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theWatt

I recently found another energy site that offers some good commentary and a kickin' podcast. TheWatt has a weekly podcast which is hosted by Ben Kenney and has had some good guests. Ben is from Canada, so it often offers a different perspective than the one we are most used to.

Energy and the environment are the most important factors influencing the quality and sustainability of our lives. We have to be careful not to abuse them and we have to respect them. theWatt is news, views, discussion, ideas and learning about all energy topics. theWatt podcasts are weekly audio versions of this. You can submit energy news or start your own discussions in theWatt Forums. Start discussing energy issues and help save the world!

A recent article updates the Cape Wind project and compares it to a new project off the coast of Texas.

Check it out - these podcasts are great ways to easily keep up on interesting energy issues. You can listen to them anywhere - I listen most often while I am at work. Or biking. If I were Nick, I might listen while brewing...

Duluth becomes Eco Municipality

The Strib reports that the Duluth City Council has voted to become an "Eco Municipality", pledging to abide by a Swedish sustainability program. Duluth is the third US city to do so. Projects will include putting a "green roof" on city hall to lower A/C bills and switching the buses to run on biodiesel.

earthtrack.net

By chance, I came across this site, which looks to be a good resource for learning about the effect of government subsidies in energy/environmental areas.

earthtrack.net

NYTimes: Ethanol

To complement our recent spate of ethanol posts, I wanted to link to "Boom in Ethanol Reshapes Economy of Heartland.

I rarely see discussion about ADM when I read these starry eyed ideas about how ethanol will not only save our car-based lifestyle but also revitalize the heartland. How quickly will these ethanol IPO's give way to ADM and Cargill? Will the rise of ethanol actually substantially change Minnesota?

A Thirsty Fuel

Another difficulty that is often overlooked when considering the life-cycle impacts of alternatives is the water usage required. In particular, how that couples with the location requirements of the manufacturing plants.

The Pioneer Press ran a piece yesterday on problems ethanol plants are having in Southwestern Minnesota with water availability. It turns out that it's actually somewhat difficult in rural Minnesota to determine beforehand whether or not sufficient water is available for the manufacturing processes.

Ethanol production is a somewhat water intensive process. It is also beneficial to locate the plants closer to the areas producing the corn in order to keep transportation costs down. As the plants are expanded and others built to keep up with the increasing demand for ethanol it is inevitable that they will run into water availability problems in areas without large surface or groundwater supplies.

As the plants get larger and ownership less local we'll probably start seeing less concern over keeping the plants near the corn producing areas. Corn is a relatively easy product to ship so it seems obvious to locate plants near rail lines that can bring in the large quantities needed from a wider area.

Cellulosic ethanol is another matter. At this time, it's much more difficult to transport and store the biomass feedstocks used in cellulosic ethanol production. That will make it more difficult to consolidate ethanol production. We'll probably see the water issue come up again down the road once this technology gets up and running.

Supreme Court to Hear Carbon Dioxide Case

''The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming ... 'This is the whole ball of wax,' said David Bookbinder, an attorney for the Sierra Club."

A familiar name

There was a familiar name that showed up in today's Star Tribune article on an urban/rural partnership in wind.

This is the first project in the country in which rural and urban counties have formed a partnership, said Sarah Johnson, who works for the Minneapolis nonprofit Windustry, which aims to increase wind energy opportunities for rural landowners and communities.

"This particular project has a challenge in figuring out the governance structure and who is going to own it," Johnson said. "They're pioneering a new model that's never been done before, so there's so many different directions they can go with this."

</em>Outside</em> Peak Oil

Outside Magazine weighs in on the Peak Oil debate. This is mainly an article about James Howard Kunstler - author of The Long Emergency - and his work to alert everyone about the end of cheap oil.

Kunstler bases his predictions on a geoeconomic concept called "peak oil" that is gaining credibility even within the petroleum industry.

Just once, I want one of these articles to note that while peak oil is popular in some quarters, it is utterly rejected in others. Perhaps some balance. I suppose it would be too much to ask for a paragraph explaining why economists and others think peak oil is folly rather than framing it as a debate over how much oil is in the ground. As prices rise, demand goes down. For something as important as oil (read inelastic) it takes time and the transition may be tough. At this point though, I have to wonder if "peak oil" is going to be seen as correct merely because it has become so diluted. My impression of peak oil was that originally, it was the idea that oil production would not only peak, but that its peak would cause immediate catastrophic price rises that would reverberate throughout the world economy and essentially make the rest of my life a pile of shit.However, peak oil now seems to be more about the fact that oil production will no longer increase and will become more expensive. Duh. Something that I think most of will agree to. Though perhaps it will increase - I'm divided on this because I hope that stricter GHG policies will slow the development of tar sands investment and the like. For the purposes of Kunstler though, I'm way off course. Much of what he says is important.

You're not going to run Walt Disney World and the interstate highway system on ethanol or hemp! Or biodiesel! Or hydrogen! Or solar power, or all of them together.

Amen! We need to immediately think about the way our lives are organized and redevelop while oil is still cheap. As hard as it is now, it will only get harder - especially if the economy slows down with rising energy prices.

IEEE Warms Up to Wind Power

A major engineering professional organization finally gets on-board with efforts directed at wind power.

http://tinyurl.com/k8ms3

Ethanol articles

There have recently been a number of things in the news about ethanol.

'Super ethanol is on its way'

"Alan Greenspan, the revered former chairman of the Federal Reserve with a big distaste for irrational exuberance, recently sang its praises before a Congressional hearing on energy security. Greenspan said cellulosic ethanol is the only alternative energy source that could be produced in enough volume to make a dent in gas usage. "

"...it's not unreasonable to expect ethanol to replace 40 billion gallons of gasoline in the near future."

'An Ear for the Market'
NYTimes Op Ed by David Morris

"CONGRESS is considering several bills to extend the 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit for ethanol producers beyond its 2010 expiration date. But let's hope that our elected representatives don't make their decision in the grips of an ethanol haze. The state of the ethanol industry changed so substantially since the last extension, one year ago, that a fundamental and clearheaded redesign is in order."

His alternate plan is:
"First, tie incentive levels to an index comprised of the price of a bushel of corn and the wholesale price of a gallon of gasoline. (A similar index can be developed for biodiesel or cellulose-derived ethanol.)...
Second, transform part of the federal incentive from a gas tax exemption for those who market the ethanol into a direct payment to those who produce it. Minnesota did this in the 1980's, turning an incentive for consumption into one for production...."

There are some elements of this that are appealing but I'm not entirely sold. For instance, why tie the index to the price of corn and the price of gasoline? Corn is only one of the inputs that goes into making ethanol. There are other inputs who's fluctuation in price can wipe out plant profits, too. (e.g. natural gas, loan rates, etc.) It needs more thought but I wonder how that would be more effective than indexing it to the market rate for ethanol compared to gasoline.

SUV Tax Breaks

The Strib recently covered SUVs and tax breaks in a piece entitled "House SUV bills unlikely to get traction."There are several bills to reduce tax breaks to businesses who buy exceptionally large SUVs. None of them are likely to get far as Republicans continue to claim the market will make the final decisions about which cars are economical to buy - as their defense of tax policies which purposefully DISTORT the auto market.

A recent Congressional Research Service review of tax preferences for SUVs found that the current law favors the purchase of heavy SUVs over lighter cars and trucks, because of depreciation rules that allow businesses to expense as much as $25,000 in the first year. In previous years, the deduction was as much as $100,000.

Consider this:

Republicans in Congress also are reluctant to revise the tax code to dictate car choices.

and this:

"The path toward energy independence shouldn't include the government telling families and small businesses what vehicles they can and cannot buy," said Rep. Mark Kennedy, a member of the Transportation Committee.

Mark Kennedy and this other dude from the "auto dealers group" are clearly either morons or liars. This is a false dichotomy of course, Kennedy seems to be both. Notice that this debate is not whether the government should intervene in the market. It is about whether the government should stop distorting the market (by encouraging the purchase of energy inefficient vehicles) or continue to distort the market (by encouraging the purchase of energy inefficient vehicles). Absolutely no one is even considering telling American families and small businesses which vehicles they can and cannot buy. This is utter bullshit and classic clueless Kennedy.I find it interesting that the paper continues to discuss fuel price "fluctuations" when we have now had some 2 (approximately?) years of the same high prices. When is it a fluctuation and when it is the new equilibrium?

Coal in Europe

The NYTimes ran an article on Europe's continued reliance on coal to create electricity. This lengthy article covers some of the tensions and serves as a reminder that while Germany may have heavily invested in wind, it still relies heavily on coal.

In fact, they are continuing to build coal plants and will be phasing out nuke plants over the next 15 years or so apparently. It seems like the power companies over there are not as enthusiastic about Kyoto as some of the governments are (or announce they are). I don't really know how their electricity providers are regulated though.

Safe Climate Act

At least one member of Congress is trying to do something about global warming. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has introduced the Safe Climate Act, which would cap total US emissions in 2010 and then reduce them by 2% through 2020, then increase the rate to 5% through 2050. The bill would create a national cap-and-trade system.

Let's hope that more Congress-people in both parties start to show some real leadership in regards to climate change, for a change.

L.A.

I was reading an interview with Eric Garcetti - President of Los Angeles City Council - and he mentioned some interesting stuff.

Our real-time traffic information system is one of the best in the country. We're working hard this year on resynchronizing all of our traffic lights, which should improve traffic 7 percent to 10 percent by itself. That's a huge improvement for the amount of money involved.

LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] needs to be modernized, but people who live around the airport don't want any more pollution and air traffic. We own land in Palmdale where we could build a great airport that would essentially be a hub for the West Coast. But we need high-speed rail to move people in and out of there.

At the Port of Los Angeles, one-third of the pollution in the L.A. area comes from container ships idling on diesel fuel. They could plug in electrically like Navy ships do. We're trying to build the technological infrastructure for that through the city Department of Water and Power.

I have to wonder about his predictions about improving traffic by making the syncing the lights. I would guess that it might work briefly, but people will adjust and drive more often. Roads, no matter how efficient, cannot keep pace with a culture organized around one car per person.

You Light Up My Life

Fascinating article in Science News about new lighting technology. A Boston research team developed solar-powered "lamps" that use small LEDs placed in fabric the size of a hand towel. LEDs can also be put into thin plastic sheets to cover tiles and walls, which would be an interesting effect: a whole room could glow, instead of the traditional spots of light.

Beyond these improvements, LEDs are touted to be a promising technology to reduce cost and pollution from lighting:

In the United States, for instance, $55 billion worth of electricity -- some 22 percent of the nation's total -- goes annually to light homes and businesses. That sum is roughly equivalent to the output of 100 large power plants. Pollution associated with the energy needed for lighting is also large: Annually, about 450 million tons of carbon dioxide and 3 million tons of smog-generating nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

Researchers have predicted that these devices will replace incandescent bulbs and even fluorescents as the most efficient and widespread lighting technology within a decade or two.

Other technologies will be a sort of stop-gap fix: dimmers for fluorescent fixtures in offices and buildings when sunlight is strong or electricity is expensive, and a system that uses mirrors to direct sunlight into acrylic fiber tubes that glow like fluorescent lights.

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