Posts Tagged ‘Energy future’


Green Energy Rush Hit by Headwinds

OFF THE COAST OF KENT, England—A phalanx of sleek white windmills, rising nearly 400 feet out of the North Sea, is just the start of one of the world’s most audacious green-energy programs.

The turbines are part of a project expected to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it is completed later this year. But only for a while, because it’s a prelude to something much bigger. In a few years, its developer, Swedish energy company Vattenfall AB, plans to start a new project farther offshore, in deeper waters, with turbines as tall as London’s 580-foot Gherkin skyscraper.

Just one problem: Vattenfall has no idea how it’s going to build it. “The equipment we need to operate in such rough waters doesn’t exist yet,” says Ole Bigum Nielsen, the project manager.

Europe is making a huge bet on wind energy. Because there is little room in its crowded countryside for sprawling wind-tower complexes, planners are increasingly looking to the sea. Europe’s current 2,000 megawatts of offshore generating capacity will grow at least 40,000 megawatts by 2020, enough to power more than 25 million households, the European Wind Energy Association predicts.

Britain is making the biggest wind wager. By offering generous incentives, the U.K. already has built more offshore wind power than any other nation. Now it is planning a wave of vast new wind farms, in some of Europe’s stormiest waters.

The U.K.’s commitment is driven by stringent European Union targets. To meet them, Britain will have to raise the share of its electricity that comes from renewable sources to about 30% by 2020. It’s just 7% now. The U.K. also adopted a “carbon budget” a year ago, committing to reduce emissions to at least 34% below 1990 levels by 2018-2022.

Some dismiss the windmills as quixotic. Wind energy needs massive subsidies to be economic. The cost to carry out Britain’s plans is estimated at $150 billion. Some predict a consumer backlash against resulting higher energy bills. And many more challenges await, judging from those the project at Kent faced, ranging from the need to protect marine worms to a design flaw that causes turbines to sink into their foundations.

( read more )


Five Questions: Kallenberg sits on the Chris Garcia Hotseat – Statesman.com, Cox Newspapers

We spoke to Gregory Kallenberg, director of the documentary “Haynesville: A Nation’s Hunt for Energy.”

The film “takes place in the Louisiana backwoods, and follows the momentous discovery of the largest natural gas field in the United States — and maybe the world. It examines the historic find — a formation called the “Haynesville Shale” — from the personal level as well as from the higher perspective of the current energy picture and pending energy future.” (Kallenberg is a former reporter for the American-Statesman.)

More about the movie and its trailer HERE.

How did you come across this subject and what made it seem worthy of its own movie?

Gregory Kallenberg: Well before anyone knew the massive scale of the Haynesville discovery, there was this buzz going around northwest Louisiana. You couldn’t go anywhere without people whispering about “secret wells” and leasing checks being written for “millions of dollars.” It was this surreal “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” moment that makes you want to pick up a camera, hit the REC button and see what happens. At that point, the film was going to be a story about people’s experiences with this weird boomtown hysteria. Once we found out that all of this was true AND the impact of this find would have national impact, we knew we had a film that could address the bigger issue of energy, its human cost and what role that energy could play in our energy future.

What’s the film’s narrative and who are the main players?

The movie documents the discovery of the largest natural gas field in the U.S. The find, called the Haynesville Shale, has an estimated $1.75 trillion in gas and contains more energy than Brazil and Mexico combined. The film follows the beginning fervor of the Haynesville Shale and its effect on three people’s lives. Kassi, a single mom, fights for her community’s environmental rights. Pastor Reegis is an African American preacher who believes that God has delivered the Haynesville Shale and its riches to his congregation. And Mike, a self-described “country boy,” wrestles with the idea of giving up his pristine land in exchange for becoming an “overnight millionaire.” At the same time, you see academics, environmentalists and pundits discuss the broader impact of this find.

Your movie arrives amid a flux of activist docs about energy, conservation and food production. What does yours add to the dialogue?

“Haynesville” is unique in that it avoids the current trap of being a histrionic first-person, hyper-biased film. My goal as a filmmaker was to make a balanced piece about energy and its human cost and larger perceived benefit. I want people to see that energy is an amazingly complicated issue with very few easy answers. What’s most important to me is that people walk out of this film and start the conversation that will lay the foundation for our energy future. For the first time in history, I believe all of us have the power to chart the course for a clean energy future, and I hope “Haynesville” helps start that movement.

What do you think should be done with the Haynesville Shale? Are you conspicuously stepping aside from the argument or does the film make your point?

While I hope the film communicates my point, I will provide a bit of a spoiler here. I personally think we should have gotten off of coal yesterday. The extraction of coal is environmentally obscene and the emissions from coal are borderline poisonous. That said, I only believe in the use of vast energy sources like the Haynesville if we can figure out how to extract in as safe a way as possible that’s fair to landowners and environmentally responsible. If the gas industry and the environmental movement can work together on this, then we have a good shot at a clean energy future.

You screened the movie in Copenhagen at the big climate summit. What was the response? Are you galvanizing people and opinion?

Our screening in Copenhagen was an amazing experience for three reasons: 1) I had the unique opportunity to show my film at the world’s premiere environmental conference. 2) I saw an audience made up of environmentalists and energy lobbyists nodding together at the screen and, afterwards, coming together and discussing the film’s message. And 3) I fulfilled my life’s dream of eating Danish danishes and, I’m happy to report, they were way better than I ever imagined.

( read more )


I Feel Another Coal Rant Coming On – HaynesvillePlay.com

Coal is getting under my skin again. Two things in particular are bothering me: coal ash and the myth of “clean coal.”

In catching up on articles this past weekend, I read an article in Sierramagazine about the problems associated with the coal ash ponds created by the huge coal-fired electric plant in Colstrip, MT. As coal is burned, it leaves behind a certain amount of residue, but unlike the wood in our fireplace, coal ash is filled with dangerous heavy metals and toxins, including mercury. Some of the ash is turned into building materials, but much of it wastes away in holding ponds along with sludge from srubbers that remove a portion of the pollutants from the smokestacks. Unfortunately these ponds lead to even more pollution as the chemicals in the water both leech into the groundwater and evaporate into the air.

I also saw a piece in the New York Times about the difficulties in cleaning up the massive coal ash spill in Kingston, TN. This massive spill in 2008 made us all aware of the dangers of these holding ponds. Outside of the sheer magnitude of the cleanup (the article notes that the disaster spilled “5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash across 300 acres into the Emory River and an affluent shoreline community near Knoxville(,) enough ash to cover a square mile five feet deep.”), the cleanup crews are having trouble finding appropriate dumping grounds for the sediment. The spilled ash is horrible stuff, filled with heavy metals that can lead to cancer, and not many landfills can handle it, especially not in these massive volumes. The one landfill that does take the sludge, located in tiny Uniontown, AL, has received so much rain lately that it has to deal with 100,000 gallons of tainted water per day as a result. The cleanup contractors are looking across the southeast for sites to process the tainted water, including in my home state of Louisiana. That situation is not yet resolved.

It is hard for me to believe the environmental furor over hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a practice that has not created a single documented instance of groundwater contamination, when there are hundreds of these toxic retention ponds at coal plants all over the country, many of which are classified by the EPA as “high hazards” or disaster sites (see map below). I can certainly understand the desire to avoid other potential new hazards, but the outrage directed towards fracking, especially in the Northeast, would be much better spent preventing the spread of toxic pollution associated with coal-fired power plants.

Which brings me to the oxymoron of “clean coal.” It makes my head hurt to try to find two words that go less well together. That large scale carbon sequestration and storage (CSS) has not yet been demonstrated is fairly well known, but what happens if it is finally possible? The amount of carbon captured for storage from coal generating plants would be huge. We would quickly run out of places to store it. On top of that, coal plants would have to burn lots more coal just to power the CSS process. Talk about a win-win for the coal industry!

Read entire article.

( read more )


Visualizing The U.S. Electric Grid – NPR.org

The U.S. electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines. Aging infrastructure, combined with a rise in domesticelectricity consumption, has forced experts to critically examine the status and health of the nation’s electrical systems.

View interactive graphic.

( read more )


Small Town, Big Find: The energy debate gets personal in ‘Haynesville’ – Austin Chronicle

By Joe O’Connell

The Rev. Reegis Richard was wandering through a field, hungrily eyeing a dilapidated former school and dreaming of the possibilities, when a Haynesville producer climbed over a fence out of curiosity. Five minutes later, a camera crew was set up, says documentary director Gregory Kallenberg.

It was the sort of serendipitous moment that has guided his documentary, which explores how a massive shale natural gas find in Louisiana is both fueling the dreams of Louisiana’s downtrodden and crushing them, while providing a potential solution to our nation’s energy thirst.

Richard sees the bucketloads of cash the find is bringing to the area as the fulfillment of a personal prophecy to save his dirt-poor African-American neighbors. “He truly believes God gave him these riches,” Kallenberg says. “He wants to give back to a congregation that literally has nothing. He ends up being this incredibly inspirational character. His passion I hope comes through on the camera.”

It does, as the preacher uses the sudden riches to bring the school back to life on screen. Kallenberg interweaves Richard’s story along with those of Mike Smith, a good old boy who finds himself a sudden multimillionaire from the shale his 300 acres of land contains, and – perhaps the doc’s most gripping character – Kassi Fitzgerald, a single mother who turns into a driven community activist to make sure both her economically depressed neighbors and the environment are treated fairly.

Kallenberg, who cut his teeth as an Austin American-Statesman technology reporter as the tech boom was blossoming in the late Nineties and later jumped into that boom full force at Austin’s NotHarvard.com, approached the film originally with a clear eye for the personal narrative, a storytelling philosophy that took root further in his days as a University of Texas film student. He originally followed 11 people affected by the Haynesville find. “As with most documentaries like this, some stories fizzled, and once some saw how obtrusive a camera can be, some people opted out,” he says. “I was left with about seven really compelling ‘personal’ narratives.” The final three stories made the cut “because they are such strong characters, and they embodied all sides of what was happening during this crazy time in Louisiana.”

Kallenberg had moved to Shreveport in 2007 and was in search of a next project. Haynesville fell in his lap while he was enjoying the legendary strawberry pie in Strawn’s Eat Shop. “I was sitting in this cafe, and these farmers out of central casting come stumbling in like they just left the creek at Sutter’s Mill,” he says. “I think it was the fervor as they discussed this secret gas well that put me into eavesdropping mode.” The northeast Louisiana discovery was not yet in the news, so Kallenberg, camera in hand, jumped in at an opportune time to tell the story. “It turned out this thing was real,” he says. “It blew up on me.”

The final film is one Kallenberg sees as significant in a much larger sense. “This issue of energy has become so prevalent,” he says. “It’s complicated. I really think the film transcends being just about these people but also how we are going to handle our energy future. My personal belief is there’s a lot of energy under the feet of Louisiana. We’ve got to work with the industry, and we have to dictate how it’s going to be extracted in a fair way, an environmentally safe way.”

That battle is portrayed in the film by single mother Fitzgerald, who never completed high school. She throws herself into tireless research and grassroots footwork once she realizes the oil companies are paying different amounts to different neighbors for gas rights, primarily based on the person’s economic situation. “She tries to overcome her lack of education by pure gumption,” Kallenberg says. “She comes really close to winning against greater odds. She ends up suing Exxon and wins the ability to move from federal court to parish court. Nobody told her that Exxon’s a big fucking conglomerate.”

Kallenberg makes an interesting choice with the oil industry’s side of the tale. “When it came to presenting the larger energy story, I wanted to be very careful and present it the right way,” he says.”I wanted it to be a compelling argument, and I wanted it presented by people outside of the oil industry. As a result, the bigger views on energy are delivered by academics like Tad Patzek, pundits like Austinite Robert Bryce, and world-renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben.”

The doc’s goal is more about engaging discussion about our energy future than pushing any one agenda – though Kallenberg is clear in his distaste for coal as an energy source. Haynesville screened at December’s Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, an event that hit home for him the importance of this chance project. “There were hardcore energy lobbyists on one side and hardcore environmentalists on the other,” he says. “It was heartening to see both sides look at the screen and nod at it. Haynesville really shows the issue from all levels. There is an intimate, tertiary exploration of the issue as these people on the ground grapple with consequences of the find. But Haynesvile also zooms out to a macro level, where you get to see what this energy could mean in getting us to a clean, renewable-based energy future. At the end, I really wanted to leave my audience in a place where they could start a conversation … and what they envision as an energy future.”

Read entire article.

( read more )