Archive for the ‘Department of Energy’ Category

New DOE Secretary Moniz’s Big Ideas

Photo by jeanbaptisteparis. Some rights reserved.

Photo by jeanbaptisteparis. Some rights reserved.

New Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was just sworn in yesterday, but he’s already got big plans (and big hair!) for the future of energy in the U.S. Moniz, nuclear physicist and former head of MIT’s Energy Initiative, vowed in his first speech to move a big time, bi-partisan energy efficiency bill through Congress, and also to take a closer look at the merits of exporting natural gas and expanding into untapped markets. A DOE study from last year showed that the latter could prove quite helpful to the U.S. in the long-term global energy market.

“I want to… make sure that we are using up-to-date data and then we want to go forward on a case-by-case basis… in terms of evaluating licenses in as expeditious a way consistent with that review process,” said Moniz this week. He also said that he has no plans to commission new studies of natural gas exports until he has had time to review “personally” all of the existing studies. Moniz was voted into his new position by a unanimous Senate vote of 97-0 earlier this month after a nomination from the President in March.

Watch Moniz’s speech from the 2013 Energy Efficiency Global Forum here.

Expiring Wind PTC: Who Stands Where?

Photo by Francesco Gola. Some rights reserved.

In the intensifying battle over the extension of the wind energy production tax credit, a new tactic has emerged. The main lobby for extension, the American Wind Energy Association, on Wednesday announced its support for a middle ground solution. AWEA recommends a one-year extension, followed by a five-year gradual decrease in the PTC until it goes away completely. If gradually reduced until 2019, according to industry analysis, the PTC could be eliminated and a minimally viable industry could exist and be able to continue achieving cost reductions.

Our friends at Grist worry that this tactic essentially admits that the PTC is not actually needed, and that other renewable energy sources whose production tax credits expire soon, like solar, are left in a weaker position.

The tax credit, originally passed in 1992, has been extended three times. But now 17 days remain until its expiration, and the stakes are high for both sides.

Conservative groups argued in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday that the credit “essentially transfers taxpayer dollars from your constituents and subsidizes the states with such mandates.” The states without renewable electricity standards, mostly in the Southeast, Appalachia, and the Gulf Coast, generally have less installed wind power.

In addition, Republicans have pointed to the credit as a way to help close the deficit, as it will cost $12.1 billion over ten years. Not all Republicans are convinced, though. Joining many Democrats in voicing support for the extension are Republicans whose districts house more than 80% of wind installations.

Separately, the Department of Energy has offered some good news to the wind industry. DOE announced that seven projects will receive up to $4 million in grants to complete engineering, design, and permitting processes, and three of these will be selected to receive up to $47 million over four years with a target opening of 2017.

For readers to whom the above means anything, it is probably needless to say that DOE is optimistic about the energy potential from offshore wind generation. Data suggest that 4,000 GW of energy could be tapped in state and federal waters, which is four times the capacity of all existing US electric power plants.

Lighting the Fires of Commerce

On Wednesday, the Energy Department released a report conducted by NERA Economic Consulting regarding a move to increase U.S. natural gas exports and the possible effects on the domestic natural gas market.  Among the report’s key findings: “This report contains an analysis of the impact of exports of LNG on the U.S. economy under a wide range of different assumptions about levels of exports, global market conditions, and the cost of producing natural gas in the U.S… Across all these scenarios, the U.S. was projected to gain net economic benefits from allowing LNG exports. Moreover, for every one of the market scenarios examined, net economic benefits increased as the level of LNG exports increased.”  The potential economic benefits may soon result in some movement by the President, as Reuters noted, “The Obama administration has wrestled with how to manage the nation’s newfound shale gas for more than a year, putting export project approvals on hold pending the release of the economic report.”

The documents made available include: the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s analysis “Effect of Increased Natural Gas Exports on Domestic Energy Markets” as well as NERA’s study “Macroeconomic Impacts of LNG Exports from the United States” and a summary list of pending LNG export applications. The DOE is inviting the public to provide comment on the study.

DOE Promises to Take a Page From Its Own Book

Photo by oakridgelabnews. Some rights reserved.

As the New York Times points out, a new OIG Audit Report released yesterday suggests that the Department of Energy could stand to learn a thing or two themselves about how to better conserve energy at their own research facilities. The report, “Opportunities for Energy Savings at Department of Energy Facilities” (a title that flickers with the wry irony of post-modern authors like Pynchon and Vonnegut), concludes that if the DOE had pursued “readily available, low-cost energy-saving opportunities” at these facilities, they could have saved $6.6 million annually, nearly 1/7th of the current $42 million in “available energy-saving opportunities as defined by EISA 2007 requirements.”

The report goes on to discuss specific instances where unnecessarily wasteful practices have taken place at the five sites reviewed for the audit. At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for instance, the OIG found that by installing temperature redistribution fans and using speed drives on supply and exhaust air fans, the DOE could save $77,000 annually for an easy-fix measure that would cost only $7,000 for installation. Further, the auditors found a number of electricity meters at the Y-12 National Security Complex that simply were unknowingly malfunctioning, and that certain buildings had not been correctly inspected to determine if heating and lighting settings were operating as intended.

According to the “Management Reaction” section of the report, DOE Management at these sites “concurred with [the OIG’s] recommendations and provided actions that will be taken to address issues indentified in [the] report.”

More Efficiency Standards, and Transportation Finance

Photo by Andrew Curtis. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced its fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to curb U.S. dependency on oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a related measure, on Thursday President Obama issued an executive order to spur energy efficiency upgrades at manufacturing facilities across the country. Energy efficiency policy, put on the back burner for years, has hardly moved forward despite support from members of both political parties. Some of that support comes from DOE studies indicating that doubling the nation’s industrial efficiency could create 1 million skilled jobs and bring in $234 million of investment.

The directive aims to boost combined heat and power capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, an increase of 50 percent compared with today. Agencies will craft best practices and help states encourage combined heat and power implementation. The administration said that reaching the goals outlined in the order would reduce energy costs by $10 billion annually in addition to attracting $40 to $80 billion in private investment.

Combining heat and power facilities to produce both simultaneously on-site is more efficient than having separate facilities. By burning less fuel, the combined heat and power technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions and lowers energy costs. By having a fuel source on-site, manufacturing facilities are protected from electricity outages.

Also in the news are the fiscal policy repercussions of the new vehicle mileage standards announced earlier, because the requirements will make less fuel tax money available for road construction and maintenance. The highway trust fund, which pays for a large portion of road projects, will take a $71 billion hit due to the requirements. Already included in the current transportation bill, set to expire in 2014, are tax loopholes and fee increases to cover a $10 billion shortfall in gas tax revenue. Expect to hear more about financing transportation projects as the gas tax brings in less revenue in the future.

 

 

 

 

Update on Yucca Mountain: Abeyance Annoyance

Photo by musicalwds. Some rights reserved.

An August 3rd Order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held in abeyance Aiken County, N.C. et al., v. NRC, a case seeking to mandate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to act on the Department of Energy’s long-pending license application to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. The NRC is resisting, according to one of the concurring judges, “on the ground that it does not have sufficient appropriated funds to complete action on the license application (even though it has appropriated funds available to at least start).”

However, the judge continues, “[compelling the NRC] now would entail significant expenditures of government resources […and] Congress’s upcoming appropriations decisions could well affect whether those expenditures are necessary.” Therefore, in granting the abeyance, the Court asks that the parties “file, by no later than December 14, 2012, updates on the status of Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations with respect to the issues presented.”

In a recent memo, Law Firm Van Ness Feldman has a succinct recap of the project’s background – including the recent Order, as well as speculation on possible outcomes. You can also see other Green Mien posts on the Yucca Mountain saga here.

Sun for All, and All for Sun

The Sun

Photo by Alan Murray Welsh. Some rights reserved.

On Tuesday, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy released the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for a massive solar energy development initiative covering areas in six states. While the final approved land area constitutes only 40% of the land that was originally considered, it still represents a significant potential area for fast-tracked developments. This map shows the Solar Energy Zone locations and the availability of surrounding land under the program. Environmental concerns and the potential for expansion of zones or additional projects helped to shape the final zone map. The draft version of the Solar PEIS and the Mineral Potential Reports are also available.

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