“How Renewable Energy Is Taking Over the Electric Grid” – The Motley Fool, 6 September 2014

Renewable energy might very well beat out coal, nuclear, and natural gas as our number one source of energy. This July, every new power generating plant that opened in the US sources renewable energy.

Renewable energy is seeing an upsurge because it’s the cheapest energy alternative. Natural gas is beating wind and solar power by only a small margin in this year’s installed capacity (MW). If residential and commercial rooftops using solar power — called distributed solar energy — were added to the equation, then the number of solar units installed would be equal to natural gas in 2014.

US Energy Information Administration

US Energy Information Administration

While the previous table tells us the source of electricity generation, we should note that wind and solar energy only make a small percentage of the energy we actually use in the US.

US Energy Information Administration

US Energy Information Administration

Renewable energy’s climb is slow, but the trend is showing that renewables will soon replace coal and nuclear power. Natural gas remains a favorable source because it is still low in cost and can retain renewables and other energy sources for future use.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) published further data that shows how the US’s electricity prices have grown over the year. While costs rose in New England and the Mid-Atlantic due to increased wholesale prices from electricity generators, costs decreased on the Pacific coast — California, Oregon, Washington — because these states have installed more solar energy in the last year.

Renewables are a superior energy source in comparison to fossil fuels. Not only can wind and solar energy become cheaper, but both also prevent more greenhouse gases from being released into our environment.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 8, 2014

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“California’s Cap-and-Trade Revolt” – Wall Street Journal, 30 June 2014

While West Virginia and Kentucky Democrats are bucking Obama’s climate policy, California Democrats are also fighting similar policy in California, the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is directly effecting the poorest Californians.

Recently, 16 of members of California’s Democratic Assembly wrote a letter to the California Air Resources Board, encouraging the board to revise or postpone California’s cap-and-trade program. The program calls for big manufacturers and power plants to adhere to a state-ordered carbon cap by buying carbon permits or limiting emissions. Transportation fuel suppliers will also have to acquiesce to permits in 2015.

via SF Public Press

via SF Public Press

Assembly Democrats’ minds are on gas prices, which could surge anywhere from 15 to 40 cents per gallon. California has the highest gas prices in the country, in large part due to fuel blending obligations and taxes. In 2012, the Boston Consulting Group anticipated that gas prices would rise anywhere between $0.49 and $1.83 per gallon by 2020. While the program’s objectives are pure—boosting gas prices is supposed to persuade people to drive less, carpool, or purchase electric cars—California’s cap-and-trade is invariably hurting those who cannot afford it. A majority of the 16 Democratic Assembly Members represent minorities and low-income populations.

The Air Resources Board maintains that the objective of the program isn’t to finance new state governmental programs, though California’s 2014 budget does allocate $250 million from carbon permit auctions, as well as 25 percent of future yields, to fund a high-speed rail. The auctions will bring in anywhere between $12 billion to $45 billion by 2020.

Assembly Democrats are in agreement with the California Chamber of Commerce, which is suing the Air Resources Board to invalidate California’s program.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 30, 2014

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“Fracking Tests Ties Between California ‘Oil and Ag’ Interests” – New York Times, 1 June 2013

The Monterey Shale oil reserve, a large untapped resource, lies underneath the southern half of the San Joaquin Valley, a mainstay for California agriculture. For years, hydraulic fracturing has been a lucrative business in the area; however, the likelihood of it having a negative affect on agriculture and the environment has led farmers and environmentalists to oppose fracking.

Although California’s oil generation has abated since 2010, a portion of the Monterey Shale reserve, called the North Shafter oil field, has shown a 50% increase in output. As a result, more oil companies are coming to the San Joaquin Valley, setting up new operations adjacent to farms — testing the relationship between oilmen and farmers.

Fracking is something these oil companies can’t give up: it’s the only way for the companies to extract crude from the Monterey Shale, where two-thirds of the US’s shale oil reserves can be found. Tapping into the Monterey Shale could transform California into the US’s top oil-producing state, allowing the state to experience an oil boom similar to those in North Dakota and Texas.

In order to extricate the crude oil, fracking technology infuses water, sand and chemicals into the shale rock to release the oil and gas underground; and uses an enormous amount of water and chemicals that could potentially contaminate the groundwater that is vital to the farmers’ crops. New fracking techniques are introducing more powerful chemical mixes, and drillers aren’t forced to publicize what they use. California barely regulates fracking activities.

While the US has been in an oil and natural gas frenzy, the environmental impact of fracking has been ignored. The State Department of Conservation is now working to enact regulations for fracking, one of which could be groundwater testing both before and after fracking, in order to guarantee quality.

But sometimes the issue isn’t just groundwater — it’s compensation. According to state law, California farmers don’t own their property’s underground rights, but are often paid for permission to use the surface.

It is a precarious balance between oil and ag — oil can be largely beneficial economically, but could also destroy California’s most fertile region.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 13, 2013

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“EPA Plans to Require New Standards on Gas” – Wall Street Journal, 28 March, 2013

It seems that the President Obama is finally doing something to affect climate change, as his administration moves forward with new legislation that will significantly decrease automobile pollution. Yet, there have proved to be many sides to the equation, as refiners, automobile makers and environmentalists all voice strong opinions.

The EPA‘s plan is to cut the amount of sulfur in gas from the current average of 30 parts per million to 10 ppm, which would certainly make environmentalists happy. Refiners, however, say that this proposal will ultimately affect consumers at the pump, increasing gas prices by 10 cents a gallon.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association that represents refiners, says the new standards will cost refiners over $12 billion in both capital expenditures and annual compliance costs. API also says that consumers would be hard hit, with a nine cent gas increase.

The Obama administration disagrees with API, noting that a stricter sulfur standard would only increase gasoline prices by one cent per gallon. The administration also noted that it will be more lenient on compliance times for smaller facilities. Of the US’s 111 refineries, the EPA approximates 29 are already set to meet new standards, while 66 can meet the standards with few improvements.

Interestingly enough, automakers are on board with the new standards. Sulfur, which is naturally found in crude oil, interferes with the performance of a car’s catalytic converter; low-sulfur gas would allow the car to function efficiently. There are over a dozen states, like California, that have enacted similar standards at the state level. In addition, low-sulfur gas lets automakers meet qualifications more easily.

The last time any new legislation was passed on sulfur standards was in 2000 during the Clinton administration.

Environmentalists, who have been pressuring Obama to do something about US pollution, are very pleased with the new standards. Moreover, the EPA will soon introduce new legislation that will restrict greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants, effectively disallowing new coal-fired power plants from using traditional technology. Environmentalists say these new steps toward reducing pollution will ultimately save lives.

We should make the correct choice based upon hard, scientific data, and not on political winds of conflicting viewpoints on the economy vs. environment. While the debate between economy vs. environment is far from convincing for EPA regulation of coal power plant emissions, we believe that economics, science and environmental considerations  favor the lowering of sulfur content in gasoline.

See our other entries:
States Cooling to Renewable Energy
Utah Cracks Down on Smog
On Climate Change, Some Arguments Shift
Europe’s Emissions Plan Hits Turbulence
Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 12, 2013

Phinix LLC

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