Gore about his documentary.

PV near SF

Nanosolar Inc. is spending $100 million to build the world's largest solar cell plant [Press Release] [SF Chronicle article] [Daily Green Blog].Apparently some element called silicon is used for PV. I dunno, but apparently silicon is in short supply for some reason so they are building this plant in what must be the valley of silicon abundance: Silicon Valley. So this company is going to be building these PV cells with techniques that use far less silicon.

Nanosolar is a global leader in solar power innovation. Nanosolar's solar electricity panels deliver unparalleled cost efficiency, enabling customers to use green power without paying more. With its proprietary nanoparticle ink and fast roll-printing technology, Nanosolar owns the processes and designs to produce the world's most cost-efficient solar cells and make them available in many versatile product forms. The company's headquarters are in Palo Alto, California, with European operations based in Berlin, Germany.

I have to wonder if Colorado's PV incentives have made it easier for this company to raise the capital for the plant because it requires such a large PV investment in coming years.

No Bar Code

The May/June Mother Jones issue features "No Bar Code" by Michael Pollan. I believe this story is one of the four he profiles in his new The Omnivore's Dilemma. At any rate, many of us have read his Botany of Desire or seen him speak. He is an interesting person and well worth reading.This article examines Polyface Farm - an organic farm that acts locally. Only locally.

"Opting out" is a key term for Joel, who believes that it would be a fatal mistake to "try to sell a connected, holistic, ensouled product through a Western, reductionist, Wall Street sales scheme"—by which (I think) he means selling to big organic supermarkets like Whole Foods. As far as Joel is concerned, there isn’t a world of difference between Whole Foods and Wal-Mart. Both are part of an increasingly globalized economy that turns any food it touches into a commodity, reaching its tentacles wherever in the world a food can be produced most cheaply and then transporting it wherever it can be sold most dearly.

He will not ship his animals or food long distances - actually forcing the reporter to go to his farm in order to sample the chicken.

They were paying a premium over supermarket prices for Polyface food, and in many cases driving more than an hour over a daunting (though gorgeous) tangle of county roads to come get it.

This is the sort of thing that often causes us energy-focused-folks to slap our heads. But I have to wonder which uses more energy - shipping food out across the country or forcing people to drive cross-county to pick it up. I suspect it would depend on shipping methods and such things. Nonetheless, the article suggests that the average Iowa Red Delicious apple travels a mere 61 miles to shelf whereas the average Washington Red D goes 1,722 miles to shelf. One can imagine how far the New Zealand Braeburns go.

Coal into Ethanol

I find it very interesting to read the trade mags for the "other side" - in "Ethanol Producer Magazine," there is an article about how ethanol plants are now being built to utilize coal instead of natural gas. Obviously coal is a lot cheaper than natural gas, and the price should be more stable (excepting the possible railroad price increases - future post). Apparently ethanol plants that use coal are more expensive up front - one plant found it to be 50 cents more per gallon than the comparable natural gas plant - but coal plants are predicted to recoup these extra costs within 5 years or so because of lower fuel costs. Interestingly, these ethanol plants are permitted and designed to run specifically on only one type of coal from a certain location - if they wanted to change from whom they purchased coal or switch from lignite to bituminous, there would be lots of modifications to do and permits to acquire.

We should be comforted to know that:

'A zero-emissions coal-fired power plant is very designable . . . using basically any coal on Earth,' Groenewold [director of the North Dakota-based Energy & Environmental Research Center] explains, noting that the expense of such technologies, while relatively high, is coming down every day due to research and commercialization.

But how many of these "zero-emission" plants are actually being built? And zero emissions of what? This is notably not explained. And we should remember that ND has lots of coal...

Oil pipeline rupture in Little Falls

An example of one of the "small" oil leaks we read about in E's class happened last night in Little Falls, when an underground crude oil pipeline burst, sending oil shooting into a nearby field and trees. Apparently it wasn't considered serious enough to warrant an evacuation...

MPR feature on conservation

MPR had a great report on conservation and efficiency when I woke up this morning. The reporter echoed CEE's basic position, which I agree with, that too often debates on energy solutions focus on supply-side solutions like wind or solar and overlook less-sexy, but cost-effective demand-side solutions.

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