Don't call it a solar "farm" — at least not to a Maryland farmer. The Maryland Farm Bureau's membership voted in 2014 to oppose appending the word "farm" to the label of any alternative energy-generation plant, including a solar farm facility. Photovoltaic cells are springing up across the Eastern Shore at an unprecedented clip. Fueled by hefty government subsidies and relatively cheap prices for acreage, utility-scale solar facilities are supplanting one farm after another. Cue the backlash: Farmers say the loss of valuable cropland threatens the very existence of their industry in the Free State. When the Farm Bureau convenes its annual gathering in Ocean City in December, the powerful lobby plans to debate and vote on a more full-throated policy toward solar energy development.
A project that would turn gases released at landfill in southern Idaho into energy is moving forward. Commissioners from seven counties that own Southern Idaho Solid Waste voted Wednesday for the project at Milner Butte Landfill in Burley to proceed. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that the project involves taking methane gases produced by decomposing garbage and burning it for energy. The landfill already captures methane gas and burns it, but doesn't yet generate energy through the process. Commissioners from Blaine, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln and Twin Falls counties voted in favor of the move, while Minidoka's commissioner abstained. The waste district will finalize a lease agreement and pursue an agreement for Idaho Power Co. to buy the energy that's produced.
In its recent report, “Farms and Free Enterprise: A Blueprint for Agricultural Policy,” The Heritage Foundation calls for the elimination of constructive energy programs in the next Farm Bill. That's a nonsensical proposition. The Farm Bill's Energy Title reduces our dependence on oil, reduces carbon emissions, and helps meet growing consumer demand for sustainable energy and bioproducts. Further, the programs have unlocked billions of dollars of private lending for rural communities, which otherwise lack access to capital. The programs are supporting a resurgence of manufacturing in the United States, which drives job creation and economic growth for rural communities across the United States. The bi-partisan renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, like previous farm bills, have undoubtedly made a difference in growing our nation's agricultural and clean energy economy. Examples abound.
Just maybe, a few of the legislators were praying for the next oil boom, the way their fathers and grandfathers did. But this oil bust could be different. A growing body of research says that changes in the international oil market, rapid advances in wind- and solar-powered generation and regulations aimed at curbing climate change may hold down the price of oil and natural gas for years or even a decade. That means the fracking-fueled bonanza that pushed American oil production to levels not seen since the early 1970s may be remembered as more than just another high point for the states that depend on the oil industry. It could be the last oil boom. "We've actually hit a point that this isn't your daddy's kind of boom and bust — it's a new set of factors that are influencing demand," said Shanna Cleveland, a manager of the carbon asset risk program at the nonprofit group Ceres. A lot of people disagree with the idea. And even among those who agree, there are different ideas about how a long-term decline in oil demand could happen and, crucially, when it could happen. But if the predictions are accurate, it could mean that even though oil prices are recovering, they may not hit the $100-a-barrel peaks they reached just two summers ago. And it could extend the economic pain that's already rippling across a half-dozen states dependent on taxes on oil production, from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico. In North Dakota, a handful of small towns took on hundreds of millions in debt to pay for schools, parks and other projects. A prolonged oil bust could send those communities into a downward spiral in which a dwindling population is forced to pay for boom-time debts with a shrinking tax base.
A new report shows Iowa is deriving more than 35 percent of its electricity from wind energy, an increase from statistics made public earlier this year. The American Wind Energy Association says in a report released Thursday that Iowa has increased its percentage of in-state electricity that comes from wind turbines. The data, backed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is based on a 12-month rolling average through the end of August 2016. The association says Iowa is now the first state to generate more than one-third of its electricity from wind energy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.