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Energy News

Big Oil Companies Reap Windfall From Ethanol Rules

The Wall Street Journal | Posted on November 1, 2016

Some refiners stand to rake in $1 billion by selling fuel credits, while others must spend millions to comply. Companies including  Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and BP PLC could reap a total of more than $1 billion this year by selling the renewable fuel credits associated with the ethanol program, according to an analysis commissioned by CVR Energy, a refinery operator controlled by billionaire Carl Icahn, a vocal critic of the rules.   The ethanol and biodiesel program, created during President George W. Bush’s administration, was aimed in part at reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But those concerns have waned as a result of the abundant new U.S. oil and gas supplies unlocked by shale drilling. The rules require refiners to either blend ethanol with the gasoline they produce or buy credits. Another area of dispute is the step in the fuel supply chain at which the credits are created. It takes place at the point where ethanol and gasoline are blended. That favors companies that control vast networks of gasoline stations and thus reap more credits than the amount of oil they actually refine into fuel, while disadvantaging smaller refiners without as much of a retail presence.

Waste, Families Left Behind As Nuclear Plants Close

NPR | Posted on October 27, 2016

A drive 30 minutes north of Omaha, Neb., leads to the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant. It's full of new equipment. There's a white concrete box building that's still under construction. It's licensed until 2033. But the plant is closing Monday. The Fort Calhoun plant cranked out electricity for 43 years, and it was licensed for another 17. Decommissioning will cost up to $1.5 billion, and take up to 60 years to complete. Still, Tim Burke figures eating all of that is cheaper than keeping the plant in production. Burke runs the Omaha Public Power District, which owns Fort Calhoun. He says operating a small plant like this one, especially in a region with abundant wind power and natural gas, just doesn't make sense.

Winona County Board moves closer to a frac sand mining ban

Star Tribune | Posted on October 27, 2016

Minnesota - Winona County commissioners on Tuesday ordered the county attorney to finalize language that would make it the first county in Minnesota to ban the highly contentious industry of frac sand mining. After lengthy discussion weighing several options, commissioners voted 3-2 for language that would impose an outright ban on all industrial mineral operations, including frac sand mining, that initially was proposed last spring. A final vote is expected at the board's Nov. 22 meeting.  The vote was "a big step forward for the ban" of all frac sand mining in the county, said Johanna Rupprecht of the Land Stewardship Project. Mining supporters in the county have said they're trying to protect private property rights, provide new jobs and preserve the region's chance to cash in on new developments in the nation's oil industry. There are no mine permit applications pending in Winona County, due to a lull in sand mining that reflects a slump in worldwide energy production. Still, the regulation of sand mining in Winona has generated intense interest, with recent public meetings packed with citizens. Sand mining in Minnesota and Wisconsin has boomed and waned along with the oil and gas production practice known as hydrofracking. The particular kind of sand found in parts of southeast Minnesota was in huge demand by exploration companies, which use it to prop open cracks in the underground shale formations that produce oil and natural gas.

Interconnection: The Key to Realizing Your Distributed Energy Policy Dream

Green Tech Media | Posted on October 27, 2016

Imagine a state that has enacted all of the policies that the public and clean energy providers have asked for: an aggressive renewable portfolio standard, a robust grid modernization plan, far-reaching shared renewables. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, people are celebrating and getting ready to build new projects -- perfect, right? Unfortunately, there could be dark clouds on the horizon without the one policy most critical to making everything else work: interconnection. The absence of this crucial policy would cause projects to because mired in a murky technical process, with no end in sight.  Does this sound too pessimistic to be real? It’s not. Just ask Minnesota, New York and several other states that have learned the hard way about the importance of interconnection. The power grid is much like our network of country roads, highways and freeways, carrying energy from its origin to its final destination. Interconnection standards are, in effect, the “rules of the road,” set by policymakers, which both system owners and utilities must follow to keep traffic flowing smoothly. The quality of these rules -- like any given street sign, traffic direction or roadmap -- can facilitate an easy free-flow of traffic, or result in maddening, unnecessary gridlock. As we introduce new technologies and services, such as self-driving cars and ride-sharing apps, the rules of the road must evolve. So, too, must interconnection procedures.

Woe in the oilfield: 213 companies have now declared bankruptcy | Posted on October 27, 2016

Fewer and fewer oil exploration and production companies are declaring bankruptcy.  But more oilfield service companies are.  So far this month, only one North American E&P firm filed for Chapter 11 protection, according to data released on Tuesday by the Dallas law firm Haynes & Boone. That’s down from two in September, three in August and four in July. But it’s been an especially tough few months for service companies. As crude prices began crashing in 2014, drillers started idling rigs. That led to fewer jobs for the companies that make their money helping producers pump oil and gas. Moreover, when producers did hire service companies, they often forced them to heavily discount their rates. Eight service companies filed this month. Seven filed last month, and eight again the month before. Almost 50 have filed in the last six months, half of the 108 over two years.

Spokane Tribe, others call for better federal consultation on oil pipeline

The Spokesman Review | Posted on October 27, 2016

American Indian tribes in Washington, including the Spokane Tribe, called on President Barack Obama to overhaul the way the federal government consults with tribes on fossil fuel export and other projects.  The Spokane Tribe, Yakama Nation, Lummi Nation and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community released a five-point plan they say will improve the consultation process, protect sacred sites and provide greater recognition of tribal rights.

Ethanol Futures Hit Ceiling at $1.60 Per Gallon

DTN | Posted on October 27, 2016

Ethanol futures posted limited market movement Tuesday afternoon with prices hovering in a narrow trading range, as nearby contracts fell just 0.6 cent per gallon while deferred contracts fell 0.2 cent per gallon. November contracts fell to $1.60 per gallon as the market has been recently been capped at that level, given the lack of support in the corn and gasoline market over the last week. A combination of losses through the last week in the corn market, which fell about 8 cents per bushel, and moderate seasonal pressure starting to finally develop in RBOB gasoline and crude oil markets trickling into the complex appears to be limiting any upward market support through the end of the month. Trade activity through the ethanol market is likely to remain limited in the next several days as traders remain focused on not only the direction of corn markets, but the inventory levels of gasoline and ethanol markets. This could bring some additional price shifts to nearby contracts, but seasonal pressure is likely to continue through the end of the year as long-term pressure is likely.

State regulators cool to Kansas City utility’s electric vehicle plans

Midwest Energy News | Posted on October 27, 2016

Efforts to expand electric vehicle infrastructure in the Kansas City are hitting a roadblock amid pushback from state regulators.  Early in 2015, Kansas City Power & Light announced it would install about 1,100 electric-vehicle charging stations in the greater Kansas City area. At the time, it apparently was the largest such undertaking in the country. The utility indicated that it wanted to give a nudge to the electrification of vehicles – a potential boon for KCP&L and electric utilities in general. But KCP&L is backing away. Following installation of about 230 of 315 charging stations it had planned for the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area (the project is also underway in Missouri), the utility put the other 85 on hold after the Kansas Corporation Commission last month denied the company’s request to charge ratepayers for the $5.6 million initiative.

How a relic could drive future utility regulation in Mo.

E & E Publishing | Posted on October 27, 2016

Could a nearly obsolete technology of the past — the humble pay phone — hold lessons for how utility regulators answer a key policy question about the future of utilities? The Missouri Public Service Commission's staff thinks so. The PSC is expected to vote today on an Ameren Missouri pilot project to build and operate six electric-vehicle charging stations between St. Louis and Jefferson City, Mo., in an effort to spark the EV market by helping eliminate so-called range anxiety. The commission has pondered for more than a year how to treat requests by investor-owned utilities seeking to develop EV charging stations and to recover at least a share of the costs from ratepayers. Last week, the commission asked parties involved in the Ameren case if they believe the PSC has oversight of EV charging, and whether utilities need to obtain specific approval to build and own them in their service areas. In its answer, the PSC staff said the operation of an EV charging station by a public utility undoubtedly falls within the commission's jurisdiction.

Ohio farmer/state rep wants to get rid of ‘gotcha’ moments in food inspections

Sentinel Tribune | Posted on October 26, 2016

OHio House Representative Brian Hill, R-Zanesville,is serving his second term and chairs the Agriculture and Rural Development committee. He is the last active farmer in the House.  One focus of his is House Bill 551, along with the latest water quality laws. House Bill 551 is geared toward those who conduct inspections of retail food establishments and food service operations.It is very unusual because both the restaurant association and those inspectors (normally at odds with each other) both came to us,” Hill said. “Those inspectors said, ‘We have a problem.’ The inspection process is not based on critical violations, it’s based on ‘gotchas,’” He explained that the goal of the inspection is to focus on risk-based matters. Right now, Hill said the inspections are focused on non-critical violations such as a light bulb out or a crack in a ceiling tile. He contends the inspections should be more focused on the critical violations such as continuing problems with water temperatures not being up to standards.“It’s all boring until you get sick. The focus needs to be on those critical situations, not going in and seeing a broken tile and saying, ‘Gotcha!’”