Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Story Originally Appeared in the Los Angeles Times

President Obama plans to roll out the first U.S. regulations designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by next June, making that the central element of a sweeping initiative to rein in emissions of gases that drive climate change.

Obama plans to describe his proposals in a speech Tuesday afternoon at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is expected to unveil a strategy that works across the federal government to pare greenhouse gases sharply by the end of the decade, senior White House officials said.

The approach leans heavily on executive-branch actions, an acknowledgment that the current Congress will not take action to address climate change.

“It is a step-by-step approach that creates a bucket of cuts," said Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental Law Program at Harvard Law School who was a White House adviser on climate change in 2009-10. “What’s important to remember is that the president is behind this, and that means the starter’s pistol has gone off.”

The administration’s efforts would include plans to open more federal lands for renewable-energy development, have some public housing units powered by renewable energy, and develop new energy efficiency standards for major appliances, said senior White House officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Opposition to the plan already has begun to coalesce. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dubbed the climate change effort “a national energy tax” because it might raise the cost of certain goods and some types of energy, particularly electricity generated by burning coal.

Power plants emit about 40% of the country’s greenhouse gases, making them the single biggest source. Curtailing their emissions would build on rules the administration introduced during Obama's first term to address climate change, such as measures to require that new cars and trucks get better mileage.

But regulating existing power plants may prove a bigger, more legally risky effort than other regulations the administration has promulgated, independent analysts said.

More than a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule that would set carbon dioxide standards for new power plants. That final rule was due out in the spring but was delayed. Now, it appears that the administration has scrapped it and will propose a different standard for new plants in September.

That means the regulation of new power plants will go into effect later than planned. Even with those delays, a revised rule will almost certainly face court challenges by the power industry.

A proposal to regulate existing plants seems likely to generate even more opposition than the rule on new plants.

Obama plans to direct the EPA “to have a proposal out in June a year from now, finalizing one year beyond that, and then working directly with the states,” a White House official said.

“The overarching goal here is to make sure we are doing the work at the front end so that we get these policies as far down the road as possible,"  the White House official said, a tacit acknowledgment that the regulatory process may run longer than Obama's tenure.

It’s unclear how much the various parts of the climate change plan would cost or how much revenue through exports or taxes they would generate. Much depends on the standards agencies set for pollution or energy efficiency or for fast-tracking renewable power.

Senior White House officials said the administration would not ask Congress for additional funding to back the climate effort.

The president’s plan tries to sweeten the pot for fossil-fuel companies that might feel threatened by new emission standards. It makes up to $8 billion available for loan guarantees for "advanced fossil fuel energy," which would include technologies to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.

Obama also wants agencies to plan for the impact of climate change. The plan “will direct federal agencies to make sure that any new road, building or project funded with taxpayer dollars is built to withstand the increased flood risks from extreme weather and sea level rise,” a senior White House official said.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gov seeks water-tight ballast rules

Story Originally Appeared in The Detroit News

Regional summit to address Great Lakes shipping demands

 Gov. Rick Snyder plans to push this weekend for strengthening ballast water disposal requirements for ocean-going freighters that travel the Great Lakes during a summit of regional leaders on Mackinac Island.

In 2007, Michigan lawmakers created the region's toughest requirements for shipping vessels to unload excess water that can carry invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels that often litter Great Lakes beaches.

But surrounding states and Canadian provinces have not followed suit, so Michigan officials hope to kick-start a dialogue about the issue during the Council of Great Lakes Governors summit Snyder is hosting at the Grand Hotel.

"I would like to see at some point that we get a common standard," Snyder said Friday after kicking off the summit.

Ships are circumventing Michigan's law by "moving out of Michigan waters and dumping ballast water," said Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Creating consistent guidelines throughout the region for ocean-going ships and their handling of ballast water needs attention, said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

Joel Brammeier, president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, said his group is interested in the region's governments collaborating on an early detection and rapid response for invasive species.

The invasive aquatic species threat is a prime opportunity for teamwork, Brammeier said, since "when a new invader shows up … eventually it's a problem for everybody."

Some Michigan lawmakers want to roll back the ballast water requirements because of opposition from shipping companies.

In addition to water quality, top elected officials from the Great Lakes states and provinces are expected to discuss economic, ecological and transportation issues facing the region during the weekend gathering.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne are scheduled to attend the summit, said Jon Allan, director of the DEQ's Office of the Great Lakes.

Quebec, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Minnesota are sending representatives, he said.

"These things are very good incubators for thinking about what collaboration in the region needs to look like," Allan said.

The governors and their representatives are expected to announce resolutions and agreements on new policy directives for Great Lakes issues on the environment, trade, transportation and water quality and levels.

"I think it's a great opportunity to say the Great Lakes are really important," Snyder said in an interview with The Detroit News. "I don't think we're going to solve all of the issues because there are differences of view between the states."

Snyder said he's pushing the region's governors and Canadian officials to forge stronger economic ties.

"We can do a better job marketing kind of the whole basin in terms of saying we're a big economy," Snyder said. "If you draw that circle (from) Montreal to Chicago, it's a third of the North American economy."

The Great Lakes face myriad threats such as falling lake levels and potential water diversions that could create precedents for future withdrawals.

The Michigan Environmental Council is monitoring the status of a requested water diversion from Lake Michigan by the Wisconsin town of Waukesha. The state of Wisconsin is reviewing the request after Waukesha's aquifer became contaminated with radium, and the way officials handle the application could set a precedent for the region.

Thames River Waste Repels Olympic Rower Amid Tunnel Works

Story Appeared in Bloomberg News

Andy Triggs Hodge, a gold medal-winning rower at the Beijing and London Olympics, stopped training on Britain’s most famous river when it turned out water wasn’t his biggest obstacle: raw sewage on the Thames was.

The capital’s sewer network, built by Victorian engineers after the “Great Stink” of 1858, can’t cope. Too many people, too much waste. Thames Water Utilities Ltd. apologized in January after London properties were damaged by sewage overflow.

Help is on the way. A 4.1 billion-pound ($6.2 billion) “super-sewer” is on the drawing board, the longest and deepest tunnel ever to be built in mainland Britain and set to follow the Thames for 20 miles, passing such landmarks as Buckingham Palace. Kemble Water Holdings Ltd.’s Thames Water unit, with 14 million customers in the London area, hired UBS AG (UBS) to help raise as much as 3.5 billion pounds for the works.

“Once you explain to people that the river banks their children are playing in are not actually mud at all, they support the project,” Michael Gerrard, managing director of the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, said in an interview.

The existing sewer network’s tunnels and arched caverns were constructed to serve half the current population. This means at least 30 million tons of excrement and waste spill into the river every year, sometimes remaining in the water as long as three months before washing out to sea.

No wonder the English rower Triggs Hodge, 34, took his training to Reading. Powering oars through toilet paper, effluent and other unmentionables while practicing on the Thames took a toll on the double World Champion.

“In the summer when things warmed up, the sewage and debris that collected on the riverbanks got pretty smelly,” he said. “The effects on our health became a major concern.”

Laws Breached

That’s exposed the U.K. to potential fines for breaching European law on treatment of wastewater. Penalties could amount to 620,000 pounds each day Britain is deemed in breach, or as much as 226 million pounds a year, according to Thames Tideway.

The European Court of Justice in October ruled the U.K. failed to meet its obligations. The commission said it’s too early to speculate how much any fine may be.

The complexities of building a 7.2 meter-wide (24 feet) concrete tunnel extending west to east along the course of the river will require a new type of funding solution, according to the project’s financial adviser KPMG LLP.

Tight government pockets, and the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 1989 privatization of the industry, point to a privately financed plan. The problem is finding investors for such project risks, said Richard Threlfall, head of the firm’s U.K. infrastructure, building and construction unit.

‘Sheer Amount’

“It’s about the sheer amount of finance required and the risk of tunneling 100 meters underneath the Thames,” he said. “When you get to that scale, it’s impossible for even the biggest international contractors to take the risk on balance sheets.”

To lure investors, Thames Tideway proposes to separate out the tunnel as a single asset, concentrating risk in one vehicle. That company will raise debt and equity in the markets and from sovereign wealth and pension funds, according to Threlfall.

Plans for the tunnel that would intercept overflow points along the river and shunt excess sewage to treatment plants are being finalized, with construction to begin as early as 2016 amid a wider government effort to secure investment in its aging infrastructure.

Investor Returns

The government agreed to give contingent financial support to cover “exceptional risks” in its 2011 National Infrastructure Plan. The model will receive special treatment by Britain’s water regulator, giving investors certainty of no changes during their investment period.

The plan is unprecedented, ripe for replication elsewhere for similarly scaled or high-risk projects, Threlfall said.

The financing model will help drive returns to investors in line with the water industry, or about 10 percent, according to Thames Tideway’s Gerrard.

Infrastructure and pension funds, current investors in U.K. water, are likely to avoid those construction risks, said Christopher Gasson, publisher of Global Water Intelligence in Oxford, England.

The project will need a “reasonably sizable” government guarantee, he said. “If you are a sewer rat, you will probably have to make do with your current accommodation.”

Improvements couldn’t come soon enough for Triggs Hodge.

Changing weather patterns mean short, sharp downpours are more frequent and overflows are increasing, according to Triggs Hodge and the Friends of the Earth group.

Sewage Spills

As little as 2 millimeters (0.08-inch) of rain can cause some London sewer tunnels to reach capacity and spill untreated waste into the Thames from 57 overflow points.

Raw industrial, animal and human sewage in the river that fermented in a warmer-than-usual summer spurred creation of the current sewer system after Parliament drapes were doused in a mix of chloride and lime in 1858 to negate the stench and lawmakers debated relocating upsteam to cleaner air.

As it is, about once a week untreated sewage overflows into the river. “People have no idea how bad the situation is,” Thames Tideway’s Gerrard said.

The lack of a system large enough to cope with London’s rising population is hampering growth as the city seeks to add new homes and businesses to revive Britain’s economy, according to Thames Water, the U.K.’s largest water supplier that’s proposing the “super sewer” to expand capacity.

Singapore Example

Tunnel program manager CH2M Hill Inc. is working on similar projects in Doha, Abu Dhabi and Singapore, which is investing more than $2.4 billion digging tunnels to collect and treat its waste. Cities including Helsinki and Washington have similar projects, and Paris has a 3.4 billion-pound program to invest in upgrading its network.

“The European water utility industry is facing significant challenges in these uncertain times,” said Jonathan Refoy, a spokesman from CH2M. “Many of these change drivers -- workforce shortages, customer demands, financial constraints, aging infrastructure, security and emergency response, population growth, climate change, regulatory compliance -- have been around for some time but many are new or emerging.”

It’s time for change, said Jenny Bates of Friends of the Earth. “Having raw sewage entering the Thames untreated is unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Fish Deaths

As many as 125 species of fish have been documented in the Thames, including salmon, sea trout and eel, and there have been several “really bad” incidents when large numbers died due to sewage overflows, Bates said. In June 2011, overflow into the river after heavy rains caused the loss of as many as 26,000 fish, according to Thames Water.

The Tideway tunnel is designed to help. It’s the largest of three projects being developed by Thames Water to boost network capacity. The utility is investing 675 million pounds to upgrade five of the city’s main sewage treatment plants by 2014 and is also building the Lee Tunnel to deal with spills into the Lee River, a Thames tributary.

The cost won’t be insignificant. London residents can expect to see annual wastewater bills, which at about 123 pounds are the lowest in the country, rise about 70 pounds to 80 pounds, or 57 percent. This would bring them in line with the national average, according to Thames Water.

The project’s latest plan involves 24 construction sites across London. With work expected to start within three years, the tunnel should be operating by 2023.

A planning application for the project that will capture untreated waste from 34 of the river’s most polluting overflow points was submitted in March.

Meanwhile, Triggs Hodge rarely rows on the Thames except for one or two race events.

“Literally what you flush out of your toilet will appear in the river and just because the pipes aren’t big enough and there isn’t the capacity,” he said. “The bottom line is the river is an excellent venue for rowers. Its potential is huge and it’s such a shame.”

Better batteries could revolutionize solar, wind power

Story Appeared in USA TODAY

In February, California, which mandates that 33% of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, required a Los Angeles-area utility to ensure some capacity comes from energy storage. On May 1, Germany, which is shuttering its nuclear power plants as it boosts renewables, began subsidizing homeowners' purchases of batteries to store power from solar panels. China's five-year plan calls for 5% of all electricity to be stored by 2020. In the United States, about 2% of electric capacity is pumped hydro storage, the most common form of energy storage.

The global market for storing power from solar panels is forecast to explode, from less than $200 million in 2012 to $19 billion by 2017, according to a report this month by IMS Research.
One factor driving this growth is the plummeting price of renewables, especially solar panels that have fallen at least 60% since the beginning of 2011. As a result, industry groups report historic growth as U.S. electric capacity from solar panels jumped 76% and from wind turbines, 28%, last year alone.

Still, batteries face obstacles, including cost and safety. Lithium-ion batteries aboard two Boeing 787s jets failed in January, causing a fire on one and smoke on the other. In March, batteries from the same manufacturer caused problems in two Mitsubishi vehicles: a hybrid Outlander car overheated and an all-electric i-MiEV caught fire during testing at an assembly plant.

While the EV industry says these incidents are the exception rather than the rule, money has also been a problem. In October, Massachusetts-based A123 ,a lithium-ion battery manufacturer that spent $132 million in federal stimulus funds, filed for bankruptcy. In December, Wanxiang American, the U.S. arm of a Chinese automotive parts giant, bought A123's technology.

Toyota's Jaycie Chitwood said lithium-ion batteries are just too expensive to make electric cars cost competitive without subsidies. Speaking at the Advanced Energy 2013 conference last month in New York City, she said Toyota is expanding its line of electric vehicles to meet the U.S. government's fuel-efficiency targets — not because they're profitable. She said it gives a $14,000 discount for each new electric RAV4.
Chitwood said a major battery advance is needed. Toyota is working on several alternatives, including cheaper, longer-range batteries that use magnesium instead of lithium. Commercialization, though, is years away.

"Batteries continue to be a challenge," especially those for electric vehicles, Esther Takeuchi,chemistry professor at SUNY Stony Brook, said at the same conference. "Things aren't where we'd want them to be, but they're getting closer."

Her university and others, some with federal funding, are looking not only at new chemical mixes but also at nano-sizing the chemical elements — or making them microscopically small — to make them more efficient. Takeuchi said successful batteries often have specific applications, such as lead-acid ones for auto ignition or lithium-iodine for pacemakers. She said lithium-ion has worked well in cellphones and laptops, their initial use.

Batteries will improve "but not at the pace that we've seen in recent years," writes Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, in his 2012 book, Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines. He says the growing demand for portable electronics sped the development of already-known battery technologies. He says it will take awhile to commercialize new ones such as lithium-air.

Batteries are just one of many ways to store grid-scale energy. The most common is pumped hydroelectric, in which water is sent to a reservoir and released later to run generators.

"Storage is the glue that can hold the grid together," said Matthew Maroon of GE Energy. GE, which opened a $100 million factory in Schenectady, N.Y., to build a sodium nickel chloride battery, announced earlier this month that Invenergy will install its Brilliant wind turbine with Durathon batteries at a Texas wind farm later this year.

The U.S. government is promoting energy storage. In November, the Department of Energy announced grants for 23 R&D projects and picked Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill., as the first national "innovation hub" for batteries and energy storage. Argonne will receive $120 million over five years for this work.

Batteries are getting particular attention, because they're versatile. While pumped hydro facilities require lots of land and water and are meant for utility-scale projects, batteries can be used anywhere and are easily scalable so they can help power not only a car but a factory.

"Everyone's finally realizing, 'Hey, this works.'... It's the key to the future," says Brad Roberts of the Electricity Storage Association, an industry group. He says the industry's hiccups are part of its growth and adds: "I don't see any hesitation on the part of venture capitalists."

IBM's Allan Schurr is bullish on his company's new lithium-air battery, which takes in oxygen from the air to form a chemical reaction that generates an electric charge. It's lighter and denser than the lithium-ion ones in most of today's electric vehicles, which use heavy metal oxides to drive the chemical reactions that produce power.

"The performance we've seen in tests so far is at or above our expectations," he says. With 500 miles on a single charge, he says, "You'd take the 'range anxiety' out of the equation." The current Nissan Leaf gets up to 75 miles on a single charge, and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, 62 miles. Schurr expects a prototype to be developed next year, but its commercial availability will take at least five years.

Toshiba has developed a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the SCiB, that has a new oxide-based material, lithium titanate, that allows quicker charging times. It's used in the Honda Fit's EV and Mitsubishi's i-MiEV.
Huge lithium-ion batteries, filling 53-foot shipping containers, are being used for grid-scale projects. Since September 2011 on a ridge of Laurel Mountain in West Virginia, AES Storage has used them to store 64 megawatts of energy generated by windmills. That capacity, if it ran continuously, would be enough to power nearly 50,000 U.S. households for a year.

Batteries are also taking homes off the grid or providing back-up energy. SolarCity, a California-based solar installer, is piloting a back-up battery for some of its solar projects in California and may extend that option to other states this year. Minnesota-based Juhl Energy's SolarBank system pairs solar panels with batteries. Detroit-based Nextek Power Systems offers a portable off-grid option that combines a solar panel with a battery.

Ontario-based Electrovaya plans to bring to the U.S. market this year a residential system, now being tested in Canada, that would install solar panels and a big-enough lithium-ion battery that homes could go completely off grid. Sankar Das Gupta, the company's CEO, says it would cost less than $10,000 for an average-size home to add such a battery to a solar array.

"There's no one battery technology that is one-size-fits-all," says GE's Maroon. He says each has its own advantages and disadvantages, adding: "The market is big enough for each technology to survive."
American Vanadium says flow batteries that use vanadium last longer and are more powerful than lithium-ion ones, because they absorb and release huge amounts of energy quickly and can do so thousands of times. They can be used for grid-scale projects, and smaller lithium-vanadium batteries can power vehicles.

Radvak says if his project is approved, it could provide 5% of the world's vanadium supply and help reduce battery costs. The Bureau of Land Management, which is examining the project and will hold a public meeting Tuesday in Eureka, says the mine could cause a loss of habitat for greater sage grouse and of acreage for livestock grazing.

"There is no mining operation that doesn't have a consequence," Radvak says. But he says the Eureka mine won't involve moving lots of earth, because the vanadium is in surface deposits and can be simply leached with a sulfuric acid. "It's a very low-risk project," he says.

Radvak says while the U.S. has lagged behind other countries, notably Germany, on energy storage, he expects that in the long run, it will become the world's leader.

Batteries often work the same basic way even if they use different metals. They're mini power plants that produce electricity by creating chemical reactions. As atoms move between two plates of different metals, via a chemical solution called an electrolyte, they produce voltage that is discharged through a metal wire on the other side.
• Lead-acid: (auto ignition). They have atoms pass from a plate of metallic lead through sulfuric acid to a plate of solid lead oxide.
• Lithium-ion (personal electronics, electric vehicles). They have carbon on one end and a metal oxide on the other, using lithium salt in an organic compound as the electrolyte in the middle.
• Lithium-air (still in development; possible uses include electric vehicles). They use lithium metal and oxygen as inputs at the two ends.
• Nickel-cadmium (portable electronics, electric vehicles). Their metal plates are nickel oxide hydroxide and cadmium.
• Sodium-sulfur (electric vehicles, grid-scale storage). A type of molten-salt battery, it's made from liquid sodium and sulfur.
• Vanadium redox flow (grid-scale storage). They use vanadium, a metal named for Vanadis — the Scandinavian goddess of beauty and youth — in different oxidation states to store chemical energy for repeated use.

Fracking critics protest Michigan's oil, gas exploration lease auction

Story Appeared on The Detroit News

Lansing — The state Department of Natural Resources leased $1.4 million for oil and natural gas exploration on 36,970 acres of public land Thursday while hydraulic fracturing opponents protested.
Although exploration firms bought five-year leases on more than 98 percent of the land available at auction, 11 acres south of Rochester in Oakland County didn't attract any bids. Lease rates averaged $36.66 per acre, DNR spokesman Ed Golder said.

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing gathered outside a meeting room where the auction was held in the Lansing Center.

"We believe hydraulic fracturing should be banned and stopped in Michigan," said Charlevoix resident Ellis Boal, an attorney involved in a petition-circulation drive that aims to bring the oil and gas extraction method, also known as "fracking," to a state-wide vote in 2014.

Security was heavy. DNR and Lansing Police officers were almost as numerous as the 40 or so protesters who came from around the state.

Officers were checking bags and brief cases carried by those showing up to bid on parcels mostly concentrated in northern Lower Peninsula counties.

Golder said there were seven arrests when the DNR held its last oil and gas lease auction in October — after demonstrators became disruptive and entered the bidding room. There were no arrests Thursday.
The 37,652 acres up for bid Thursday was down from the average of about 100,000 acres. Revenue from the leases is earmarked for public land purchases and recreational area improvements.

Such auctions have been held since 1929 and hydraulic fracturing has been used for 50 years in Michigan with few problems. But concern has heightened because of controversies in other states about techniques such as horizontal drilling.

The fracking technique uses a water/chemical mixture pumped under high pressure to fracture shale rock formations and unleash oil or natural gas that can be pumped back to the surface.

Gov. Rick Snyder wants more exploration of Michigan's natural gas deposits to decrease dependence on coal from other states for energy generation.

But demonstrator Kurt Gleichman of Saline argued the state is selling the five-year leases at bargain prices and creating more reliance on fossil fuels that exacerbate climate change.

Exploration firms nominate the parcels, which then must be cleared by the DNR and Department of Environmental Quality.