Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Archive for the ‘The Environment’ tag

The Clean Energy Gold Rush

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While I’m not in favor of massive government spending to create an industry if there is no true demand, some market based incentives here at home could encourage the growth of some very effective and successful companies. The American entrepreneurial spirit unleashed into today’s global energy markets could lead the world in what has been a market locked into narrow ways of thinking, focused on dwindling supplies of finite resources, mostly imported at high cost from governments we should not be supporting. This market is already changing, and we can lead this change by designing better systems.

Michael Northrop

Michael Northrop

Program Director, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Posted: February 16, 2010 09:50 PM

Of the 10 largest wind power companies in the world, the United States has one — General Electric. Of the world’s 10 largest solar companies, we have two — First Solar and SunPower – but almost all their manufacturing is in Asia. Hydropower and geothermal companies are also located in the Far East. The U.S., with no national goal or policy framework for clean energy, simply hasn’t found a way to create a stable marketplace where large, renewable energy companies can thrive.

For a nation that consumes 25 percent of the world’s energy, our failure to compete is ominous, and all the more troubling because a veritable “clean energy gold rush” has begun.


China, for one, is sprinting ahead. It has moved swiftly to create goals and policies to capture market share, announcing recently that it will generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and that it intends to become the world’s largest exporter of clean energy technologies.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 17th, 2010 at 8:15 am

China Leading Global Race to Make Clean Energy

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More news about China. There are many arguments, many of which I agree with, claiming that increased government intervention stifles innovation and an effective free market. Yet, in terms of energy, the world leaders are probably Germany and China, socialist and communist countries, respectively. How can this be?

Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

As China takes the lead on wind turbines, above, and solar panels, President Obama is calling for American industry to step up.

Published: January 30, 2010

TIANJIN, China — China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.

China has also leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. And the country is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.

Written by Jason

February 1st, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Mountaintop Mining: Coal Baron Debates a Kennedy

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If the damage to water quality is as bad from mountain top mining as many say it is, the paychecks these miners earn could have to go to their rising health care costs.

Coal baron vs. Kennedy: Activists, industry in mountaintop mining debate for wide US audience

By TIM HUBER and TOM BREEN Associated Press Writers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. January 22, 2010 (AP)

The real audience for the debate between coal baron Don Blankenship and conservationist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was not the hundreds who packed the audience at the University of Charleston.


For Blankenship, mountaintop mining puts food on the table and mortgage checks in the mail. For Kennedy, it defaces majestic scenery, pollutes water and shatters the quiet country existence of people who’ve called the mountains home for generations.


“If we can’t have intelligent discourse about the most important issues we face, where are we?” he said. “If we can help people understand it’s a hard issue, that’s a major step forward.”

Read the entire article here.

California’s agricultural heartland threatens to become a wasteland

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Agriculture has been fascinating to me for so many reasons. This article captures the intersections between economics and resource issues, history and culture. And since everyone eats and jobs are at the foundation of the recovery we need, stories like this speak to many essential issues at once.

The Appalachia of the West

From The Economist print edition

MIKE CHRISMAN looks out from his SUV as he drives through seemingly endless rows of walnut trees on his property near Visalia, in central California. “I have to be optimistic, I’m so tied to this land,” he says. His great-grandfather, after trying his luck in the Gold Rush, settled in Visalia in the 1850s, and the family has been there ever since. But as California’s secretary for natural resources—a job at the intersection of the environmental and farming lobbies, perennially at loggerheads over the state’s scarcest resource, water—Mr Chrisman also knows that optimism has become a minority view.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

January 25th, 2010 at 5:27 am

Drilling Tactic Unleashes a Trove of Natural Gas—And a Backlash

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If there demand is  for natural gas and the technology is feasible, we’ll extract the gas even if the technology for a given location cannot be guaranteed to be safe. If demand is diminished, there is greater opportunity to develop the technology to be safer and more cost effective.We should take advantage of the vast natural gas resources available domestically, and we should do so responsibly and in ways that ensure sufficient energy resources for generations to come.

JANUARY 21, 2010


SHREVEPORT, La.—A mounting backlash against a technique used in natural-gas drilling is threatening to slow development of the huge gas fields that some hope will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and polluting coal.

The U.S. energy industry says there is enough untapped domestic natural gas to last a century—but getting to that gas requires injecting millions of gallons of water into the ground to crack open the dense rocks holding the deposits. The process, known as hydraulic fracturing, has turned gas deposits in shale formations into an energy bonanza.


Matt NagerTrinidad Drilling driller Adam Rios works at the Reveille 1H Chesapeake Energy natural gas site in Fort Worth, Texas, on Nov. 23, 2009.


The industry’s success has triggered increasing debate over whether the drilling process could pollute freshwater supplies. Federal and state authorities are considering action that could regulate hydraulic fracturing, potentially making drilling less profitable and giving companies less reason to tap into this ample supply of natural gas.


“We can now find and produce unconventional natural-gas supplies miles below the surface in a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible manner,” Mr. Tillerson told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Natural gas heats more than half of U.S. homes and generates a fifth of America’s electricity, far less than coal, which provides the U.S. with nearly half its power. The industry and its allies are promoting natural gas a bridge fuel to help wean the U.S. off coal, which emits more global-warming gases, and imported oil until renewable fuels are able to meet the demand.

What most worries environmentalists isn’t the water in the fracturing process—it’s the chemicals mixed in the water to reduce friction, kill bacteria and prevent mineral buildup. The chemicals make up less than 1% of the overall solution, but some are hazardous in low concentrations.

Today, the industry estimates that 90% of all new gas wells are fractured. Shale—a dense, nonporous gas-bearing rock—won’t release its gas unless it is cracked open, and other types of formations also produce more gas when fractured. Easier, more porous formations, which don’t require fracturing, were tapped in earlier decades and have largely dried up.

On a recent Friday morning, a crew from Cudd Energy Services worked to fracture a Chesapeake Energy Corp. well in Caddo Parish, La., the heart of the Haynesville Shale gas field. While cattle chewed grass in a field across the street, a team of Chesapeake and Cudd employees monitored computer readouts as 21 diesel-powered pumps forced nearly 3,800 gallons of water a minute down a well that reached two miles into the earth.


It is a process Chesapeake says it has learned how to do both efficiently and safely. “We’ve done it 10,000 times in the company’s history without incident,” said Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a separate interview.

But in a coffee shop in nearby Shreveport, Caddo Parish Commissioner Matthew Linn said he had concerns after more than a dozen cows died during a Chesapeake Energy fracturing operation last year. A preliminary investigation linked the deaths to chemicals that spilled off the well site into a nearby pasture. A Chesapeake spokesman says the company compensated the cattle’s owner and has taken steps to prevent a similar incident in the future.

“I’m all for drilling, and I want to get the gas out from underneath us,” Mr. Linn said. “But at the same time, how do you balance human life and quality of life and clean water against that?”

Natural-gas companies say what’s at work is fear of the new. “When you introduce something like hydraulic fracturing in a part of the country that hasn’t had any experience with it, I think it’s natural for there to be questions about the procedure,” says Mr. McClendon.

Read the entire article here.

UW biomass power plant a gamble for state

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On one hand, the technology the University of Wisconsin is using isn’t as efficient as fossil fuels, so we shouldn’t yet be deploying it on such a large scale. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to increase the efficiency of these renewable fuel technologies on an efficient scale until the investments are made to deploy it, since only then can we see how it needs to be improved. Since we’re fairly confident that the coal and natural gas replaced by these technologies will run out within the next century, perhaps it’s time to invest in biomass, biofuels, and other renewables. I’m not sure, so I’ll sit on the fence for now and continue to argue most strenuously in favor  of energy efficiency.

This article discusses similar technologies as those in another article posted earlier today.

There is also a background article on this UW story here.

By Lee Bergquist and Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 19, 2010

A state-funded, $250 million project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison aims to convert a coal-fired power plant on campus to one that primarily burns biomass such as tree trimmings and crops, ideally becoming a model for how the state can reduce its carbon output and its dependence on fossil fuels.

But the massive venture – accounting for nearly one-fifth of the state’s capital budget during the 2009-’11 budget period – faces considerable hurdles. Among them:

• Upfront construction costs will be higher than other alternatives that were considered.

• No infrastructure exists to process the eclectic mix of fuels the plant would burn.

• The plant’s surplus electricity will be sold into a regional market already awash in excess power.


And because of the economic benefits that will accrue to farmers and other local suppliers, state officials believe biomass power plants can help stimulate the market for homegrown fuels.

“We are not just building a power plant,” said David Helbach, a former utility executive and administrator of the Division of State Facilities. “We are trying to jump-start the biofuels market.”

Read the entire article here.

Save Energy, Reap Rewards

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If this business, Earth Aid, is actually making money this way, it is a fantastic model. I’m not sure it’s the first program of its kind, as demand side management (DSM) is pretty common, but the greater the variety of incentives to use energy more efficiently, the better. Simply saving money on a utility bill should be sufficient incentive to reduce energy use. Still, if businesses can generate more sales by providing incentives like these to consumers, it has a synergistic effect. Gotta love those market signals.

Posted on Sun, Jan. 17, 2010

By Diane Mastrull

Inquirer Staff Writer

You manuever the controls on your thermostat, hoping for a few more degrees of warmth.

But wait! What if there were a reward for leaving the setting right where it is – or, better yet, for lowering it?

What if putting up with a little chill got you a price break on a butter pound cake split three ways and filled with lemon curd and blackberry and raspberry puree – the hopelessly tantalizing spring torte from Bredenbeck’s Bakery in Chestnut Hill?

Or maybe a $10 coupon for native plants or artisanal goat-milk cheeses at Yellow Springs Farm in Chester Springs? Or a bed-and-breakfast package at the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City?

Perks like those are part of a growing list from local businesses hoping to improve their bottom lines by promoting a greener lifestyle.

Rewards for households that recycle are well-known through RecycleBank, which got its start here in 2005.

Now comes what is believed to be a first: a rewards program for saving energy.

Earth Aid, a Washington start-up, enables U.S. residents to track their electric, gas, and water usage online and, by cutting back on it, earn points that can be redeemed at local businesses.

Read the entire article here.

Grassley: Energy bill likely in 2010; cap-and-trade unlikely

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It is a fascinating time to be alive. There are so many different directions these pieces of legislation can go, and any movement will affect our pocketbooks as well as larger issues of the environment and resource availability for generations to come. As Grassley begins what could be a tough fight with Democratic candidate Roxanne Conlin, it will be very interesting to hear what the people of Iowa, an agricultural state with strong interest in these matters, have to say about them.

By Michael O’Brien – 01/12/10 11:49 AM ET

The Senate will move on energy and environmental issues in 2010, but not cap-and-trade legislation, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asserted Tuesday.

Grassley said that the Senate is likely to take up an energy bill, perhaps including a renewable electricity standard, but not the controversial emissions reduction system approved last year by the House but left undone by the Senate.

“I think you can expect everything but cap-and-trade,” Grassley said in a conference call with agricultural reporters. “I think it’s fair to say that there will be an energy bill taken up.”

Read the entire article here.

Utility policy is one more casualty of recession

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Here’s another response to people who complain that investments in energy efficiency are too costly. Sure, we can’t do all of it at once, but like any investments, if they’re made according to the returns they’ll garner, they’re simply smart money. The money paid to utilities to reconnect power or for late payment fees does little to boost our economy, and the government assistance needed to help people pay these bills bleeds funds from other projects. The potential drawback to lower energy rates could be an increase in energy consumption. Strategies such as reverse block pricing, where people who use less energy pay a lower price per unit, are simple, market-based mechanisms that can counter this possible detraction.

December 20, 2009
Utility Bill Is One More Casualty of Recession

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For the Cardente family, the shutoff of their electricity and gas in September was a
wrenching marker in a two-year downslide.
A run of mishaps, including illness and the husband’s workplace injury, extensive structural damage from a
burst water bed and the mother’s layoff from a nursing job, had already upended their middle-class lives.
Then the pile of utility bills emerged as a headache to rival the past-due mortgage.
“You always try to pay your mortgage or rent to keep a roof over your head,” said Debra Cardente, the
mother. “Then you ask, do you pay your electric or gas bill, pay your telephone or put food on the table?”
The recession has accentuated what was already a growing home-energy challenge for low-income and
many middle-class households across the nation. Rising numbers have had their utilities shut off, causing
desperate scrambles to pay arrears and penalties to get them restored.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

December 20th, 2009 at 6:56 am

GE Chief Hopes Copenhagen Leads to US Clean Energy

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Here’s another great example of leaders in industry not being afraid of an economy based on cleaner energy, but embracing it.

GE chief Jeffery Immelt hopes Copenhagen climate conference leads to US clean energy policy

GREENVILLE, S.C. December 8, 2009 (AP)

General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt said Tuesday he hopes the Copenhagen conference on climate change leads the United States to develop a green energy policy to grow the economy.

“What’s most important for the U.S. is that we go from Copenhagen, go into 2010, and have the courage to act on clean energy for the good of the country from the standpoint of creating jobs,” Immelt told a conference on renewable energy.

More than 100 national leaders from around the world are meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, to try to craft an agreement to reduce greenhouse gases and stem climate change.

Immelt told a meeting on renewable energy at Clemson University that within five years, 10 million new green jobs will be created worldwide.

Read the entire article here.