A decade ago, lawmakers in Washington tried to address a trifecta of thorny challenges with one simple fix that has turned out to be anything but easy to assess. The problems: an overreliance on foreign oil, rising greenhouse gas emissions and tepid economic growth. A decade ago, lawmakers in Washington tried to address a trifecta of thorny challenges with one simple fix that has turned out to be anything but easy to assess. The problems: an overreliance on foreign oil, rising greenhouse gas emissions and tepid economic growth. The solution: the Renewable Fuel Standard, commonly known as the ethanol mandate. Enacted in 2005 and expanded two years later, the legislation required that refiners blend an increasing amount of biofuel into the gasoline that powers most American cars. Indeed, depending on whom you ask, the Renewable Fuel Standard is either one of the best policy decisions to come out of Washington in decades or a special-interest boondoggle that costs taxpayers billions of dollars and harms the environment.
Researchers at the University of Wyoming say a vast number of trees killed by a bark beetle population that is rapidly expanding due to higher temperatures could be sustainably co-fired in coal plants. The researchers assessed the availability and economics of co-firing beetle-kill biomass with coal in power plants in the western United States and concluded that “[s]ince biomass may be considered carbon neutral under careful management, co-combustion of biomass with coal provides power plants a way to meet emission reduction requirements, such as those in the EPA Clean Power Plan (CPP).” They note that cost has been a barrier to co-firing, “but the economics are altered by emission reduction requirements,” such as the guidelines proposed under the Clean Power Plan, which is currently on hold pending resolution of a lawsuit, probably later next year.
ndia has complained to the World Trade Organization about support given to the renewable energy industry in eight U.S. states, the WTO said. The complaint alleges the states of Minnesota, Washington, California, Montana, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Michigan and Delaware prop up their renewables sector with illegal subsidies and domestic content requirements - an obligation to buy local goods rather than imports.
Public outcry may have stopped another area wind project in its tracks. The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission will consider approving the withdrawal of a permit to build a 100-turbine wind farm in Charles Mix and Bon Homme counties after hearing significant resistance from the surrounding communities.
Looking for new business opportunities to counter a drop in revenues, the Alaska Railroad Corp. this month will become the first railroad in the U.S. to ship liquefied natural gas, in a demonstration project that could help deliver cheaper energy to Fairbanks. The state-owned railroad has signed an agreement to borrow two LNG containers from a company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, owned partly by Hitachi in Japan.
The state of California, wracked by drought, has 66 million dead trees across its landscape. They’ve been killed by both the drought itself and by voracious bark beetles, and now they’re just sitting there — destined to either decompose, burn in a wildfire, or be incinerated, for safety reasons, by state fire managers before the next blaze comes along. And it isn’t just California. Raging bark beetle infestations, fanned by warmer temperatures and droughts, have also struck forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho in recent years. “About 100,000 beetle-kill trees fall every day in Wyoming and northern Colorado, to give you an idea of the order of magnitude,” says Erica Belmont, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wyoming. Belmont is studying an intriguing solution for what to do with all these dangerous dead trees — namely, burn them for energy. In a recent study in Energy Policy, Belmont and colleague Emily Beagle do the math on whether it would make sense to use the timber in existing coal plants, which can be “co-fired” with wood.
It may seem ironic that the pioneer of projects that could lead to the sharpest increase in emissions-free electricity in the United States started in Wyoming, the state that leads U.S. production of coal, ranks in the top 10 for natural gas production and pumps 2 percent of the nation's oil. The project started with a 320,000-acre cattle ranch in Carbon County on Wyoming's southern border. In 2006, Philip Anschutz, the ranch's billionaire owner, put it up for sale. Then one of his top aides, Bill Miller, pointed out that the ranch is swept by some of the steadiest, most powerful land-based wind resources in the world. If there were some way to capture and transmit the ranch's wind energy to California, one of the world's richest markets for emissions-free electricity, that would certainly be a better economic proposition. Anschutz could keep the ranch, continue to raise cattle on it and harvest its formidable wind energy at the same time. Was that possible? Miller and Anschutz did some research and discovered there might just be a way. By then, a technology called high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) power lines had matured and seemed ready for the task. Most Americans think of Thomas Edison when it comes to direct current, which he used to light up Lower Manhattan in 1882. But Edison's DC proved to be too weak to move electricity much more than a mile beyond a power plant. A Serbian-American inventor, Nikola Tesla, came up with a better idea using an alternating current, or so-called AC electricity, that moved in a regular, wavelike pattern. He also invented a transformer that could step up AC power to carry it over longer distances.
Making an electric car is easy. We’ve been doing it for more than a century. Charging them, however, is tough. It requires infrastructure—a grid on the grid—and presents a chicken-egg conundrum: Who wants a plug-in car when there’s nowhere to plug it in? Who wants to build car chargers, when there aren’t enough cars to charge? Rest easy, Tesla-heads and Nissan Leaf geeks; we’re finally getting there. The number of charging stations in the U.S. has reached a critical mass. The U.S. Department of Energy says there are now 14,349 electric vehicle charging stations nationwide, comprising almost 36,000 outlets. Meanwhile, electric vehicle owners still do most of their charging at home outlets that aren't included in that tally, according to the agency. Silicon Valley-based ChargePoint, which operates one of the nation's largest charging networks, just announced that it now has 30,100 outlets to plug in a vehicle in the U.S.—roughly double the number of McDonald’s restaurants in the country. Tesla Motors, meanwhile, has 294 supercharger stations where travelers can top off their batteries quickly and another 2,906 destination chargers at such places as wineries and luxury hotels.
One presidential candidate reportedly sought advice from a California agency of how to alter the national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which sets mandates on the supply of ethanol in our gasoline. Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was called out in a federal report for failing to meet its statutory reporting requirements under the RFS. Both events in August add fuel to the flames of an already divisive topic pitting certain biofuel producers against consumers – such as boaters – who say ethanol is bad for their engines.
A recent study highlighting the renewable energy capacity of the eastern power grid found adding new transmission capacity can help further cut costs and emissions. the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found the grid serving the eastern half of the U.S. is technically capable of integrating enough wind and solar power into the system to meet 30 percent of the region's yearly energy needs. But one major obstacle to the large-scale use of renewables remains: getting the best wind resource from the Midwest to the East, where the power is needed.