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U.S. forests are so full of dead trees that some scientists want to burn them instead of coal

The Washington Post | Posted on September 9, 2016

The state of California, wracked by drought, has 66 million dead trees across its landscape. They’ve been killed by both the drought itself and by voracious bark beetles, and now they’re just sitting there — destined to either decompose, burn in a wildfire, or be incinerated, for safety reasons, by state fire managers before the next blaze comes along. And it isn’t just California. Raging bark beetle infestations, fanned by warmer temperatures and droughts, have also struck forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho in recent years. “About 100,000 beetle-kill trees fall every day in Wyoming and northern Colorado, to give you an idea of the order of magnitude,” says Erica Belmont, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wyoming. Belmont is studying an intriguing solution for what to do with all these dangerous dead trees — namely, burn them for energy. In a recent study in Energy Policy, Belmont and colleague Emily Beagle do the math on whether it would make sense to use the timber in existing coal plants, which can be “co-fired” with wood.

The birth and troubled childhood of an American supergrid

EEnews | Posted on September 9, 2016

It may seem ironic that the pioneer of projects that could lead to the sharpest increase in emissions-free electricity in the United States started in Wyoming, the state that leads U.S. production of coal, ranks in the top 10 for natural gas production and pumps 2 percent of the nation's oil. The project started with a 320,000-acre cattle ranch in Carbon County on Wyoming's southern border. In 2006, Philip Anschutz, the ranch's billionaire owner, put it up for sale. Then one of his top aides, Bill Miller, pointed out that the ranch is swept by some of the steadiest, most powerful land-based wind resources in the world. If there were some way to capture and transmit the ranch's wind energy to California, one of the world's richest markets for emissions-free electricity, that would certainly be a better economic proposition. Anschutz could keep the ranch, continue to raise cattle on it and harvest its formidable wind energy at the same time. Was that possible? Miller and Anschutz did some research and discovered there might just be a way. By then, a technology called high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) power lines had matured and seemed ready for the task. Most Americans think of Thomas Edison when it comes to direct current, which he used to light up Lower Manhattan in 1882. But Edison's DC proved to be too weak to move electricity much more than a mile beyond a power plant. A Serbian-American inventor, Nikola Tesla, came up with a better idea using an alternating current, or so-called AC electricity, that moved in a regular, wavelike pattern. He also invented a transformer that could step up AC power to carry it over longer distances.

Is This the Tipping Point For Electric Cars?

Bloomberg | Posted on September 9, 2016

Making an electric car is easy. We’ve been doing it for more than a century. Charging them, however, is tough. It requires infrastructure—a grid on the grid—and presents a chicken-egg conundrum: Who wants a plug-in car when there’s nowhere to plug it in? Who wants to build car chargers, when there aren’t enough cars to charge?  Rest easy, Tesla-heads and Nissan Leaf geeks; we’re finally getting there. The number of charging stations in the U.S. has reached a critical mass. The U.S. Department of Energy says there are now 14,349 electric vehicle charging stations nationwide, comprising almost 36,000 outlets. Meanwhile, electric vehicle owners still do most of their charging at home outlets that aren't included in that tally, according to the agency. Silicon Valley-based ChargePoint, which operates one of the nation's largest charging networks, just announced that it now has 30,100 outlets to plug in a vehicle in the U.S.—roughly double the number of McDonald’s restaurants in the country. Tesla Motors, meanwhile, has 294 supercharger stations where travelers can top off their batteries quickly and another 2,906 destination chargers at such places as wineries and luxury hotels.

Could big changes be in store for ethanol mandate and Renewable Fuel Standard?

The Log | Posted on September 9, 2016

One presidential candidate reportedly sought advice from a California agency of how to alter the national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which sets mandates on the supply of ethanol in our gasoline. Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was called out in a federal report for failing to meet its statutory reporting requirements under the RFS. Both events in August add fuel to the flames of an already divisive topic pitting certain biofuel producers against consumers – such as boaters – who say ethanol is bad for their engines.

Grid study finds new transmission could further cut costs, emissions

Midwestern Energy News | Posted on September 9, 2016

A recent study highlighting the renewable energy capacity of the eastern power grid found adding new transmission capacity can help further cut costs and emissions.  the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found the grid serving the eastern half of the U.S. is technically capable of integrating enough wind and solar power into the system to meet 30 percent of the region's yearly energy needs. But one major obstacle to the large-scale use of renewables remains: getting the best wind resource from the Midwest to the East, where the power is needed.

Judge Puts Hold on Plan to Open California Lands to Fracking

ABC News | Posted on September 8, 2016

A federal judge on Tuesday tentatively rejected a plan by the federal Bureau of Land Management to open more than 1,500 square miles of lands in central California to oil drilling and fracking.  The BLM failed to take a "hard look" at the environmental effects of the estimated 25 percent of new wells that would be devoted to fracking, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald wrote in the ruling. The process, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand and chemicals to extract oil and gas from rock.  Fitzgerald ruled that the BLM must provide more study on the effects fracking will have in the area. He gave the agency's attorneys until Sept. 21 to argue why he should not issue an injunction stopping the plan.

Ohio University receives $2 million grant for coal-impacted communities

Morgan County Herald | Posted on September 8, 2016

Ohio University has received a $2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportun­ities and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) program to create a 28-county regional innovation network in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.  The goal of the program is to create 125 new businesses and 1,110 jobs and raise $25 million in company investments from public and private sources over the next six years. Ohio University’s Innovation Center, an incubator for small high-tech businesses, and partners from across the tristate region will work collaboratively on the Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability (LIGHTS) program to provide expertise, training and resources to the regional workforce, entrepreneurs, companies and local communities.

Ohio Supreme Court strikes down challenge to wind-farm approval

The Columbus Dispatch | Posted on September 8, 2016

The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a challenge of the way state officials approved a wind farm in Champaign County.  In a unanimous ruling released on Wednesday, the court found that the Ohio Power Siting Board was proper in the way it approved revisions to a proposal for the Buckeye I wind farm. But there remains a separate pending appeal that is delaying construction of the project.

New York proposes updated fuel regulations allowing for E15

Ethanol Producer Magazine | Posted on September 8, 2016

On Aug. 24, the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets published a proposed rule in the New York State Register proposing to update the statement’s fuel regulations to allow for the sale of E15 in model year 2001 and newer vehicles.  In addition for allowing for the sale of E15 blends, the proposed rule also includes a provision that will require ethanol blends to comply with certain labeling requirements required by federal regulation. The proposal states retailers “must post the octane rating of [all] automotive gasoline, except gasoline-ethanol blends containing more than 10 percent and not more than 15 percent ethanol by volume.” This must be accomplished by “putting at least one label on each face of each gasoline dispenser through which” gasoline is sold. If two or more kinds of gasoline with different octane ratings are sold from a single dispenser, the retailer must but separate labels for each kind of gasoline on each face of the dispenser. In addition, the proposed rule will require automotive gasoline to meet updated ASTM International standards.

EPA to shut some Oklahoma wastewater wells after quake | Posted on September 7, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will order wastewater disposal wells shut near the epicenter of a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck on Saturday around Pawnee, Oklahoma.  The quake was one of the strongest ever to hit the state and prompted its oil and gas regulator, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, to order 37 disposal wells shut in a 725-square-mile (1,878-sq-km) area around Pawnee.  It also asked the EPA to help shut disposal wells in a 211 square-mile (546.49-sq-km) area of Osage County because the OCC lacked jurisdiction there.