Letting the market decide: Is Pennsylvania’s Deregulation Approach to the Electricity Distribution Best Thing for Consumers? Letting the market decide: Is Pennsylvania’s Deregulation Approach to the Electricity Distribution Best Thing for Consumers?

 

Almost 20 years ago, Pennsylvania law recognized a need to “begin the transition from regulation to greater competition in the electricity generation market to benefit all classes of customers and to protect this Commonwealth’s ability to compete in the national and international marketplace for industry and jobs.”[1]  Since then, consumers of electricity have had the great pleasure of shopping for electricity, which has theoretically forced competing utility providers to maintain competitive rates.  Pennsylvania is one of fifteen states with this type of deregulated scheme.[2]

The question remains: is the average consumer of electricity better off with the “natural monopolies” of yore, or with the invisible hand on their thermostat?

While the Competition Act is careful to protect the rights of those with low income to valid access to electricity, it would seem to me that a deregulated system could prove to be counter productive.

The first problem is transparency.  Even economic conservatives point out the “lax disclosure” requirements that allow large providers to take advantage of consumers.[3]  If utility providers are afforded the same advertising standards as people selling any other commodity, it could leave a consumer in the position of being without electricity as a result of getting a raw deal on the free market.  In response to an unusually cold winter, which had left many consumers with ridiculous, unanticipated rate hikes, the Pennsylvania Public Utility commission has issued new disclosure requirements would could address the concern of transparency in this regard.[4]

That being said, the second problem with leaving the electric grid to the free market relates to the unusual circumstances of the polar vortex this winter.  Is it a good idea to leave people’s power to a market subject to the whims of wildly uncontrollable variables?  This past harsh winter is one example, leaving many people with exorbitantly higher bills after switching to seemingly lower competitive rates in the free market.[5]  Rates could also spike if local utility companies are feeling competitive pressure, experiencing plant problems, or moving investments elsewhere.[6]

While risk is a part of our free market economy, the question still remains whether we want to allow such risk to influence something as important as power generation.  In my opinion, recent events demonstrate that a de-regulated market for electricity has been consistently tenuous and unpredictable.

 


[1] 66 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2802 (West)

[2] Hannah Wiseman, Lindsay Grisamer, E. Nichole Saunders, Formulating A Law of Sustainable Energy: The Renewables Component, 28 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 827, 906 (2011)

[3]http://www.pennlive.com/editorials/index.ssf/2011/08/the_darker_side_of_electric_de.html

[4] http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/breaking-news/index.ssf/2014/04/pennsylvania_public_utility_co_1.html

[5] http://articles.mcall.com/2014-03-01/news/mc-pc-electric-deregulation-disaster-20140301_1_deregulation-electric-bills-public-utility-commission

[6] http://triblive.com/business/headlines/5464496-74/power-firstenergy-company#axzz30CEICHCv

Biodiesel: Maybe Fast Food Isn’t Such a Bad Thing

Link

Recently, my wife and I opened our own bakery.  Starting a business of this type involves many fees, including supplies, maintenance, and trash disposal.  Of the many suppliers, contractors, and service providers I have spoken to in the last several months, however, maybe the most intriguing was a gentleman who works for a local biofuel company.  After answering questions regarding how much oil we use on average in our fryers and selecting the best location for a storage barrel, the gentleman wrote us a check for the privilege of taking away our expended oils, with the intention of producing biodiesel.

Anyone who has worked at a fast-food chain or restaurant has, at least once, had the unfortunate duty of emptying grease traps or fryers, and it is not for the faint of heart.  For larger operations, these filthy, repulsive oils are held in massive storage containers measured in hundreds, or even thousands of gallons.  While this waste product was once a nuisance that restaurants paid to be rid of, in recent years, its increased value has made it a common target by thieves.  The transformation of this used cooking oil is just one of the ways to make biodiesel, a renewable fuel source that is being used to supplement conventional diesel fuel.  In addition to cooking oils, biodiesel can be made from algae, soybeans, and a number of other renewable resources.

There are conflicting views on the use of biodiesel in automobiles.  For instance, many studies claim that biodiesel use in newer diesel engines is not only safe, but beneficial, burning cleaner than traditional gasoline, and lessening the wear-and-tear on engine parts.  Also, most vehicles require no retrofitting in order to run even 100% biodiesel, with only a small drop in engine performance and fuel economy.  On the negative side, while greenhouse gas emissions are generally lower, some studies point to an actual increase in nitrous oxide emissions.  Additionally, auto manufacturers, uncertain about the long-term effects of biodiesel use, have been reluctant to accept the use of higher blends of biodiesel above 5 percent.  In fact, in 2010, Mercedes-Benz prohibited the use of blends above 5 percent, and refused to honor their warranties when the damage was caused by the use of these fuels.

Though its use dates back decades, biodiesel has peaked in recent years as an inexpensive way to power diesel engines in cars and trucks, and additionally, to utilize the unusable solids from the cleaning process in animal feedstock.  The use of biofuels has been encouraged in many ways, including research and tax credits.  First, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 encouraged the research and development of biofuels, including biodiesel, and the necessity of the increased use of these fuels.  This was followed by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provided a $1 tax credit, per gallon, for sellers of biodiesel from plant products, and 50 cents per gallon for recycled vegetable oils.  Though this Biodiesel Tax Credit had been extended until the end of 2013, and the Biodiesel Tax Incentive Reform and Extension Act of 2014 was introduced in Congress in February, there is currently no extension of this tax credit.

Some in the industry claim that, if the maximum potential for recycling used cooking oil alone were to be achieved, the United States could supplement our annual diesel fuel use by up to 5 percent.  Of course, there is still the debate on whether there are truly long-term effects on diesel engines through the use of biodiesel, and because most of the large-scale use of biodiesel is relatively recent, we may not know for years the potential impacts it will have.  It is, however, in our best interest to find out soon, however; so long as there is an appetite for fried foods and sweets, there will be a relative abundance of used cooking oil that can be used to potentially lower our dependence on foreign oil and the emission of greenhouse gases.

Bats, Eagles, and Wind Turbines

Wind energy is publically seen as a clean, green, and friendly alternative to the destructive drilling and mining industry. Wind energy is derived from wind farms, which are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings.[1] Each turbine has rotating blades that are roughly the same size as a passenger jet’s wingspan and spin at speeds upward of 170 mph.[2] Although the blades appear to spin slowly, these massive fans have become death machines for bats and birds alike, with a special concern regarding eagles and endangered bats.

The executive branch has recently established a new rule declaring that they will not prosecute the companies responsible for the illegal killing of eagles on wind farms[3]. The new law provides legal protection over the lifespan of the wind farm if the company obtains a permit and makes efforts to avoid killing birds.[4] Studies are not decisive in determining how many eagles are killed a year which does create misleading data. A low end estimate of deaths is about ten per year, but a high kill area in California averages 60 eagles killed per year.[5] Various environmental agencies have attempted to subpoena the Obama industry to release the violations and prosecute those responsible.[6]

Wind turbine destruction of bats is a well-known and documented problem. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, in 2011, 420 turbines killed an estimate of 10,000 bats.[7] In attempts to create a deterrent, the Bat and Wind Energy Cooperative fitted certain turbines with “an acoustic device that would generate a noise that would disrupt a bat’s ability to locate the turban plate.”[8] The results showed a dramatic decrease in the amount of bat deaths per deterrent turbine.[9] It may be possible to create an eagle deterrent as they have with the bats.

 


[1] Wind farms that kill bald eagles are now protected from prosecution.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wind farms can kill eagles without penalty

[6] House panel subpoenas Obama administration over wind farm eagle deaths.

[7] How Wind Energy is sucking the Life out of Our Bat Population.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

 

Sources

“Wind Farms that kill bald eagles are now protected from prosecution.” Associated. Press 6 Dec. 2013 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/wind-farms-that-kill-bald-eagles-are-now-protected-from-prosecution/#the-rundown

“House panel subpoenas Obama administration over wind farm eagle deaths.” FoxNews.com 12 Mar. 2014 http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/12/house-panel-subpoenas-white-house-on-wind-power-eagle-deaths/

“Wind farms can kill eagles without penalty.” Cappiello, Dina. 6 Dec. 2012. http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/wind-farms-can-kill-eagles-without-penalty-f2D11702834

“How Wind Energy is Sucking the Life out of Our Bat Population.” http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/152702125.html

Wind in Danger

In January 2014, electricity created by wind counted for 4.8% of the electricity used in the United States.  This is an increase since last January, which was an increase since the January before that and so on and so forth.  Wind is a clean renewable energy and is much cheaper than fossil fuels.  As shown in its growth over the last decade, Wind power could be answer to the fossil fuel shortage that is inevitable.  However, Wind Energy, which was could have been a threat to fossil fuels in years to come, is in danger of losing government funding and investors.

Fossil Fuels, i.e. coal, natural gas, and petroleum, are the source of 68% of the electricity used in the United States.  It is inevitable that these sources of energy will eventually run out.  They are not renewable.  Thus, there has been a push to find an alternative source of renewable energy so the eventual loss of fossil fuels will be a non-issue in the future.  It was thought that wind power, and possibly solar power, could be the answer to fossil fuels and that is why the industry has consistently grown in the last decade.  However, due to possible choices made by Congress and the boom of the natural gas industry, the U.S. Wind industry is lacking investors.

It is unclear whether Congress will extend the U.S. farm subsidy.  This has obviously made investors weary.  It takes time and money to build wind farms and the federal subsidy that has doled out to the wind power industry has helped alleviate the cost of building new wind farms.  Another aspect that has made investors weary is the boom of the natural gas industry in the United States.

Natural gas is in abundance in the United States.  Its abundance has made the source of energy extremely cheap.  This has shied investors away from the wind industry.  Proponents of wind power argue that while natural gas is cheaper now it will eventually rise in price and wind power will remain a constant price for decades.  It does not take a genius to realize that the last statement is true, but investors are still afraid to get involved with the wind industry.

In recent days, IKEA invested in an Illinois wind farm.  Hopefully, this is a sign of what is to come.  If Congress extends the federal subsidy discussed above, then the U.S. should see an influx of voters.  This would be ideal as wind could be the renewable energy that the United States has been searching for years.  Only time will tell if wind power will be a long term answer.

SOURCES

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-04-10/business/chi-ikea-illinois-wind-farm-investment-20140410_1_wind-farm-american-wind-energy-association-wind-projects

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/10/wind-solar-grow-but-investments-fall/7511733/

http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-07/u-s-wind-power-blows-new-records-again-and-again-.html

Addressing the Concerns of Wind Energy

Today, as technology increases, there are many renewable energy sources that are being more widely used then ever before. One of these renewable energy sources is wind energy. Wind energy is characterized as a clean renewable energy source that reduces green house gas emissions, reduces electricity costs, and is cost competitive with energy from coal and gas power plants all by maximizing the benefits of the air around us. The process of creating wind energy involves large wind turbines that are set into motion when the wind blows. As the turbine propellers move with the wind, electricity is generated. Although the wind industry has been growing in recent years along with other sources of renewable energy sources, some critics are not “blown away” by the pros of wind energy at the expense of the cons.

Most of the concerns surrounding wind energy revolve around three complaints: the impact of aesthetic appearance of the landscape wind farms are located on, the noise the turbines generate is causing health problems, and the turbine blades are harmful to the wildlife surrounding the farms, primarily birds and bats.

First, the land use varies substantially on the site of the wind farm.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US stated that a wind farm is anywhere between 30 and 141 acres per megawatt of power output capacity. Turbines disturb less than one acre permanently and less than 3.5 acres are disturbed temporarily during construction. This means that the turbines themselves occupy a small portion of the total area of a wind facility and the surrounding area can be used for recreational purposes, highway construction, or livestock grazing. By making the land surrounding the turbines accessible for public use brings value to this energy source that is not provided for in other energy sources. Although the turbines are large and an eyesore to some individuals, the land surrounding the turbines can be used for additional purposes all while generating a key societal need of clean energy.

Second, many people living near wind farms complain of sound and vibration issues stemming from the turbine blades moving through the air as well as mechanical sounds stemming from the turbine formation itself. However, it has been found by studies done in Canada and Australia that these issues do not affect public health. The only confirmed medical symptom is known as “shadow flicker” which is caused by turbine blades interrupt the sunlight causing a flicker of light and shadows. Shadow flicker has been reported to have the potential of inducing photosensitive epilepsy seizures. However, today with modern technology and proper planning this health issue can be minimized by planting trees, installing window awnings, strategically planning the placement of turbines, and curtailing operations when certain light conditions are present.

Third, a recent national wind coordinating committee (“NWCC”) stated that bird and bat collisions with turbines poses no significant threat to the species of animal. Additionally, great strides have been taken to locate wind farms in areas where they will not harm birds in flight. It has also been reported that bats are more likely to fly when wind speeds are low. By keeping turbines at a stand still in times of low wind speeds the death of bats will be reduced without much setback to the energy produced. These advances plus further innovation should decrease the problem significantly and make wind energy more safe for the surrounding wildlife.

Albeit that there are valid concerns surrounding wind energy, there are many qualities that are admirable of this renewable source such as:

  • Wind energy yields no pollutants, including those that cause global warming.
  • Wind energy does not have any effects on the earth’s water supply.
  • Usually turbines generate energy at wind speeds ranging from four to twenty-five metres per second and one turbine roughly produces 6 million kilowatt hours a year providing electricity for 1,500 households.
  • The European Wind Energy Association (“EWEA”) reported that in 2012 100 GW of wind power can generate electricity for a year to 57 million households which is the equivalent to 62 coal power plants, 39 nuclear power plants, or 52 gas power plants.
  • The Natural Resource defense council (“NRDC”) stated that in some months wind energy provides more than 6 percent of our nations electricity and experts believe that this number could increase by 5 times that amount in the future.
  • Additionally, the NRDC stated that a typical 250MW wind farm (around 100 turbines) will create 1,073 jobs over the lifetime of the project.

Like all Energy Sources, there are flaws that can be contributed to each source. Government agencies are doing further research into renewable energy sources, like wind, in order to solve any issues that may arise in order to sustain the lifestyle we are all accustomed to while sustaining the environment. The wind industry has taken great strides to produce energy in a safe manner and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Sources:

http://sites.duke.edu/windenergy2012/comparison/

http://www.globalwindday.org/faq/how-much-electricity-can-one-wind-turbine-generate/

http://www.globalwindday.org/about-wind-energy/

http://www.nrdc.org/energy/renewables/wind.asp

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/positive-negative-wind-energy-78719.html

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-wind-power.html

Photo: http://barnardonwind.com/2013/03/11/wind-farms-co-exist-with-other-land-uses-debunking-the-myth-of-energy-density/

 

 

Are Dams the Future of Hydro-power?

Hydro-power is a type of renewable energy.  Hydro-power uses water movement to make energy, and unlike major energy generators it does not destroy, or lessen the source of power in anyway during the process. With low operating and maintenance costs, and high reliability it seems to be an excellent choice of an energy source. However the costs associated with the planning and construction of hydro projects are extremely high, and also along with these projects come many fears. Such as public worry, economical impacts, and major environmental impacts. Because of these concerns major dams, such as the hoover dam, have been pushed to the side. Currently a wide variety of new possible ways to make Hydroelectricity are in development.

The future of hydro energy can be described in four major areas. Those areas include tidal power, marine current power, wave power, and osmotic power. While these are currently the four major areas that could be the future of hydro, they have many obstacles to still overcome. The Department of Energy several times mentioned how, “every tidal and marine current project faces a cost efficiency issue and the cemetery of inventions is full of projects technically viable but economically bound to death.”

The first type, tidal power, is very similar to a dam system. At the entrance to an inlet a dam or barrages are built, these have gates that water flows through as the tide rises and lowers. During this process the moving water moves turbines to create energy. This however can be very disrupting to marine life. There is also the option for a tidal fence, which has vertical turbines that are embedded into the sea floor. The tidal fence system is much cheaper than a system of barrages.

Marine Current is another one of the possible futures of hydro-power. The Department of the Interior once noted, “capturing just one percent of the Gulf Stream’s energy could meet 35 percent of Florida’s annual electricity needs.” Also according to that the Department says there is more than 21,000 times more energy in the Gulf than in Niagara Falls.  The challenge with this system though is being able to effectively and economically getting turbines into the seabed, or on underwater platforms.

The final two options for the future are wave power, and osmotic power. Wave conversion is by far the most advanced of the four. Currently a company has a prototype of a design off the shores of Scotland that they launched in 2010. This 600-foot long machine is a link of cylindrical sections that float on the oceans surface. As the ocean waves flex and bend the cylinders it generates power. Currently they are also trying to incorporate solar energy into this design. Osmotic is the most complicated and least developed. This is just the process of harvesting kinetic energy from the process of osmosis that naturally occurs when seawater and river water pulls together.

While the future of hydro-power is still not 100 percent certain, there are many options that leave hope that hydro-power will continue to grow and become a major player in the renewable energy field.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

http://www.planete-energies.com/en/the-energy-of-tomorrow/the-future-for-current-energy-sources/renewable-energy/the-hydropower-of-tomorrow-274.html

 

http://www.usbr.gov/power/edu/pamphlet.pdf

 

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/hydro-energy-future7.htm

 

Where did all the Indians go? Pennsylvania, Hydropower, and the DAM(nation) of the Senecas …

Video On Seneca and Kinzua Dam Hydropower Tragedy

Such a traumatic event has left indelible scars on our people and our soul as a nation. Many of our people still cry today when they recollect those emotionally wrenching days.

-          David Kimelberg, CEO of Seneca Holdings LLC

Photo available at http://www.heritageinterp.com/2003.htm

Photo available at http://www.heritageinterp.com/2003.htm

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the forced relocation of more than 150 Seneca Indian families from the last remaining lands of Indian Territory in Pennsylvania due to the construction of the Kinzua Hydropower Dam .

The Seneca Nation is one of the oldest nations in the world and preceded the formation of the United States of America. It is one of the original nations of North America with sovereignty from the United States and Canada directed by a government-to-government relationship. After the American Revolutionary War the United States and the Seneca signed the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794 protecting Seneca territories in southwestern New York and northwestern Pennsylvania from claim or future interference by the United States.

However, in the first half of the 20th century the United States abrogated its treaty obligations and through the process of eminent domain laid claim to more than 10,000 acres of Seneca land in Pennsylvania (Hauptman, 1986, p. 183). Seneca Land in Pennsylvania situated among the Allegheny Indian Reservation was stolen under the guise of flood control protection. The land was then used to construct the $125 million Kinzua Dam and hydropower facility, which its proponents at the time argued would lead America into a new industrial age (Hauptman, 1986, p. 183).

The city of Pittsburgh was instrumental in advocating for the construction of the Kinzua Dam. Plans that initially began as flood control initiatives spearheaded by H.J. Heinz and the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce soon became designs for hydro-electric power development along the Allegheny River.  During the Great Depression special interest groups formed including companies like Carnegie Steel and Gulf Oil who advocated for the Kinzua Dam project so that they did not waste their factories’ workforce (Hauptman, 1986, p. 184).  The Indians were to be sacrificed for the “Pittsburgh Renaissance.” It was clear after the St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936 that the City was in dire need of flood control if it was to be an industrial pillar in the next half century (Hauptman, 1986, p. 184).

So it followed that the Army Corps of Engineers condemned the Seneca’s homes, hunting and fishing grounds, cemeteries, churches, schools, farms all of which once lined the bends of the Allegheny River. In the “taking” process the federal government burned Seneca age-old homesteads as the families were forced to watch unable to stop the desecration of their homes. After their communities in flames had been leveled to the ground the land was flooded and with it centuries of a People’s livelihood, burial plots, and ancestral ties to the land. The “Indian Problem” as the Seneca families were often referred to during the time period were removed to suburban communities near the City of Salamanca in New York state. The menial compensation that was awarded to the Seneca Nation by Congress would not cover the historical trauma that still resonates today  (Hauptman, 1986, p. 183). For the Seneca people, relocation and removal from the “take area” was their second “Trail of Tears” (Hauptman, 1986, p. 183).

The Kinzua Dam became operational on September 16, 1966 (Rosier, 1995, p. 345). According to Rosier, “proponents of the dam cloaked their argument in the rhetoric of the “common good,” claiming that the Indians impeded economic progress and thus threatened national security.” (Rosier, 1995, p. 347). Although, there was an alternative plan (the “Conewango Plan”) devised by one of the most respected civil engineers in America at the time and would cost the U.S. less money by diverting waters to Lake Erie, it did not stand a chance against the lobbying campaign of Pittsburgh elite (Rosier, 1995, p. 346). In 1957 the Seneca Nation testified before Congress opposing the construction of the dam. Their opposition remains to this day and is based on the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 which states that the United States will not claim Seneca land “nor disturb the Seneka Nation” (Rosier, 1995, p. 358).

Had the diversion plan been approved it would have solved the issues of downstream flooding on the Allegheny, but deprived Pittsburgh of water from the Allegheny River. The major industrial companies and wealthy business elite were not going to be satisfied with less water for industrial development for Pittsburgh if only to honor the U.S. treaty with the Senecas and save the Indians’ homelands. (Rosier, 1995, p. 368).

President John F. Kennedy had the opportunity to veto the Kinzua Dam project and honor the U.S. treaty with the Seneca Nation but he declined after insurmountable pressure from proponents of the dam. The pleas of the Seneca Nation and those who supported the U.S. honoring its treaty obligations were drowned out by the vast interests of Pittsburgh’s industrial and business elite in addition to the support of congressmen and the strong arm of the Army Corps of Engineers. (Rosier, 1995, p. 368). It was a tumultuous period and many Americans opposed the President’s decision, including the singer songwriter Johnny Cash who penned a song about the trauma.

In recent years, it has been the aim of the Seneca Nation to right the historic injustice that was committed against them and to “recast one of the darkest moments of the Seneca people into an economic boon.” The Senecas were not the only tribal nation to be forcibly removed from their lands for the development of hydropower dams as it occurred throughout the 20th century and continues today.

On June 11, 1953, the United States dedicated the Garrison Dam. For the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, the anniversary is not one to be celebrated.

Garrison Dam On June 11, 1953, the United States dedicated the Garrison Dam. For the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, the anniversary is not one to be celebrated.

However, we are seeing a resurgence of tribal nations taking control of their resources and developing their capacity in the Energy Sector including oil, natural gas, coal, and hydropower.

After more than 60 years of others profiting from Seneca land and water through the Kinzua Dam hydropower facility the Seneca Nation attempted to win the rights through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to operate the dam through a Seneca owned and managed energy company. The Kinzua Dam generates up to 450 megawatts of electricity every year for the Pittsburgh region. The dam was most recently operated by First Energy, an Ohio based company with major holdings in Pittsburgh. First Energy’s 50-year license to operate the dam was due to expire in November 2015. First Energy has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from operating the dam since 1965 on stolen land and resources originally belonging to the Seneca Nation.

In March of 2014, First Energy sold its license to operate the Kinzua Dam along with other hydrofacilties for $395 million to Harbor Hydro Holdings, LLC. Harbor Hydro is a subsidiary of LS Power Equity Partners II of New York City. Notably prior to this sale, in 2013 the Seneca issued comments to FERC stipulating that approval of transfer of licenses does not make any admission to the claims of the Kinzua Dam being operated on stolen land. On November 26, 2013, the Seneca Nation withdrew its comments and intervention, stating that it has entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement with First Energy Generation, LLC that resolves the issues that it raised in its comments.

So it remains to see if any past injustice has been righted.

The author was unable to receive comments from First Energy or the Seneca Nation on the terms of the settlement agreement. However, in the words of former Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter, “The difference today, unlike in times past, is that we are often dictating the terms and we are no longer being at the short end of someone else’s decision.” Hydropower is often thought to be a battle between energy and the environment, but what we forget are the people and the lives that we have DAM(ned) in the name of industrial progress.

The piece is dedicated to Chief Cornplanter. May the legacy of his diplomacy never be forgotten in the name of progress.

 Map of the Seneca Indian Territory (Allegheny Indian Reservation) stolen by the construction of Kinzua Dam and abrogation of the Canandaigua Treaty of 1764.Kinzua Dam Area

Map of the Seneca Indian Territory (Allegheny Indian Reservation) stolen by the construction of Kinzua Dam and abrogation of the Canandaigua Treaty of 1764.

As the weather gets nicer…a friendly reminder of the effect of weather on energy

For my electricity related blog I am writing about an event that had affected my family and friends who live in Long Island, New York. The events that occurred following Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012 devastated many of those on the northeast living in New York and New Jersey in particular. I distinctively remember hearing horror stories from those close to me how even after weeks after the storm had “passed” how they still had to go on without electricity. Of course, when we are consuming electricity in abundance as most of us do on a daily basis we think nothing of it. However, all of a sudden when we don’t have hot water, all of our food is spoiled, and god forbid we can’t charge our cell phones…a hint of panic may begin to set in. I thought to write about this when I came across the Year in Review resource from the ABA Environment, Energy, and Resources Law 2012 annual report of Energy and Infrastructure. This report duly notes right in the beginning that only two bills were passed in 2012 regarding energy; neither of them affecting energy infrastructure.

With regard to Hurricane Sandy the report speaks of how the states impacted by the hurricane had a total of 8,204,190 customers without power in the affected areas” and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) “reported three nuclear power units in the Northeastern United States had to shut down and two units reduced as a result of impacts from” the storm.

Shockingly, the report mentions as of November 7, 2012, there were still “650,416 customers without power in the affected States [, with] 7,860,835 customers … restored out of the 8,511,251 combined total peak outages reported.”

As a result of this, on December 7, 2012, the White House issued an Executive Order establishing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, stating “[r]ebuilding efforts must address economic conditions and the region’s aged infrastructure – including its public housing, transportation systems, and utilities – and identify the requirements and resources necessary to bring these systems to a more resilient condition given both current and future risks.”The effects of Superstorm Sandy and the nation’s response will continue into 2013.

We can obviously look in hindsight at the effects of these storms and think of how the predictable problems could have been avoided or mitigated. What I am wondering is why wait for the known extensive issues involving energy emissions post-seasonal weather effects to leave entire communities completely without power for an unreasonable amount of time? I think more attention to implementing effective and efficient measures to preempt these problems before they happen is something to think about as opposed to dealing with them when they strike.

Cite:

Chapter 15 – Energy Infrastructure and Siting 2012 Annual Report, 2012 “ABA Env’t Energy, & Resources L.: Year in Rev.” 161 (2012)

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: 25 Years Later

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez, an single-hulled oil tanker owned by Exxon Shipping Company, ran aground on the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound spilling an estimated 257,000 to 750,000 barrels (10,800,000 to 31,700,000 gallons) of oil.[1]  The oil spill spread over 1,300 miles of shoreline because of storms and the currents.[2]

In terms of the amount of oil released, the Exxon Valdez oil spill is the second largest oil spill in United States history after the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill.[3]  The Exxon Valdez oil spill is considered to have had the greatest damage to the environment of all oil spills worldwide.[4]

Since 1985, many changes have been made to reduce the risk of another similar spill and to improve the oil spill prevention and response planning.[5]

  • Tankers are now monitored by satellite by the United States Coast Guard as they pass through Prince William Sound.[6]
  • Two escort vessels, instead of just one, now accompany the tanker through the entire sound.[7]
  • For 25 miles out of the 70 mile route through the sound, tankers are equipped with specially trained marine pilots that have a high level of experience in the sound.[8]
  • Tankers in the sound are required to be double-hulled by 2015.[9]
  • Contingency plans must include a scenario for a spill of 12,600,000 gallons of oil with drills being held every year.[10]
  • Skimming equipment is now in place that can remove 300,000 barrels of oil in 72 hours, which is 10 times greater than what was in place in 1989.[11]
  • Seven barges, with the capacity to hold 919,000 barrels of oil, are available to hold the skimmed oil whereas in 1989 there was no place to hold any skimmed oil.[12]
  • The amount of containment boom is now 40 miles in the sound, which is seven times the amount available in 1989.[13]
  • Oil Dispersants are now stockpiles and can be used by helicopters, airplanes, and boats.[14]
  • The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation conducts scheduled and unscheduled drills and training exercises in the sound.[15]
  • Congress established the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s advisory Council, which serves as a citizen watchdog group over the shipping of oil through the sound and the governmental agencies that regulate the industry.[16]

Exxon Shipping Company was been renamed Sea River Shipping Company, and the Exxon Valdez was been renamed the Sea River Mediterranean.[17]  The Sea River Mediterranean continued to be used to haul across the Atlantic Ocean but was prohibited by law from returning to Prince William Sound.[18]  In 2008, the Sea River Mediterranean was sold to a Hong Kong shipping company and renamed the Dong Fang Ocean.[19]  The Dong Fang Ocean was retired in March 2012.[20]

 


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez

[2] Joling, Dan. “25 years later, Exxon Valdez spill effects linger.” http://finance.yahoo.com/news/25-years-later-exxon-valdez-spill-effects-linger-052900364.html

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill

[4] Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council: Questions and Answers. http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/index.cfm?FA=facts.QA

[5] Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council: Spill Prevention and Response. http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/index.cfm?FA=facts.response

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council: Questions and Answers. http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/index.cfm?FA=facts.QA

[18] Id.

[19] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez

[20] Id.

The Keystone XL Pipeline: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In recent months, the debate over the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (“KXL”) has heated up as the world is expecting a decision from the Obama Administration in the very near future.  This debate, however, has been going on for nearly five years since the KXL was originally proposed.  There have been infinite claims of the benefits and the downfalls of the KXL throughout these debates, and the purpose of this post is to describe the prominent benefits and downfalls that are being heavily debated by the US Government.

Photo courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_Pipeline

For those who do not know, the KXL will be the fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline, which distributes oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to United States oil refineries as far south as the Gulf Coast of Texas.  Three phases of the Keystone Pipeline have already been completed, but the fourth phase, the heavily debated KXL, is waiting approval by the Obama Administration.  The proposed KXL will start in Alberta, Canada and distribute oil directly to Steele City, Nebraska, which would essentially make the first phase of the Keystone Pipeline unnecessary.  The KXL seems to be a more speedy and efficient way to transport oil to the United States; however, as we all know, nothing is perfect, and its implementation will have some serious consequences.

The Benefits:

  • The KXL will make the oil’s travel distance less than what it previously was.
  • The KXL will assist with the increasing push for North America’s energy independence.
  • The US State Department predicts that the creation and the continued use of the KXL could create up to 42,100 jobs.
  • Even though it creates a greater carbon footprint to extract and convert the bitumen oil to fuel, it has the same carbon footprint as normal petroleum when it is burned in an engine.
  • Although an average of 4.1 million gallons have been spilled in accidence involving pipelines, rail transport of oil and petroleum is more devastating based on death toll alone.  Last year, an unattended train, including 72 cars holding oil, crashed into a Canadian town killing 47 people and spilling 1.5 million gallons of oil. In total, more oil was spilled last year by train accidence than in the last 40 years combined.

The Downfalls:

  • The oil that will be produced is considered by many to be “dirty oil.”  This is because it comes from an area called the “oil sands” by the industry, or the “tar sands” by environmentalists.  Furthermore, the oil contains vast amounts of bitumen, which must be heated and diluted for it to be properly used.  Studies have found that the production and processing of bitumen oil will produce between 70%-110% more greenhouse gas emissions.  Thus, this will create a greater carbon footprint than normal oil.

Based on this information, I am of the opinion that the KXL is a greater benefit than it is a burden to the United States.  The Obama Administration is weighing every concern that the KXL raises; however, I foresee the administration giving the KXL approval before President Obama leaves office.

 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Photo and Background Information Provided by:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_Pipeline

Facts provided by:

http://www.rgj.com/article/20140316/NEWS/303160033/Fact-Checker-Weighing-Keystone-XL-pipeline-claims