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National: Preparing for a Flood of Energy Efficiency Spending February 28, 2009

Filed under: Energy Efficiency — nwrenewablenews @ 2:03 pm

To the casual eye, the basement of this city’s Firehouse 9 looks like a jumble of old hydrants, Dr Pepper cartons, rakes and random gear. To specialists in energy efficiency, the 1960s-era building is a mess of a different sort: wasteful hot water heaters for the firefighters’ showers, ancient refrigerators andoutdated lights.

Wrapping up an elaborate energy audit, Knoxville is about to find out which of 99 city buildings are wasting the most energy. It hopes to begin repairs this summer, just in time to catch a tsunami of federal stimulus money earmarked for such unglamorous tasks as replacing light bulbs and fixing leaky insulation.

Knoxville’s timing is excellent. The city began the arduous work of cataloging deficiencies before the stimulus bill passed, and it is well along in planning its next steps. But experts worry that other beneficiaries, especially cities, are not ready to oversee the huge sums of energy-efficiency money about to come their way.

The money in the bill is enough to pay for a tremendous expansion of efficiency efforts across the country. But as with other parts of the stimulus package, the efficiency plan is creating tension between spending the money quickly, to get rapid economic stimulus, and spending it well, to do the most good over the long run.

“There’s enormous opportunity here for expansion of energy efficiency in this country,” said Lowell Ungar, the policy director for the Alliance to Save Energy, an advocacy group. “But there is certainly the potential for waste.”

President Obama signed the stimulus package into law on Feb. 17, hailing it as a shot of money big enough to help shake the economy from its lethargy while advancing many of his campaign priorities. Accelerating the country’s energy transition is at the top of his list. Many experts in the field agree with him that carefully chosen investments in efficiency will ultimately save more than they cost, by cutting energy bills.

At least $20 billion in the stimulus bill was earmarked for programs like improving the efficiency of government buildings and the homes of poor people, and trying to find better ways to save energy. That is far more, advocates say, than any bill in history. Within a few months, the money is likely to start landing in the bank accounts of thinly staffed state and city agencies that are accustomed to scraping for a dime here, a dollar there.

Utah expects that its state energy office will receive $40 million for energy efficiency, renewable energy and related programs — 123 times the size of the office’s current budget, said Jason Berry, who manages the four-person unit. He is about to go on a hiring spree.

The package contains $5 billion to weatherize low-income homes through the Department of Energy, enough to give the state programs that manage that work 10 to 30 times the money they received last year, said Christina Kielich, a department spokeswoman.

For advocates of this relatively obscure program, “it’s like they finally got to the other side of the desert and it’s pouring rain,” said Seth Kaplan, a vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group.

The stimulus package also contains $4.5 billion to modernize federal buildings and $2.5 billion for research into energy efficiency and renewable energy. The biggest chunk, $6.3 billion, will be distributed by the Energy Department in grants to state and local governments, which can spend the money on things as diverse as thicker window panes for state capitols and rebates for homeowners who change their light bulbs.

Homes and commercial buildings account for 39 percent of national energy consumption. Experts say that improving their efficiency is not only cost-effective but also a good way to reduce the nation’s emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

But figuring out how to spend the money effectively — learning which university buildings need their doors caulked, for example, or which firehouse walls have insulation that is too thin — can involve time-consuming, tricky analysis by skilled technicians.

“People are very conservative about their buildings,” said Donald Gilligan, the president of the National Association of Energy Service Companies, a trade group. “Nobody wants to put a failed technology into the school buildings or have the lights not work.”

In Knoxville, a team of auditors hired by the city is spending six months peering into the grimy nooks of fire and police stations and even the convention center, where one employee referred to the downstairs boiler area as a “money-eating room.”

Knoxville — which says the stimulus money may help accelerate or expand its program — hopes to reduce the city’s energy bills as much as 25 percent, and the city is “definitely on the front end of the wave as far as efficiency and municipalities addressing efficiency,” said John Plack Jr., a director of project development for Ameresco, which is conducting the Knoxville energy audit.

In the Southeastern region of the country, where Mr. Plack works, low electricity prices have often made saving energy an afterthought, unlike in California and much of the Northeast. For example, Nashville, nearly 200 miles west of Knoxville, has not conducted an energy audit of its city buildings, though it hopes to use stimulus money to look through its own stock of fire stations and libraries.

“There’s a lot of municipalities out there who are completely unaware this is moving forward,” Mr. Kaplan said, referring especially to smaller cities. “They just don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with this.”

The Energy Department, which is doling out most of the grants, has been assailed on Capitol Hill for delays in disbursing other types of assistance for clean energy. Ms. Kielich said in an e-mail message that the department hoped efficiency grants would begin flowing to city and state energy offices within 120 days, and that it planned to begin disbursing weatherization money “expeditiously and responsibly.”

On the receiving end, absorbing the huge increase in money for weatherization could be particularly challenging, said Ian Bowles, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts. Though he contends it can be done, “the weatherization folks are going to have to quintuple their effort in order to put that money out,” he said.

In some cases, the managers of efficiency programs may not need to look far to find ways to spend the money.

In Knoxville, the Community Action Committee, whose operations include helping poor people weatherize their homes, works from a building with a $14,000 monthly utility bill — some of it because of an enormous skylight that lets in too much blistering Tennessee sunshine in the summer.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Barbara Kelly, executive director of the committee. “We do better for our clients than we do for us.”

By KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times –


State denies XsunX Solar’s Enery Tax Credit request

Filed under: Oregon,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 1:45 pm
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The state Department of Economic and Community Development has denied California-based solar company XsunX’s application for Business Energy Tax Credits, prompting company officials to submit a new application for a scaled-down Wood Village production facility.

The company awaited approval for months before launching production in a building it leases from the Merix Corp., which moved out of Wood Village last year.

The state was reviewing the company’s financial viability and other criteria as part of a required pre-certification process before it could issue tax credits. Oregon offers a tax credit of up to 50 percent or $20 million, whichever is less, through a five-year period for qualified solar and other renewable energy projects.

Lou Torres, state Department of Energy spokesman, said a review process on behalf of the Economic and Community Development Department found the company, which up to now has been in the research and development phase, did not meet standards for credits established by a legislative bill passed in 2008.

“The department conducted due diligence and found the company failed to show it met the requirements of House Bill 3619,” he said. “It recommended we not approve” the credits, “and we concurred with the findings” based on financial viability and prospects for long-term success.

Because of confidentiality agreements, Torres said he was unable to specify why XsunX failed to qualify for the credits, noting that the company is the first to be turned down since the stricter guidelines were established. He emphasized, however, that the company is free to move forward without the tax credits.

“This has nothing to do with (the company) wants to open for business.”

Tom Djokovich, XsunX chief executive officer, said he’s not thrilled about the decision, but plans on resubmitting plans for a smaller, 1,300-megawatt factory for the Wood Village plant. The original plant was based on 2,500 megawatts.

“It’s unfortunate we had to wait a year and a half to receive a response from the Oregon Department of Energy,” he said. “We have advised the department of our plan to resubmit” for a facility that “requires significantly less capital.”

A startup, green technology company based in Orange County, Calif., XsunX signed a sublease agreement in April 2008 with Forest Grove-based Merix for the 90,000-square-foot building on Northeast Halsey Street. The Wood Village City Council subsequently established an enterprise zone with the state to provide the company a three-year property-tax abatement.

Djokovich said then the company planned to start up in January 2009 with approximately 22 employees, with the potential to grow to as many as 160. The global economic crisis, however, and a longer-than-expected wait on the business tax credit process put the brakes on that projection, said Djokovich and Chief Operating Officer Joe Grimes.

The Wood Village plant, which employs approximately 10 at the moment, has vendors waiting and plans to get production moving as soon as finances are in order, Grimes said earlier this week. He expressed optimism that the credits would be approved.

The economy and the tax credit process prompted company officials to develop a contingency plan early this year, Djokovich noted.

“We’re electing to move to the contingency plan,” he said. “The purpose for refiling is taking a different approach. We have to find the right mix to take advantage of the benefits.”

Torres stressed that the tax credits are intended to encourage alternative energy businesses while protecting taxpayers’ money.

“The governor and Legislature are trying to promote renewable energy,” Torres said, noting that expanded 50 percent credits for solar and other renewable companies are attractive to many investors. “If you’re going to give these large tax credits, what we need to have is more commitment from the businesses. If they said they’re going to hire 200 people, we want to make sure they do what they say, make sure they can meet payroll. We have to make sure the taxpayers’ end is held up.”

By Shannon Wells, The Gresham Outlook


Pacific Ethanol closing 2 plants for now

Filed under: Biofuels,Idaho,Oregon — nwrenewablenews @ 1:39 pm
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Corn-based fuel – The company seeks new terms from its lenders, but its Boardman site is still running “full out”

Pacific Ethanol said Friday that it is temporarily closing down its ethanol plants in Burley, Idaho, and Stockton, Calif., leaving only a partially owned plant in Colorado and its Boardman plant along the Columbia River to produce the corn-based fuel.

The Sacramento-based company, the West Coast’s largest ethanol producer, also suspended operations at its Madera, Calif., plant in January.

The down economy, lower prices for petroleum gasoline, and a tighter spread between ethanol and corn prices have all hit ethanol hard, though mandates for ethanol content in gasoline still help the industry.

In a news release, Pacific Ethanol said it is trying to negotiate new loan terms with its lenders. The lenders will “refrain from exercising their rights and remedies” through March 31, the release said.

The Boardman plant, opened in 2007, has a 40 million-gallon-a-year capacity. Rail cars carry the corn in from the east, and barges take the distilled fuel down the Columbia River to distributors in Portland.

Paul Koehler, a Pacific Ethanol spokesman, said the company is “operating Boardman full out.” Koehler said he couldn’t comment on whether an inability to negotiate new loan terms would affect the Boardman plant.

The company said it will continue serving its ethanol customers through production from Boardman and ethanol suppliers to Kinergy Marketing, Pacific Ethanol’s wholly owned marketing arm. Pacific Ethanol also owns a 42 percent interest in Front Range Energy, which owns an ethanol plant in Windsor, Colo.

The Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry group, said this week that 23 of 171 ethanol plants are currently idled, but 21 more are under construction.

SCOTT LEARN, The Oregonian


Energy company looks for biomass location in Idaho February 27, 2009

Filed under: Biomass,Idaho,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 1:05 pm

Areva Inc., a French-owned nuclear services company, is scouting north Idaho for possible locations for a plant to turn wood waste into electricity.

Areva Vice President Bob Poyser, whose company also wants to build a uranium enrichment plant near Idaho Falls, told The Associated Press that it is looking for as many as two possible biomass locations in north Idaho or Washington state.

He said Thursday the company is looking in “the forested parts of Idaho north of Boise, that’s all I can tell you.”

The plant, or plants, would be part of a venture outlined earlier this month to develop biomass power plants in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

Public utility consortium Energy Northwest and private energy company Adage, a joint venture of Areva and Duke Energy, announced their preliminary agreement Feb. 19.

Each plant would generate about 50 megawatts of electricity, or enough to supply 40,000 households.

Energy Northwest spokeswoman Rochelle Olson told The Associated Press the participants will use wood currently decaying on private lands as fuel. She said there will have to be enough fuel for a long-term contract.

Once the companies reach an agreement on supply sources, they will find nearby land for the biomass plant.

“The fuel use contracts will really drive where these plants are located,” Olson said.

Areva spokesman Jarrett Adams said the goal is to begin construction by 2010. Each plant would take two to three years to build. He said 400 jobs would be created by construction and there would be 100 permanent positions.

John Foster, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, said Areva’s interest in a biomass plant in Idaho is a sign of the state’s potential as a leader in renewable resources.

He said the state needs to have an improved forest management plan before it can be ready for biomass energy.

“We have to ensure a reliable supply of timber and from there the biomass facilities would go up quickly,” Foster said.

Foster said others, including the timber industry and a group in Priest River, have also expressed interest in a biomass plant.

In December, Areva filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, seeking to build a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant near Idaho Falls. If the application is approved, construction on the facility would not be completed until 2017.

The company won tax breaks from the Idaho Legislature in 2008 before deciding to build in the state. The uranium enrichment plant would be a smaller version of its Georges Besse II centrifuge enrichment facility now under construction in France.

Poyser mentioned the proposed biomass plant while giving lawmakers an update on the uranium enrichment facility. The company plans public hearings if its application is approved by the NRC.

Poyser estimated the application would be approved in February 2011.

Associated Press

Sea-Tac Airport plans to reduce emissions by 15%

Filed under: Energy Efficiency,Renewable/Green Energy,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 12:50 pm
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The Port of Seattle is reportedly taking action to reduce its emissions at the Sea-Tac Airport by 15 percent in the coming years.

A report this week in the Seattle Post Intelligencer describes the plan, which will apply only to a small percentage of the total emissions from the airport. Sea-Tac reportedly produces 4.7 million tons of carbon emissions each year.

The strategy reportedly focuses on improving energy efficiency at the airport and on cutting fuel costs and emissions for airlines at Sea-Tac. Other items noted include plans to fuel jets from a tank farm rather than trucks, and to use more centralized pre-conditioned air that doesn’t require auxiliary power units.

The newspaper also added that the airport itself is taking some small steps towards using more renewable energy, with ten one-kilowatt wind turbines in the works along with plans for solar panels.

This is just one of the countless efforts underway across the Pacific Northwest to help the environment and to save money by promoting energy efficiency and renewable power. A growing number of consumers are also getting involved by investing in eco-friendly home improvements and other products.

Washington Energy Services –


Oregon bill would create a new source of biofuels February 26, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Green Jobs,Oregon,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 11:45 am

Woody biomass from federal forestlands could be used to develop cellulosic ethanol under legislation reintroduced Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and a Democratic colleague.

The Renewable Biofuels Facilitation Act, also reintroduced by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., would broaden the definition of cellulosic ethanol within the renewable fuels standard to include biomass gathered from federal lands as well as private forests.

The bill would allow brush, small trees and other forest thinnings from federal hazardous fuels reduction projects to be used for biomass energy production. Such projects from southwestern Oregon alone could produce huge amounts of biomass while reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires to rural communities, analysts say.

Any biomass projects on federal land would have to comply with all federal environmental laws.

The two representatives, who originally introduced the bill last year, say it addresses a flaw in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. That legislation included a historic 36 billion gallon renewable fuels standard, of which 21 billion gallons are required to be derived from advanced biofuels by 2022.

However, the law’s definition of renewable biomass prevents almost all federal land biomass from counting toward the mandate if it is used to manufacture biofuels.

“Our bipartisan legislation would give the country a better chance of reaching its goal of producing 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels a year by 2022—enough to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 20 coal-fired electricity plants,” Walden said in a prepared statement.

“There’s technology out there to turn woody biomass from forest health treatments in our choked forests into clean fuel, a process that would create good paying jobs and a healthier environment at the same time,” he added.

The legislation will help diversify the nation’s energy portfolio, according to Herseth Sandlin.

“While the energy bill took tremendous strides to decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy, not allowing biofuels made from certain types of biomass to count toward the RFS hinders the potential benefits of the landmark legislation,” she said.

The bill, reintroduced Wednesday, also would help forest health efforts as well as boost economic development in the surrounding communities, she said.

In addition to Walden and Herseth Sandlin, other cosponsors include Democrats U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Bart Stupak of Michigan and Mike Ross of Arkansas, and Republicans Jo Ann Emerson of Virginia and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.

Paul Fattig, The Mail Tribune


EPA encourages using Contaminated Sites for Renewable Energy February 25, 2009

Filed under: Biomass,Green Jobs,Renewable/Green Energy — nwrenewablenews @ 10:17 pm
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The U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration estimates that the demand for renewable energy will grow by 31 percent over the next 25 years. During that same time period, renewable energy generation is expected to increase by 45 percent. One way to meet the energy needs of a growing population without encroaching on productive farmland is to turn current or previously contaminated sites into renewable energy hotspots.

To that end, the U.S. EPA has teamed with the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to identify nearly 10,000 contaminated lands and mining sites that hold potential for renewable energy development. To help developers, environmental managers, land managers and local, state and federal energy officials as well as private industry and communities track these sites, the agency has generated interactive maps using Google Earth, a virtual geographic information program. “The EPA is putting renewable energy production on the virtual map,” says EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. “Our new interactive Web site encourages states and energy companies to put previously contaminated properties back to work.”

The maps merge data collected by the EPA and NREL and screen the sites for criteria including: distance to electrical transmission lines, distance to roads, renewable energy potential and site acreage. Sites with the potential to host a biomass energy facility are broken down into two categories: a biopower facility, which is a site with cumulative biomass resources of 140,000 metric tons per year or greater within 50 miles, or a biorefinery facility, which is a site with cumulative crop residues of 333,000 metric tons per year or greater within 50 miles.

“The EPA looks for opportunities to encourage the cleanup of contaminated sites, recognizing that some contaminated properties have attributes that could make them attractive candidates for the siting of renewable energy production facilities,” explains EPA spokeswoman Latisha Petteway. “EPA partnered with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to identify candidate sites and make the information publicly accessible.”

To access the Google Earth tool, users can follow the step-by-step directions found at: Once Google Earth has been loaded on the computer and the Renewable Energy Interactive Map has been launched, a bright blue, virtual, 3D orb—i.e. the Earth—spins into view. The initial image is a satellite picture of North America.

Navigation tools can be used to zoom in from the continent view to street level. As the outline of the U.S. takes shape, dots peppered across the states are evident. Each circular label represents a contaminated site recognized by the EPA as a potential host for bioenergy, solar or wind power facilities. Zoom in even further, and the individual states become apparent. At this point, clicking on one of the yellow, purple, red, orange or gray circles pulls up all sorts of information about the site including: the site name and location, acreage, the current environmental status of the site, information about the renewable energy potential of the site, and links to additional details such as incentive sheets that describe the availability of federal and/or state monies for renewable energy generation and contaminated land redevelopment.

The color-coded dots identify the EPA program that manages the site. For instance: a yellow circle represents sites managed under the Abandoned Mine Lands program; purple is used for brownfield sites; red is used to label sites managed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; pink and gray signify federal and nonfederal Superfund sites respectively.

One of these gray dots is the Rose Township Dump in Oakland County, Michigan. The site is about 40 miles northwest of Detroit and one mile west of the town of Rose Center. It spans about 100 acres and consists of undeveloped rural land surrounded by wetlands, lakes and hardwood forest. The site originally served as farmland but in the 1960s it was abandoned and illegal dumping ensued. Over the next decade, an estimated 5,000 drums of liquid industrial waste were buried or deposited on the surface of the site. It is suspected that some of the waste, which included solvents, paints and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are organic compounds used in transformers, coolants, pesticides and sealants, was dumped directly onto the ground or into pits so the drums could be recycled. The waste leached through the surface soils to ultimately contaminate the subsurface soils and groundwater.

The cleanup process started in 1980 with the removal of more than 5,000 drums. In 1982, the site was placed on the National Priorities List, and over the next several years, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA initiated cleanup actions. Today, much of the contamination has been reduced to nondetectable levels, although groundwater continues to be monitored.

This site is one of thousands that the EPA has identified as a potential biopower or biorefinery site. As it happens, over the past three years, researchers from Michigan State University have been proving the concept. With funding and acreage provided by Chrysler LLC, Kurt Thelen, associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at MSU has been growing bioenergy crops on the Rose Township Dump site.

“Our main objective was to prove that you can logistically and economically go into these marginal lands close to urban areas and raise crops in a sustainable manner,” Thelen explains. To that end, Thelen’s group has been studying five different crops—corn for ethanol; canola, sunflower, and soybeans for biodiesel; and switchgrass for cellulosic ethanol.

Although all brownfield, Superfund, or other contaminated sites will be different depending on weather, soil and the type of contamination, at this site, the MSU scientists have found that the crop yields are comparable with those achieved on nonmarginal lands. The researchers found no significant difference in the ethanol yield or total oil content of the oilseeds. Although a small difference in the fatty acid profiles of the oilseeds grown at this site versus those grown on typical farmland were found, Thelen explains that the difference was so slight it would not alter the quality of the fuel. In addition, on one plot with slightly elevated levels of PCBs and heavy metals, the team did not detect the contaminants in the grain harvested from the crops planted in these soils.

We’re encouraged by the data we’ve generated,” Thelen says. “I think this research will help the argument that these lands can be put to some productive use. There are more sites out there than people think.”
By Jessica Ebert, a freelance writer for Biomass Magazine.-