Soda Mountain Solar Project in Jeopardy

In the “Say it isn’t so” department, on June 11th the city of Los Angeles announced that it has dropped plans to buy electricity from the Soda Mountain Solar Project proposed for the Mojave Desert, just south of Baker, CA. City officials said that the project would be too damaging to bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other wildlife near the site. This decision has left developers scrambling to find other customers and has put the project at risk. At a time when the State of California has reached an impressive milestone of 25% of its power needs from renewable sources, including 5% from solar power (over 10 times the national average), maintaining momentum in the quest to convert from fossil fuels to renewable power is critical. One would expect that environmental groups that have lobbied for so long and hard such a change would be embracing projects such as Soda Mountain. Particularly when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which includes a modified proposal that responds to concerns raised by the public and various agencies about the project’s potential impacts to bighorn sheep movement, groundwater and scenic vistas. The alternate proposal includes a smaller project footprint that reduces potential interference with future efforts to re-establish bighorn sheep movement across Interstate 15 as well as other changes to address concerns. But instead of celebrating success, the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, and other environmental activists groups have lauded the city’s decision. Continue reading Soda Mountain Solar Project in Jeopardy

Shell Drilling Rig Leaves Seattle for Alaska

The Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Polar Pioneer that has been the focus of environmentalists while it was docked in Seattle left port on Monday for Alaska as the first step of a summer 2015 drilling campaign in the Arctic. Dozens of activists in kayaks dubbed “kayaktivists” tried to stop it, but the Coast Guard enforced the marine safety zone around the vessel and prevented any disruption. Around two dozen people were temporarily detained and fined $500 each for violations. Although final permits are still pending, Shell cleared major hurdles when a federal appeals court struck down a challenge to its oil spill response plans and after President Barack Obama upheld the 2008 Arctic lease sale. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates Arctic offshore reserves at 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Shell says developing these reserves could increase domestic oil supplies by more than 1 million barrels a day.

EPA Report on Fracking Confirms Minimal Impact to Water Resources

The EPA just issued a draft report on their four-year study of the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on drinking water (“Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”, June 2015). In it they conclude that although there are mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources, there is no evidence of widespread, systemic impacts. Although there are specific instances of concern, the number of identified cases was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells. This helps confirm industry experts who have contended that properly designed, planned, and executed fracking activities do not contaminate water resources.

Chevron Big Foot Project in Gulf of Mexico Delayed Due to Tendon Damage

Chevron Corporation has announced that the Big Foot tension-leg platform (TLP) will be moved to sheltered waters from its location in the deepwater U.S. Gulf of Mexico following damage to its tendons during attempted installation of the platform late in May. Tendons are the long, ultra-strong steel pipes that connect the platform to the seabed and are typically buoyant. The tendons were pre-installed to the seafloor with the top end floating below the water surface in preparation for connection to the TLP. It appears that nine of the 16 tendons lost buoyancy and fell to the seafloor. No injuries or environmental damage have been reported with the incident, and the TLP itself was not affected.

The problem is quite serious and Chevron will need to rebuild at least some of the tendons. This will result in a significant delay in start-up of the platform and will likely increase project cost beyond its current $5.1 billion estimate. Big Foot will ultimately be installed in approximately 5,200 ft of water, which is the deepwater depth for a TLP. It will also be the largest TLP in the Gulf of Mexico.

San Francisco Renews PACE Program

San Francisco’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program was renewed in December. The PACE program allows qualified property owners to obtain accessible, affordable, long-term financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation improvements, and repay the loan through their property tax bills. PACE financing allows homeowners to install, for example, a home solar array with no initial cost and pay it off over a 20 year period.

Santa Barbara Oil Pipeline Spill

On Tuesday an onshore pipeline ruptured along the scenic coast north of Santa Barbara, California, spilling an initial estimate of 21,000 gallons of oil into the ocean and onto beaches before the flow could be controlled. Later reports increased this estimate to 105,000 gallons. What caused the spill is still under investigation, and clean-up activities are ongoing. The incident brought back memories of the 1969 Santa Barbara Channel oil spill that effectively shut down oil development offshore California for almost 10 years.

The Future of Solar Energy

According to a comprehensive new study on The Future of Solar Energy, released on May 14, 2015 by The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), solar energy holds the best potential for meeting humanity’s future long term energy needs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, to realize this potential will require increased emphasis on developing lower-cost technologies and more effective deployment policy.

Visit http://mitei.mit.edu/futureofsolar.

America at an Energy Crossroads

Welcome to the Our World of Energy (OWOE) blog. This is the first in what we hope will be a long series of blogs related to the state of energy in the United States.  Our World of Energy has been developed to provide information to the American public on the subject of energy. Although energy is critical to the lives of all Americans and one of the primary enablers to prosperity, most Americans know little about energy, how it is produced, or how it used to make their lives better. In addition, most of the media information surrounding energy is driven by biased agendas from both sides of the energy debate – either the side promoting a specific form of energy due to economic self interest or the side opposing it for a variety of other reasons. OWOE will provide an unbiased view of energy, including pros and cons of each source, in order to educate the public on where the energy that drives modern life comes from, why this subject is important to the American consumer, and how technology is changing the industry.

Energy in America is at a critical crossroads as a number of very powerful forces are converging – the tremendous growth in energy demand driven by the emerging economies of the world, the recognition that burning of fossil fuel is the primary driver behind climate change, and the rapid evolution of technologies that have the potential to dramatically reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuel. Over the next several weeks, OWOE will examine each one of these forces and how, taken together, they will dramatically change America’s energy landscape. OWOE will present it’s vision of this energy future in which renewable energy will play a predominant role with all other forms of energy filling supporting roles for which they are uniquely suited.