In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved Pacific Ethanol’s registration of its Stockton ethanol plant to generate valuable credits by producing cellulosic ethanol with the same equipment the company uses to produce corn-based ethanol. The EPA approval now allows Pacific Ethanol to generate so-called “D3 RINs” (Renewable Identification Numbers) using proprietary technology from one of its partners, Visalia-based Edeniq. “This approval is a landmark for the ethanol industry and our company,” said Brian Thome, president and CEO of Edeniq, which is privately held and focuses on developing biorefining technology for cellulosic ethanol. “This [approval] opens the door for low-cost production of cellulosic ethanol from corn kernel fiber in existing fermentation vessels,” Thome added. “While we have long heard that cellulosic ethanol will be here in five to ten years, Edeniq’s Pathway Technology for profitably producing cellulosic ethanol is here today,” Thome said. “A 120 million-gallon-per-year corn ethanol plant can increase its revenue by up to $10 million or more through integration of Pathway, with very little investment and a less than one-year payback,” Thome added.
Why has U.S. coal production declined so enormously in recent years? Because the coal-fired power industry is producing less of the country’s electricity than ever. As recently as 10 years ago, coal-fired power plants provided half of U.S. power needs. Today that number is closer to 30 percent—and falling. Coal is not likely to fade entirely from the scene any time soon, but its share of the U.S. energy mix stands to drop to less than 20 percent in the not very distant future. This is largely a market phenomenon driven by cheap natural gas and by low-cost renewables, which, because they are so inexpensive, have become go-to fuels for power generation. Coal does not have a regulation problem, as the industry claims. Instead, it has a growing market problem, as other technologies are increasingly able to produce electricity at lower cost. And that trend is unlikely to end.
As large corporations increasingly demand 100 percent renewable energy, many utilities are left in a bind: Add to their already excess capacity, or they can risk losing new customers to lower-priced third-party agreements. “We have to figure out how to thread the needle with utilities,” said Letha Tawney who, as the director for utility innovation at the World Resources Institute, spends many of her waking and working hours trying to guide utilities into a new energy paradigm. Many large power consumers have clearly demonstrated that, with or without their local utilities, they are moving towards a renewable future. That message was reiterated recently in Nevada when MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts paid a hefty upfront fee to Nevada Powerto stop purchasing power from the utility and start buying it from other sources.
The owners of an Indiana biofuel producer pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and false statements for participating in a scheme that generated more than $60 million in fraudulent tax credits and U.S. EPA renewable fuels credits, or RINs, at Triton Energy LLC, a company that purported to produce and sell biofuel for use as transportation fuel. Fred Witmer, 46, and Gary Jury, 58, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Magistrate Judge Susan Collins of the Northern District of Indiana, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Enstrom for the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott of the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office. According to their pleas, Witmer and Jury were co-owners of Triton Energy LLC and Gen2 Renewable Diesel LLC, both located in Waterloo, Indiana. Witmer admitted to participating in a scheme with other co-conspirators to fraudulently claim tax credits and RIN credits on nonqualifying renewable fuel. Although the credits required that the fuel be used domestically for transportation, Witmer admitted selling it for uses that included the production of fire starter logs and asphalt and also for power generation. Jury admitted to participating in a conspiracy to fraudulently claim tax credits and to providing false statements to the EPA.
New Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations on unconventional gas drillingtake effect Oct. 8. The new rules regulate unconventional drilling practices and hydraulic fracturing, as well as related activities. “These regulations are a long time in coming and have undergone one of the most transparent and participatory processes ever overseen by DEP,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. The new rules, which have been under development since 2011, are the first modernization of the Commonwealth’s oil and gas surface regulations since the implementation of new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques to capture natural gas from Pennsylvania’s shale deposits.
When it comes to global warming, the border between Weld and Larimer Counties might as well be a fault line. They are two quintessentially Colorado counties – Weld stretching eastward from the shadow of the Rockies onto the wide and empty skirts of the high plains, while Larimer gathers up the cities that cluster against the foot of the Rockies north of Denver. But their different character speaks to a broader divide nationwide. Weld voted for Mitt Romney in 2012; Larimer voted for President Obama. Larimer life rotates around Fort Collins, a college town as home of the local state university; Weld considered seceding from the state in 2013. They are blue and red America in miniature, and their different approaches to climate change mirror the rift within America itself. Polls show that the partisan divide is wider on climate change than any other issue. In 2001, the gap between Republicans and Democrats on whether climate change is real and human-caused was 17 percentage points. This year, the gap stands at 41 points. Just 43 percent of Republicans now believe climate change is human-caused, compared with 53 percent back then.
EPA and the Department of Justice announced a settlement with Western Dubuque to address alleged violations of the Renewable Fuel Standard on Oct. 4 and the filing of a complaint against NGL Crude Logistics, LLC and Western Dubuque Biodiesel LLC. Under the settlement, Western Dubuque has agreed to pay $6 million to resolve alleged Renewable Fuel Standard program violations for generating RINs for renewable fuel that was produced using unapproved feedstocks and production processes. A feedstock is the basic material used in the production of renewable fuel. The consent decree does not resolve any claims against NGL.
Pennington County commissioners voted to extend a moratorium on construction permits related to mining and alternative energy for one year. The temporary moratorium was originally approved in April and essentially blocked issuance of construction permits for those types of operations. The move came after the commission denied a construction permit for Croell Redi-Mix, which wanted to expand its quarry south of Rapid City but faced strong opposition from residents.The company is now suing the county over the denial.Holli Hennies, commission office manager, said a county committee headed up by Commissioner Deb Hadcock that is currently working on regulations for solar should be finished with a set of rule in the next few weeks. At that time, commissioners will move on to figuring out how to handle future mining and construction permits. Hadcock said the Alternative Energy Committee has been meeting every other week to finish the ordinances for wind energy and solar energy that are completely new for the county.
Duke Energy has agreed to remove millions of tons of coal ash containing toxic heavy metals from a power plant in North Carolina. The nation's largest electricity company announced Wednesday that it would dig up three huge pits of water-logged ash at the Buck Steam Station near Salisbury. The ash will be dried and either offered for use in making concrete or moved to lined landfills elsewhere. Duke agreed to remove the dumps to settle a federal lawsuit filed two years ago by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The ash — left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity — contains such toxic chemicals as lead and mercury, which over time can seep into the groundwater.
An effort to block a Minnesota state mandate that requires all diesel fuel sold at the pump to be at least 10% biofuel has been blocked by a district court judge. In 2015, trucking groups within the state filed a lawsuit claiming the mandate conflicted with federal Clean Air and Renewable Fuels laws. The lawsuit was brought by the Minnesota Trucking Association, the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. The suit sought an injunction to block the mandate and a future increase to 20% biofuel. It argued that the mandate would result in higher maintenance costs and engine problems, as well as a safety hazard because older vehicles were not designed to run on biofuel blends of 10-20%. The judge ruled the Clean Air Act did not pre-empt Minnesota’s mandate, and added that if the state mandate actually violated the Clean Air Act that the EPA would have filed its own injunction.