Energy News

The EPA’s Fred Hauchman Talks About the Fracking Study –


In Binghamton, New York on Wednesday, hundreds of locals filled the Broome County Theater to speak their minds, two minutes a time, to four members of the Environmental Protection Agency. They voiced opinions about a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap into huge reserves of shale gas thousands of feet below ground. New York sits on one of the largest known reserves of natural gas, which many people, including President Obama, have called a new, crucial resource for the country.

But residents in places where fracking occurs have raised concerns that the process isn’t regulated enough — that it leaches dangerous chemicals into groundwater and contaminates it with methane gas. Proponents believe that natural gas development can be a huge boon for the area, and drilling needs to happen as soon as possible.

Fracking, which is state regulated, isn’t legal in New York yet, and there was enough of an uproar about these issues that locals called for the EPA to step in and study the process. (Fracking involves injecting fluids into cracks in rock thousands of feet underground to increase the volume of gas collected. It’s long been legal in New York to do this along a vertical well column. But the more controversial horizontal fracking, which creates fractures on either side of a well drilled horizontally through a layer of gas-rich rock, remains illegal in New York for now.)

People on all sides are clamoring for the study, which is expected to be completed by 2012. The pro-fracking camp believes that good science will exonerate the practice. Anti-frackers want to know the process is safe before companies start drilling for shale. The EPA is under pressure.

After the hearing, Fortune spoke with Fred Hauchman, the Director of Science Policy about the task ahead of him. He offered insight about how to get good scientific results in a short timeframe, the EPA’s communication challenge and the benefit of getting face time with the people.

Why did the EPA agree to study this?

Natural gas is important to the country, but at the same time a lot of concerns have been expressed. And the public deserves to have answers to their questions.

How do you design a study that’s going to yield answers in just two years?

Unquestionably it will take resources and it will take a lot of focus and energy. I don’t think any of us have any illusions that we’ll have all the answers in two years. But we’re convinced that we can do research over this period of time that will be very informative.

What’s going to be the main focus?

We were directed by Congress to focus our efforts on drinking water. But people have said, several times, take a comprehensive look at hydraulic fracturing — you can’t just look at one part of it. We see a challenge there — obviously, we can only do so much with the resources we have and the time we have. But we need to consider those comments.

How long will it take?

We have this two-year timeframe, during which we expect to get good results, which we would characterize as preliminary. We know that there are going to continue to be questions. Any researcher will tell you we have to keep studying this. This is a big task we’ve taken on, and we anticipate that research will have to go on beyond that two-year period.

How many people in the EPA will work on this?

We’ve not fully resourced it. Right now we just know it’s going to take a sizeable effort.

It’s been identified as one of the top priorities for our Office of Research and Development. That came right out of the assistant administrator’s mouth.

Do you have an idea of the plan of attack?

We’re going to propose to the Science Advisory Board that some part of the study look at operations before they begin, in addition to testing sites during development and after drilling has started. We’re also looking retrospectively because the states have information through their regulatory activities. We’re looking at existing data that we have in hand that can help us, but we’re also looking at doing studies alongside fracturing operations.

People on both sides are so passionate about this. Is drilling for natural gas getting more scrutiny than methods of producing other kinds of fuels?

Everybody’s looking at this study. I think it’s fair to say that this administration has come in and told us from the get go that transparency is the hallmark of everything we do. I think this is a great example of that. It’s to our benefit. Venues like this with input from the public are very, very helpful.

Do you consider it the EPA’s responsibility to keep educating people once the results come out?

Sure, we’re going to need to go to great lengths to help with the interpretation of what’s likely to be a very complex study in the end. There are a lot of technical issues, and unless you’re an expert in that area, it’s difficult to get your head around it. We’re going to need to go the extra mile to translate and respond to questions.

You’ve sat through four four-hour sessions within the past two days. You must be exhausted.

Actually it’s good. It’s important for us to hear real concerns. What a great opportunity for science to really inform some very important decisions.



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Why Isn’t There a Google of Energy? –


New York, New York — We often wonder when the next Google of clean energy will materialize. When will the lone inventor finally emerge from his garage to change the world and solve our energy problems? What stealth company will bring the establishment to its knees? Our recent experience with IT makes these questions seem relevant. But some analysts say they ignore the realities of energy.

“It’s a dangerous distraction,” says Mark Bünger, a research director with Lux Research. “There’s such a long distance between invention and implementation in these really physical technologies.”

It’s convenient to compare solar cell manufacturing to chip manufacturing or smart meters to personal computers. But a variety of factors make these sectors very different, says Bünger.

Firstly, the regulatory barriers in energy mean that projects often take a long time to develop. This will make the transition to renewables less like the IT Revolution and more of an evolution. Secondly, while information technologies were being deployed within an entirely new framework, energy technologies are competing against well-established incumbents. And thirdly, the capital needed to roll out renewable energies is orders of magnitude greater than in IT.

There’s basically zero variable cost associated with information technologies. And that’s exactly the opposite of most renewable energy technologies,” Bünger says.

The path to commercial adoption in energy is littered with all kinds of financial, political and regulatory barriers. These make it difficult for entrepreneurs and start-up companies to bring technologies to market.

This brings us to the “Valley of Death,” the gap between venture capital and project finance. The Valley of Death is where a technology is too capital intensive for a venture capital firm to continue investing, but too risky for a bank or private equity firm to bring it to scale. This gap is particularly wide in renewable energy where many technologies are still unproven and up-front capital needs are much higher.

If a framework for financing next-generation renewables is not established, say experts, new game-changing technologies will get stuck in this lonely Valley and wither away before they reach their potential.

That’s what this week’s podcast is all about: How to cross the Valley of Death.

Listen to the podcast…

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Wind Turbine Projects Run Into Resistance

Published: August 26, 2010

BARSTOW, Calif. — The United States military has found a new menace hiding here in the vast emptiness of the Mojave Desert in California: wind turbines.

Moving turbine blades can be indistinguishable from airplanes on many radar systems, and they can even cause blackout zones in which planes disappear from radar entirely. Clusters of wind turbines, which can reach as high as 400 feet, look very similar to storm activity on weather radar, making it harder for air traffic controllers to give accurate weather information to pilots.

Although the military says no serious incidents have yet occurred because of the interference, the wind turbines pose an unacceptable risk to training, testing and national security in certain regions, Dr. Dorothy Robyn, deputy under secretary of defense, recently told a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Because of its concerns, the Defense Department has emerged as a formidable opponent of wind projects in direct conflict with another branch of the federal government, the Energy Department, which is spending billions of dollars on wind projects as part of President Obama’s broader effort to promote renewable energy.

“I call it the train wreck of the 2000s,” said Gary Seifert, who has been studying the radar-wind energy clash at the Idaho National Laboratory, an Energy Department research facility. “The train wreck is the competing resources for two national needs: energy security and national security.”

In 2009, about 9,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects were abandoned or delayed because of radar concerns raised by the military and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a member survey by the American Wind Energy Association. That is nearly as much as the amount of wind capacity that was actually built in the same year, the trade group says.

Collisions between the industry and the military have occurred in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon-Washington border and in the Great Lakes region. But the conflicts now appear to be most frequent in the Mojave, where the Air Force, Navy and Army control 20,000 square miles of airspace and associated land in California and Nevada that they use for bomb tests; low-altitude, high-speed air maneuvers; and radar testing and development.

When the developer Scott Debenham told local Navy and Air Force officials in June that he was working on plans to install a wind turbine at three industrial locations near the area overseen by the military, they expressed opposition to all of the projects, saying that even one additional turbine would interfere with critical testing of radar systems.

The military says that the thousands of existing turbines in the gusty Tehachapi Mountains, to the west of the R-2508 military complex in the Mojave Desert, have already limited its abilities to test airborne radar used for target detection in F/A-18s and other aircraft.

“We cannot test in certain directions because of the presence of wind turbines in the Tehachapi area,” said Tony Parisi, the complex’s sustainability officer. “Our concern is construction in other areas will further limit where we can do this kind of testing.”

As a result of the military’s opposition, Horizon Wind Energy recently withdrew three project applications in the area. AES Wind Generation said it found out in May, after nine years of planning, that the military had objections to its proposal to build a 82.5-megawatt, 33-turbine wind farm.

Mr. Debenham, a former naval officer, said he understood the concerns but that the military was overstating them. A similar turbine just went up on a nearby Marine base. “It’s standing proof that these single turbines are not an unmitigatable threat to national security,” he said. (Mr. Parisi said the military was assessing whether the interference would force it to shut down the base’s turbine, which cost $6 million to install.)

The impact of wind turbines on radar had been a back-burner concern for years, but it heated up in March, when the Defense Department put a last-minute halt to the $2 billion, 338-turbine Shepherds Flat wind project in Oregon out of concern the turbines would impair the effectiveness of long-range surveillance radar.

The department eventually withdrew its opposition after an internal analysis indicated the effect on radar would not be as severe as initially thought and an outside study identified measures that could be taken to mitigate the interference. However, the Pentagon soon raised concerns about another wind project in the area, saying it could interfere with the very same radar.

Mark Tholke, regional director for the wind energy developer enXco, said that the objections could make wind energy less competitive. “It makes investors and banks jittery,” he said. “They will increasingly view these as risky projects and push up the financial terms.”

Mr. Tholke said three of four wind projects in enXco’s current portfolio have been delayed because of radar concerns. One of the projects has been reduced in size to 140 megawatts from 250 megawatts to appease a military contractor worried about radar impacts.

Eliminating turbine clutter on radar is complicated. Part of the challenge is that many radar systems in use in the United States date back to the 1950s and have outdated processing capabilities — in some cases, less than those of a modern laptop computer. While there are technology fixes to ease interference on these aging systems, it can be tricky to filter out just the turbines.

On radar, “a wind turbine can look like a 747 on final approach,” said Peter Drake, technical director at Raytheon, a major provider of radar systems. “We don’t want to have the software eliminate a real 747.”

The Energy Department says the problem should be solvable through new technologies. “We are confident that investments in mitigation measures, including new coatings or materials for wind turbines, alternative configurations for wind farms, gap-filler radar or software patches, and investments over time in upgrades to modernize radar systems, will enable the continued deployment of wind power across the country,” said Jen Stutsman, a spokeswoman for the agency.

But some observers say this piecemeal approach does not go far enough.

“I can’t imagine a better example of everyone wanting to do the right thing and nobody doing it,” said Howard Swancy, an aviation consultant and former F.A.A. official. “We need an infrastructure-size development plan.”

Mr. Debenham just wants his three individual turbines to win approval. The concerns of the local military have been directed to Washington for review. In the meantime, millions of dollars in financing and renewable energy incentives are, well, twisting in the wind.

“I’m in limbo. My customers are in limbo,” he said. “Can you tell anyone in Obama’s office?”

Read the article on The New York Times website.

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Calif. Leads In Clean Energy, But Challenges Loom


California has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to renewable power, and the state’s clean energy business is flourishing. One of the first large-scale wind farms in the country was built just outside the Bay Area at the Altamont Pass, and this year, California regulators are reviewing twice as many renewable power contracts as last year.

More of those projects are coming online, including a 16-acre solar farm outside of Sacramento a few weeks ago.

The reason for this boom has to do with ambitious clean energy goals the state announced in 2002. But reaching those goals is proving to be a challenge.

Aiming Too High?

California’s long-term goal is for utilities is get one-third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. In the short term, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants that number to be 20 percent by the end of this year.

“California is a world leader in protecting the environment and in fighting global warming, and we have done an extraordinary job — not only for California but also inspiring other states and other nations to do exactly the same,” Schwarzenegger said when announcing the 33 percent goal two years ago.

California isn’t expected to meet its short-term goal, though it is estimated that the state will clock in close to their target at around 18 to 19 percent. Thanks to a three-year grace period, the state’s utilities won’t be penalized for being a year or two behind.

But many believe the governor’s goal for 2020 will be even harder to hit. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, it will require an unprecedented effort — at least a doubling of transmission lines and a doubling of renewable energy, thanks to a growing energy appetite.

“I think a lot of people have doubts about whether or not the utilities can do it,” says Tom Bottorff, a senior vice president at PG&E Corporation. “I’m in the camp that believes that it’s feasible and doable, and we’re working very hard to make sure that happens.”

Listen to the story on and check back for more parts in the series!

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A Battle in Mining Country Pits Coal Against Wind

Published: August 14, 2010

ROCK CREEK, W.Va. – LORELEI SCARBRO’S husband, Kenneth, an underground coal miner for more than 30 years, is buried in a small family cemetery near her property here at the base of Coal River Mountain. The headstone is engraved with two roosters facing off, their feathers ruffled. Kenneth, who loved cockfighting, died in 1999, and, Ms. Scarbro says, he would have hated seeing the tops of mountains lopped off with explosives and heavy machinery by mining companies searching for coal.

Critics say the practice, known as “mountaintop removal mining,” is as devastating to the local environment as it is economically efficient for coal companies, one of which is poised to begin carving up Coal River Mountain. And that has Ms. Scarbro and other residents of western Raleigh County in a face-off of their own.

Their goal is to save the mountain, and they intend to do so with a wind farm. At least one study has shown that a wind project could be a feasible alternative to coal mining here, although the coal industry’s control over the land and the uncertain and often tenuous financial prospects of wind generation appear to make it unlikely to be pursued. That, residents say, would be a mistake.

“If we don’t stop this,” Ms. Scarbro says, adjusting the flowers on her husband’s grave, “one day we’ll be standing on a big pile of rock and debris, and we’ll be asking, ‘What do we do now?’ ”

For many renewable-energy advocates outside the region, the struggle at Coal River Mountain has become emblematic of an effort across the country to find alternatives to fossil fuels. They have lent money, expertise and high-profile celebrities like Daryl Hannah and James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist, to help residents advance their case for wind power and to make it a test case for others pursuing similar projects nationwide.

The mountain, which is privately owned and leased to coal interests, is also one of the last intact mountaintops in a region whose contours have otherwise been irreversibly altered by extreme surface-mining techniques. Preserving its peaks for a wind farm, plan advocates say, could provide needed job diversification for impoverished towns that otherwise live or die by the fortunes of coal.

Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy, the largest coal company in West Virginia and the one planning to cut into Coal River Mountain’s peaks, has repeatedly called assertions of long- and short-term environmental damage exaggerated.

“There are a lot of misstatements out there,” Mr. Blankenship says. “I don’t find the environmental damage to be nearly what people say they find it to be, and we’re struggling with whether the true objective of all these regulations is to protect the environment, or whether it’s simply to stop the mining of coal.”

While the odds remain slim that wind power will replace coal mining here, proponents say that changes in state and federal mining regulations could tilt things in their favor.

Read the rest of the article at The New York Times

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In Crackdown on Energy Use, China to Shut 2,000 Factories

Published: August 9, 2010

HONG KONG — Earlier this summer, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China promised to use an “iron hand” to improve his country’s energy efficiency, and a growing number of businesses are now discovering that it feels like a fist.
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Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A miner unloads coal from a train in Hefei, in China’s Anhui Province last week. China, which relies heavily on coal for its energy needs, has announced the closing of 2,087 energy-intensive factories.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology quietly published a list late Sunday of 2,087 steel mills, cement works and other energy-intensive factories required to close by Sept. 30.

Energy analysts described it as significant step toward the country’s energy efficiency goals, but not enough by itself to achieve them.

Over the years, provincial and municipal officials have sometimes tried to block Beijing’s attempts to close aging factories in their jurisdictions. These officials have particularly sought to protect older steel mills and other heavy industrial operations that frequently have thousands of employees and have sometimes provided workers with housing, athletic facilities and other benefits since the 1950s or 1960s.

To prevent such local obstruction this time, the ministry said in a statement on its Web site that the factories on its list would be barred from obtaining bank loans, export credits, business licenses and land. The ministry even warned that their electricity would be shut off, if necessary.

The goal of the factory closings is “to enhance the structure of production, heighten the standard of technical capability and international competitiveness and realize a transformation of industry from being big to being strong,” the ministry said.

The announcement was the latest in a series of Chinese moves to increase energy efficiency. The National Development and Reform Commission, which is the government’s most powerful economic planning agency, announced last Friday that it had forced 22 provinces to halt their practice of providing electricity at discounted prices to energy-hungry industries like aluminum production.

The current Chinese five-year plan calls for using 20 percent less energy this year for each unit of economic output than in 2005. But surging production by heavy industry since last winter has put in question China’s ability to meet the target.

The success or failure of China’s energy efficiency campaign is being watched closely not just by economists, who cite the campaign as one reason that growth of the Chinese economy has slowed down a little this summer, but also by climate scientists.

China’s energy consumption rose so sharply last winter that it produced the biggest surge ever of greenhouse gases by a single country. Power plants burned more coal to generate enough electricity to meet demand.

As China has become increasingly dependent on imported oil and coal, its national security establishment has become more visibly involved in energy policy and energy security, including efforts to improve energy efficiency.

Efficiency improved 14.4 percent in the first four years of the current plan, only to deteriorate by 3.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to official statistics. Mr. Wen responded by convening a special meeting of the cabinet in May to address the situation.

Energy efficiency was only 0.09 percent worse in the first half of this year than in the same period in 2009, according to statistics released last week. Energy analysts said those statistics indicated improvement in efficiency in the second quarter that nearly offset the deterioration in the first quarter, although the government has not released separate figures for the second quarter.

Zhou Xizhou, an associate director for IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Beijing, said that the ministry’s new list of factory closings was a strong measure to improve efficiency. But he added that China’s goal of achieving a 20 percent improvement by the end of this year compared with 2005 “is still a tall order for the rest of the year.”

The ministry said in its statement that the factories to be closed would include 762 that make cement, 279 that produce paper, 175 that manufacture steel and 84 that process leather.

The factories were chosen after discussions with provincial and municipal officials to identify industrial operations with outdated, inefficient technology, the ministry said.

The ministry did not provide figures for the percentage of capacity to be closed in each industrial sector. The ministry also did not say how many employees would be affected.

Closing factories is more palatable now than in the past because a labor shortage in many cities has made it easier for workers, particularly young ones, to find other jobs.

The list of steel mills to be closed appeared to emphasize smaller, older mills producing fairly low-end grades of steel. Edward Meng, the chief financial officer of China Gerui Advanced Materials, a steel-processing company in central China’s Henan province, said that the closing of such mills was consistent with the government’s broader goals of consolidating the steel sector and pushing steel makers into the production of more sophisticated kinds of steel.

The International Energy Agency in Paris announced last month that China surpassed the United States last year as the world’s largest consumer of energy.

China passed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2006. That milestone came earlier because of China’s heavy reliance on coal, an especially dirty fossil fuel in terms of emission of gases contributing to global climate change.

In addition to the energy efficiency objective in the current five-year plan, a plan announced by President Hu Jintao late last year called for China to reduce its carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. Carbon emissions are a measurement of a country’s man-made emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Even if China meets its energy efficiency goal this year and its carbon goal by 2020, its total carbon emissions are still on track to rise steeply in the next decade, according to forecasts by the International Energy Agency. That is because of factors including rapid growth in the Chinese economy, growing car ownership and rising ownership of household appliances.

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The Natural Gas Revolution


Even energy experts tend to forget the enormous impact unanticipated events can have on markets and public policy. Today there are two developments that have the potential to cause dramatic change: the existence of enormous reserves of natural gas and the BP spill.

As recently as two years ago, we had no idea that there were vast natural gas resources in unconventional reservoirs like coal seams, tight sand and shales in the United States and elsewhere. That’s the positive surprise. On the negative side, the severity of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could well turn the global public against oil and natural gas exploration.

If the past is any guide, accidents in the energy sector profoundly affect this country’s energy outlook. Reactor incidents at the nuclear power stations at Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979 and in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986 interrupted nuclear power plant construction in the U.S. and Europe for two decades. The 1973 oil embargo by OPEC and the 1978-79 oil crisis caused by the fall of the Shah in Iran permanently changed expectations about the security of the oil supply and the long-term price trend.

The BP spill will certainly lead to a major review of the risks involved in offshore drilling. Re-examining operating practices and regulations will likely take more than a year, during which time new deepwater operations will be curtailed. The danger is that public attitudes and government policy will lead to an extended period of reduced investment and licensing.

Some observers will characterize the blowout as an exceptional case due to chance or negligence. Others will see it as evidence of general inattention. Few will recall the facilities in the Gulf survived Hurricane Katrina in 2006, an unusually stressing event, without appreciable problems.

Yet even as we endlessly debate U.S. energy and climate policy in the wake of the BP gusher, we aren’t spending enough time considering what’s on the horizon—particularly natural gas’s transition from a dwindling to an abundant resource. According to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), natural gas could become a much more important fuel for the U.S. in the coming decades.

In its 2010 International Energy Outlook, the EIA predicts growth in natural gas production principally from shale in Latin America, China, Australia, North Africa and the former Soviet Union. Global unconventional gas production is projected to increase to 7.9 trillion cubic feet in 2035 (1/3 of total natural gas production) from its 2008 level of 3.5 trillion cubic feet (about 1/6 of total production). The 2010 EIA projection of world-wide production of unconventional gas increases at 5.2% per year between 2008 and 2035, compared to 1.4% for total gas production.

What will this mean? In the short run, natural gas will displace coal in the electricity sector. This will significantly lower carbon emissions. In terms of renewable energy, low-cost natural gas will make hybrid solar plants that use both sunlight and natural gas to make electricity more economically attractive.

As oil gets more expensive and natural gas cheaper, there will also be an enormous incentive to use far more natural gas in the transportation sector. Compressed natural gas can power buses, medium-duty trucks and light-duty vehicles that operate in urban environments close to fueling stations.

But the U.S. is far behind the rest of the world in using this source of energy for transportation. As of 2009, Pakistan led the world with 2.4 million vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas and over 3,000 fueling stations. By comparison, the U.S. had about 100,000 such vehicles and 1,300 stations, consuming 0.1% of the 12 million barrels of oil per day devoted to transportation.

The penetration of natural gas into the U.S. market will be determined by the cost of kits to convert gasoline-fueled vehicles to natural gas. That cost should decline sharply with scale, new vehicle offerings, the availability of fueling stations, and, of course, continuation of the favorable cost of natural gas compared to motor gasoline.

Even 10% penetration in the next decade or two would displace 1.2 million barrels of oil per day. This may not be decisive, but it certainly could have as big of an impact as other proposals to reduce import dependence, like gasohol (a mixture of motor gasoline and ethanol from corn).

Natural gas can also be transformed into liquid fuels, such as methanol, for transportation or industrial use at a production cost that I estimate to be approximately $45-$60 per barrel of product. This is expensive, but lower than the likely price of crude oil and the anticipated cost of synthetic liquids from coal or shale (plus it has less carbon emissions).

The continued expansion of gas pipelines around the world, as well as the expanding trade of liquefied natural gas, indicate a movement toward a global market for natural gas similar to oil, and ultimately with a single world price. A global price implies major changes in patterns of gas trade between the North American market, where gas is priced to coal, and the Asian market, where gas is priced to oil. Because coal is cheaper than oil on an energy efficient basis, this means that current natural gas prices in North America are $4 per thousand cubic feet compared to $10 per thousand cubic feet in Asia.

That’s where things seem to be heading now, but our thinking should remain agile. There undoubtedly will be other energy surprises that will disrupt conventional thinking.

Political instability or military conflict in the Persian Gulf could create a lengthy supply disruption, while a resolution with Iran could lead to welcome additions to world supply. An extended global economic downturn would reduce demand but also reduce energy investment critical for the future. Unexpected advances in photovoltaics, batteries or biofuels likely will change the affordability of new technologies.

The U.S. should have a comprehensive, long-term energy strategy. But when unforeseen events arise, we should adjust as necessary to take advantage of unexpected opportunity.

Mr. Deutch is a professor at MIT and former under secretary of the Department of Energy. He currently serves on the board of directors of Cheniere Energy and was formerly on the boards of Schlumberger, CMS Energy and Citigroup.

Read the article on The Wall Street Journal

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Wind Turbines too Loud?

By WILLIAM YARDLEY via The New York Times
Published: July 31, 2010

IONE, Ore. — Residents of the remote high-desert hills near here have had an unusual visitor recently, a fixer working out the kinks in clean energy.

Patricia Pilz of Caithness Energy, a big company from New York that is helping make this part of Eastern Oregon one of the fastest-growing wind power regions in the country, is making a tempting offer: sign a waiver saying you will not complain about excessive noise from the turning turbines — the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the future, advocates say — and she will cut you a check for $5,000.

“Shall we call it hush money?” said one longtime farmer, George Griffith, 84. “It was about as easy as easy money can get.”

Mr. Griffith happily accepted the check, but not everyone is taking the money. Even out here — where the recession has steepened the steady decline of the rural economy, where people have long supported the massive dams that harness the Columbia River for hydroelectric power, where Oregon has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives to cultivate alternative energy — pockets of resistance are rising with the windmills on the river banks.

Residents in small towns are fighting proposed projects, raising concerns about threats to birds and big game, as well as about the way the giant towers and their blinking lights spoil some of the West’s most alluring views.

Here, just west of where the Columbia bends north into Washington, some people are fighting turbines that are already up and running. In a region where people often have to holler to be heard over the roar of the wind across the barren hills, they say it is the windmills that make too much noise.

Read the entire article on New York Times

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President gives $2 billion to new solar projects

The president is allotting an additional $2 billion dollars in conditional funds to the Department of Energy specifically to help solar companies. One of the companies o receive funds is planning the largest solar farm in the world!

This is a very good, but slow start. Real change needs real reform- in the way of legislation, not just throwing money at the problem. Not that the money isn’t appreciated, but ongoing funds, subsidies, and objectives are needed and not just for solar- but wind, tide, and research for other green technologies.

On top of that we need to come up with a plan to phase out coal and oil as a fuel source and even as a cheap plastic source. Coal is friggin dirty- it’s really bad. Oil is needed for more important things over the next several thousand years to be used in cars- and we need to get out from under the thumb of foreign oil control.

Time for real change! This is a good beginning but we can’t stop here!

-Chris Lyon
Editor of “Haynesville”

Read the USA Today article:

Watch the President’s address at:

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Oil Spill Makes Landfall in Florida: “Now, it’s everyone’s problem.”

For weeks, the residents of Florida’s northwest Panhandle had clung to a belief that the BP oil spill devastating the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama would bypass their famous ivory-white beaches. Until now, it had: despite an intermittent spitting of tar balls and the encroachment of a thin petro-sheen on the horizon, charitable winds and currents kept the real mess from washing ashore and threatening the Panhandle’s critical summer season — as well as Florida’s $60 billion tourism industry.

But the Sunshine State’s luck turned to muck this week when a mat of oil, weathered but still thicker than a sheen, began to blanket popular Pensacola Beach, prompting Florida’s first spill-related beach closures. Thursday evening, saucer-size crude patties and large oil puddles still pockmarked the sand up and down the shore. The area beaches reopened Friday morning after the filth was adequately cleared, but the psychological as well as physical damage was done. “As long as the wind was keeping it away offshore, there was a sense of optimism,” says Meg Peltier, head of the Gulf Breeze, Fla., Chamber of Commerce (and no relation to this story’s author). “But when it finally came ashore, it took the wind out of a lot of people’s sails.”

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