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Buried oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster still harming wetlands

The Times Picayune | Posted on July 26, 2017

Oil spilled seven years ago in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico might no longer be visible, but it's still taking a toll on Louisiana's fragile wetlands. A new study by Louisiana State University indicates that crude oil from the 2010 BP oil spill has become lodged in wetland soils, where it remains almost as toxic as the day it flowed into the gulf.  "We found oil four to five centimeters down in the layers of marsh, which we expected to see," said John White, associate director of LSU's Coastal Studies Institute. "What was surprising was that the oil was still causing plants to die."

Michigan program finances first megawatt of solar, with ambitious goals ahead

Midwest Energy News | Posted on July 26, 2017

A clean energy financing program in Michigan reached a milestone last month when it helped homeowners and businesses install 1 megawatt of solar energy across the state. Michigan Saves — which was created by a $6.5 million Michigan Public Service Commission grant in 2009 — acts as a green bank by financing clean energy projects at homes and businesses. While it deals mostly in energy efficiency projects, it also removes the barrier of high upfront capital costs for solar installations.Since June 2011, the program has helped finance installations at 132 homes and nine businesses, totaling $3.5 million in solar investment. In all, Michigan Saves has been involved with roughly 8,600 projects totaling $102 million in clean energy investment.

Trump administration seeks to repeal Obama fracking rule

The Hill | Posted on July 26, 2017

The Trump administration is proposing to completely repeal Obama-era standards governing hydraulic fracturing on federal land. The proposal from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is due to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register.The landmark 2015 regulation set standards in areas such as disclosure of fracking chemicals and integrity of well casing.It was the Obama administration’s attempt to update decades-old regulations to account for the explosive growth in fracking for oil and natural gas in recent years. The repeal is the latest in a long string of environmental regulations from Obama that Trump is working to undo.Interior’s stream protection rule for mountaintop removal mining was repealed by Congress, and the agency has taken action on its own to stop Obama’s pause on coal mining on federal land.The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has started to undo major regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, water pollution, methane pollution and more.

Georgia Power’s coal ash plan illegal

Atlanta Journal Constitution | Posted on July 26, 2017

The Sierra Club said Georgia Power’s plans to close its toxic coal ash ponds will dump heavy metal-laden wastewater into the state’s rivers and lakes and violate the federal clean water law. Georgia Power is planning to shut down 29 ponds that hold coal ash, a waste product of burning coal that can contain toxic metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxins, according to the environmental group.Some environmental groups initially praised Georgia Power’s plans. The utility expects to spend roughly $2 billion closing the sites by recycling or treating water from the ponds. The ash is to be removed and added to other ponds or landfills, recycled, or sealed in place.But in a notice Monday of a planned lawsuit against Georgia Power, the Sierra Club said the plan will violate the Clean Water Act because existing wastewater permits for its power plants haven’t been modified to allow the utility to “dewater” the ponds by removing all of the contaminated water.Such water from the depths of the ponds is much dirtier than at the surface, the group said. The group said the wastewater goes into rivers and lakes, endangering public health and wildlife.

Leaked report explains energy efficiency policies will save consumers $545 billion.

Think Progress | Posted on July 26, 2017

leaked draft study of the electric grid requested by Energy Secretary Rick Perry found that federal energy efficiency policies are in the process of saving U.S. consumers and businesses more than a half trillion dollars. Meanwhile, the new administration is halting energy efficiency policies and gutting funding for energy efficiency improvements for American homes. Perry’s department is currently being sued by 11 states for stalling efficiency mandates for air conditioners and other high-energy products. Back in April, Perry ordered a study from Department of Energy (DOE) staff to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability. But a July draft obtained by Bloomberg debunked that attack. Instead, the authors found that “the power system is more reliable today” than ever. After obtaining a copy of the draft, ThinkProgress reported the study concluded a large fraction of America’s aging fleet of coal and nuclear plants are simply not economic to operate anymore. The study has a long discussion of why coal and nuclear aren’t going to become economic anytime soon. For instance, it’s increasingly clear that, for the foreseeable future, natural gas prices will stay low — and that renewable sources of power like solar and wind will continue the stunning price drops they’ve seen in the past two decades, which have upended the global power market.

EPA proposal on biodiesel regulations draws concerns from Nebraska, Iowa ethanol producers

Omaha World Herald | Posted on July 20, 2017

New proposals for biofuel requirements in 2019 have ethanol folks in Nebraska and Iowa asking what the regulators in Washington are thinking. This month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released proposed requirements for biofuels in coming years, an annual figure known as the Renewable Fuel Standard. The proposal would allow for 15 billion gallons of conventional corn-based ethanol — unchanged from the previous standard — to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply and dispersed at neighborhood gas pumps as a clear gas/ethanol blend. That’s fine and good with ethanol supporters, bad and misguided as far as detractors are concerned.

Solar plus storage can beat natural gas in Minnesota

MPR | Posted on July 20, 2017

A new report from the University of Minnesota's Energy Transition Lab shows adding energy storage is becoming a cost effective way to meet electricity demand in the state. The report looked at several scenarios, including a common one in the summer: A hot day when electricity demand is much higher than usual because of air conditioning."What would be more cost effective: to build a conventional plant or to put in a big battery? Or, alternatively, to put in a big battery and a big solar array at the same time? [The consultants] found that putting in solar plus storage was actually cost effective right now," said Ellen Anderson, who directs the Energy Transition Lab.Anderson said about 1,800 megawatts of new natural gas plants are planned for Minnesota by 2028, primarily to meet that peak demand. Natural gas power plants are used for peak demand because they can be ramped up and down quickly.Solar arrays with batteries have the ability to soak in the sun's rays during the day and store the energy for distribution when there's more demand in the evening. Most of Minnesota's current solar arrays are only feeding electricity to the grid during the day.

Sheffield dairy farm rakes in the cheddar from selling power generated from cows' methane

The Berkshire Eagle | Posted on July 19, 2017

The Aragi family's dairy farm — the largest in the state — is special because it still exists and it isn't losing money.
Pine Island Farm is actually making money, not just by selling milk, but by selling power it generates from methane thrown off by cow manure. Nary a penny lands on the farm's electric bill, and the Aragis' sell the excess power to some local off-takers — like Ward's Nursery — at a discount through a state program called net metering.
It is for this reason and more that Pine Island, with its roughly 1,500-plus acres of pasture, corn and hay fields for cow feed — was just awarded Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year in Massachusetts by the Green Pastures Program at UMassAmherst. Holly Aragi, sitting in the farmhouse kitchen, never mentioned the award, but talked about the hard work of grant-writing and wading through a bureaucratic swamp to get $405,000 from the state Department of Energy Resources to upgrade National Grid's Sheffield substation, and to do line upgrades that will allow for a second generator to run the anaerobic methane digester that turns cow manure and food waste into electricity. And food waste also goes into it to help the digestion along. Excess grains and other food from local producers like Guido's Fresh Marketplace and Berkshire Mountain Distillers is fed into the digester. And even Stonybrook Farms in Vermont sends its excess whey here.
The digester separates the liquids and solids, and out comes liquid to fertilize the fields and solids to bed some of the farm's 1,500 cows, of which about 564 are milked. The farm sells milk through the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative.The cow bedding is critical, Holly said. If the generator, which runs 24/7, shuts down for maintenance or other reasons, trouble can stack up across the farm.

Harry Reid, Nevada governor push bipartisan energy effort

Pennslvania State University | Posted on July 14, 2017

Two key players in the Republican and Democratic parties in Nevada are teaming up to host a clean-energy talk as the White House abandons a worldwide agreement to curb climate change and states are moving to the forefront of the fight.  Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that he's bringing back a summit last headlined by President Barack Obama in 2015. This time, the co-host is a Republican — Gov. Brian Sandoval — a bipartisan move as Congress remains gridlocked on health care and other issues.However, Sandoval is no newcomer to clean energy efforts or breaking with his own party. He ushered in a world-renowned rechargeable battery factory and supported expanded access to solar, wind and geothermal energy throughout his six years in the governor's office.

Energy Department to industry: Here’s $8M, now (puleez!) innovate down the cost of algae

Biofuels Digest | Posted on July 13, 2017

In Washington, the U.S. Department of Energy, through the Bioenergy Technologies Office, announced the selection of three projects to receive up to $8 million, aimed at reducing the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts. These projects will deliver high-impact tools and techniques for increasing the productivity of algae organisms and cultures. They will also deliver biology-focused breakthroughs while enabling accelerated future innovations through data sharing within the research and development community. This funding supports the development of a bioeconomy that can help create jobs, spur innovation, improve quality of life, and achieve national energy security.Algal biomass can be converted to advanced biofuels that offer promising alternatives to petroleum-based diesel and jet fuels.  Additionally, algae can be used to make a range of other valuable bioproducts, such as industrial chemicals, bio-based polymers, and proteins. However, barriers related to algae cultivation, harvesting, and conversion to fuels and products need to be overcome to achieve the Department’s target of $3 per gge for advanced algal biofuels by 2030.