TOPIC: Dept. of Energy

Raptor deaths dirty California’s cleanest energy source

Federal wildlife conservation officials have launched an inquest into the deaths of protected birds at a California wind farm, Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times reports, highlighting a potentially crippling drawback of one of the world’s cleanest power sources.

A total of seven golden eagles are believed to have been killed over the course of two years after colliding with one of 90 windmills at the Pine Tree windmill site. The windmills, operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in the Tehachapi Mountains went on-line in 2009 and are spread out among 8,000 acres, generating 120 megawatts of electricity. (more…)

The death of clean coal

Matthew Wald of the New York Times reported yesterday that the American Electric Power coal company has terminated a planned “full-scale carbon-capture plant” in West Virginia, because the political incentives are no longer there to invest in so-called clean coal technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions before they enter the atmosphere. A similar turn of events happened last August in Illinois: the “FutureGen” clean coal project died, because the energy companies involved no longer wanted to invest. These companies not coincidentally backed out as the chance of Congress passing a cap-and-trade bill withered on the vine. (more…)

Clean energy jobs growing

Thomas Content of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks at a new report from the Brookings Institution on the clean energy economy. This blog often bemoans the fact that the federal government has been so slow to push clean energy projects. But what the report conveys is that in Wisconsin and nationally, clean energy projects are increasingly a realistic — if still not humongous — part of today’s economy.  In other words, they’re not not just a fanciful vision of the future. About 2.7 million people were employed by the clean energy economy last year, 77,000 in Wisconsin.

Illinois takes new stab at using all its coal

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill yesterday that lets Chicago Clean Energy build a $3 billion coal gasification plant in a rundown section of southeast Chicago, reports the Chicago Tribune. The Illinois EPA, though, opposes the bill: They do not want Chicago Clean Energy (a subsidiary of the Leucadia National Corp. holding company in New York) to add pollution to an already highly polluted area. Environmental groups and consumer advocates also oppose the plant as too environmentally costly and too expensive. The gasification plant appears to be another flawed idea as Illinois figures out what do with its coal resources. (more…)

Not winning the future in Greenville, Michigan

Don Lee of the Los Angeles Times has an excellent article on economic hard times in Greenville, Michigan, the former refrigerator capital of America. The town’s answer to losing 3,000 refrigerator-manufacturing jobs sounds like it was lifted from a Barack Obama state of the union address: conduct a large-scale job training program so workers can participate in a clean energy project. But, in an unfortunate irony, the Obama administration has provided little support for Greenville’s economic revitalization effort. (more…)

Seeing, hearing, and speaking the truth about Yucca Mountain

When a government project is described with terms like “case study in government dysfunction and bureaucratic inertia” and “epic fiasco,” there appears to be no upside.  The planned nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, as Joel Achenbach and Brian Vastag report it in the Washington Post, fully deserves these labels.  After the government spent$15 billion over nearly three decades to build a five-mile deep tunnel for radioactive waste storage, it turned out that the facility wasn’t “as geologically isolated as hoped,” meaning that it can leak hazardous materials into the surrounding water supply.  When you’re talking about uranium and plutonium, there’s only one possible response: don’t build it. (more…)

It’s suddenly okay to criticize ethanol subsidies

So reports Eartha Jane Melzer of the Michigan Messenger: There is bipartisan support in Congress to cut down on ethanol subsidies.  Some Republican candidates for president, including erstwhile Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, also support a subsidy rollback. This seems particularly notable because the whole ethanol-aura is that any presidential candidate running in the Iowa caucus dare not speak ill of the subsidies.

As Melzer notes, corn-based ethanol depletes the U.S. corn supply and drives up international food prices. More than that, though, despite all Barack Obama’s talk of “winning the future” through renewable energy, no renewable energy product gets more federal subsidies than environmentally dubious ethanol.

Energy Dept. will win the future later

Katherine Yeung of the Detroit Free-Press has a good piece on three delayed alternative energy projects in Michigan.  The companies involved are waiting to see if they will get a loan guarantee from the U.S. Energy Department. The projects are for a renewable energy park, a solar cell manufacturing factory and a cellulosic ethanol plant. Besides the long-term benefits of developing alternative energy sources, the projects “represent $1.2 billion in new investment in the state and more than 3,800 new jobs.”

Why is the Energy Dept. dragging its feet on supporting projects in line with Barack Obama’s desire to invest in clean energy? (more…)

Predictable headline about not-so-smart SmartMeters

After spending more than a year fighting and dismissing customer complaints, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, California’s largest utility, admitted that a small number of it’s controversial digital SmartMeters have indeed been overcharging ratepayers, according to Dana Hull in the San Jose Mercury-News and David R. Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to PG&E, some 1,600 of the 2 million new wireless, digital electricity and natural gas meters purchased from Switzerland-based multinational Landis+Gyr are faulty. (more…)

When weatherization goes wrong

The verdict is in: Chicago’s use of federal stimulus money for weatherization was a glaring failure. The Chicago Tribune’s Kristen Schorsch and Julie Wernau had a long piece this weekend of the main Chicago non-profit in charge using federal stimulus money to weatherize homes. The federal Energy Dept. and state of Illinois gave the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County $90 million toward weatherization — part of $5 billion contained in the stimulus for weatherization. But, “As CEDA’s part in the federal stimulus program heads into its final months, contractors continue to fail in 1 in 7 inspections, and a federal plan to fix mistakes revealed in a blistering audit last year still hasn’t been completed.” (more…)