Saturday, April 23, 2016

Energy & Water Roundup

Consumer Group Opposes Missouri Energy Rate Reform Bill

The Midwest Energy Consumer Group (MECG) has come out in opposition of HB2689 (and its parallel in the Missouri Senate, SB1028), which would make significant changes to the way electric rates are regulated in the Missouri. The group claims that the bill would remove the voice of customers from the electric rate setting process and pave the way for regular, uncontested rate increases. The Office of Public Counsel, which officially represents customers in Missouri utility rate cases, expressed concern that the bill might limit the ability of the agency, as well as the state’s Public Service Commission, to review rate increases.

Related Posts

Senate Passes Energy Bill

The U.S. Senate passed its first major energy bill in a decade. The bill emphasizes development of alternative energy, natural gas, and lesser used sources such as geothermal and hydropower. It also focuses on energy efficiency and safety. The bill will need to be reconciled with the energy bill passed in the House of Representatives, which differs significantly, particularly in its approach to fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Senate leaders are confident they can work out differences with the House and develop a compromise bill that can pass both chambers latter this year.

What Is a Microgrid?

I’m seeing a lot about microgrids in utility publications and on the Internet. I thought it might be worthwhile to write something that could serve as an introduction to the subject for those who are unfamiliar with it, as well as educate myself in the process. I intend this to be the first in a series of short posts on the subject.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a microgrid?

A microgrid is a local energy grid that can disconnect from the larger grid and operate independently. It connects to the main grid at a location where the voltage of the two systems can be maintained at the same level. A switching system can manually or automatically switch the connection on or off.

Though the name “microgrid” implies something small, size is not a defining point. Microgrids are defined by
-local control, and
-functioning both connected to and disconnected from the main grid.

If you’re interested in finding out more about microgrids, here are some resources to get you started.

A Little Sewer History

The Guardian posted an article on the Great Stink of 1858 and how it prompted officials in London to improve the city’s overwhelmed system of handling storm water and wastewater. The Thames of that time was a stinking mess of sewage and a hazard to health. The sewer system devised by Joseph Bazalgette was a marvel of the age (and much of it is still in use) that moved wastewater discharges away from the populated areas around London.

You can read this very good article here. If it whets your appetite to find out more about this project, you may also want to read Dreams of Iron and Steel by Debora Cadbury. The Great Stink by Clare Clark is a fictional thriller set during this time that partly takes place in the changing sewers of London.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Energy, Transportation & Water News

Bill Would Change Electric Ratemaking in Missouri

State Rep. Rocky Miller, who represents parts of Camden and Miller Counties near Osage Beach, introduced the 21st Century Grid Modernization and Security Act (HB2816). The bill would substantially change the state’s method of regulating electric utility rates. The method is modeled on processes in Illinois and would allow annual adjustments to electric rates.

Another portion of the bill substantially changes provision related to special electric rates for aluminum smelters. This is largely driven by Noranda, which operates smelter in New Madrid. It seems unlikely that lower or more flexible electric rates will save the company from plummeting aluminum prices.

With the exception of Noranda, large electricity users in Missouri have generally come out against the proposal. Some companies that have expressed opposition to the bill are Purina, Bayer, Ford, General Motors and Procter & Gamble. You can read more about this topic here.

Poop to Power Project Coming to North Carolina

Duke Energy has contracted with Carbon Cycle Energy for the construction and operation of a facility to process animal waste to produce methane gas for fuel. Waste will come from area pig and chicken farms. The gas will be piped to Duke plants as fuel in electric power generation.

North Carolina is the second largest pork producing state in the U.S. Duke is a major electric power producer, particularly in the Carolinas. Carbon Cycle is based in Colorado.

Barrel Bob Found

Barrel Bob, a character that serves as spokesman for worksite safety for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), was found in Columbia on April 1 (no fooling) after he was stolen from his roadside station at highway construction site in Jefferson City on March 19.   The statue, constructed from used orange and reflective white barrels and cones, was previously set on fire by vandals at this location.

This statue was one of seven Barrel Bobs. Each of MoDOT’s districts has one. Bob was scheduled to make appearances at events to promote highway worksite safety beginning April 11, so the agency had resorted to building a new statue before Bob was found. You can find out more here, here and here.

Missourians Could Vote on Fuel Tax Increase

A bill (SB623) is making its way through the Missouri Senate that could increase the state fuel tax from 17 cents per gallon to 22.9 cents per gallon. The tax, if implemented, is expected to bring in $240 million annually. The bill would place a referendum on the November ballot, meaning it would have to be approved directly by voters. Before getting that far, it must complete its path through the General Assembly. The Senate is expected to pass the bill in its final vote in the first full week of April. Afterward it will be considered by the state House of Representatives, where it is not expected to be warmly received. You can read more about this here, here and here.

Significant funding for Missouri roads comes from the federal government (which has its own funding issues). MoDOT is preparing to use cash reserves to match federal grants for transportation projects (more here).

Name a Missouri Highway

An alternative to increased fuel taxes could be the auctioning of naming rights for highways. There is no estimate of how much revenue it could raise, but I’ll go out on a limb to say not enough to persuade the General Assembly to this bill. You can read the bill here. I have the impression the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who covered this story must have chuckled as he typed.

Antibiotic Resistance Found in Bacteria Downstream of Wastewater Discharge

Researchers studying the biofilm in a Spanish river found antibiotic resistance genes. These genes occurred as far as 1 km (0.6 mile) downstream from the of a wastewater treatment plant. The genes provide resistance to some antibiotics commonly used in hospitals. You can find more here. In response to the issue of pharmaceutical pollution, some chemists are considering biodegradable drugs.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pi Day 2016 is March 14

March 14 is Pi Day. I listed a few links below to help you get started on the celebration, though, of course, a search of the Web will bring up many more links.

Infrastructure Roundup

Missouri Highway Commission Selects New Chair

Gregg Smith has been appointed chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. Smith, who owns an automobile dealership in Clinton, MO, will chair the commission that oversees the state Department of Transportation. You can find more here.

Superbug Found in Sewage

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) in the sewage at a wastewater treatment plant in Los Angeles, CA. CRE is a lethal bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. It was the cause of recent outbreaks in Los Angeles-area hospitals. EPA did not test the discharge from the plant for the presence of CRE, but researchers indicate that the bacteria is not destroyed or removed by typical treatment and disinfection. You can find more about this issue here.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Water News

More than Half of World Population Experiences Water Scarcity

Researchers at the University of Twente (reported in the Washington Post) have published a study indication that 4 billion people, more than half of the world population, experiences severe water shortages at least one month out of the year. Half a billion people experience year-round severe water shortages. Agriculture is the primary use of water. You can find a copy of the study here.

Water-Food Nexus: Better Water Management Could Lead to More Food Production

There is potential for existing agricultural lands, along with current rainwater and irrigation resources, to produce more food, potentially halving the food gap by 2050. The greatest potential is in dry areas such as the western U.S., Mexico, Australia, South Africa and China. Developing the potential of these areas depends on careful cropland water management. You can find more here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Transportation and Engineering News

Missouri Governor Proposes Funding Increase for Amtrak

The budget proposal submitted by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon included an additional $500,000 for Amtrak, for a total of $10.2 million. Amtrak claims it will need $18 million from the state to install positive train control, as mandated by Congress, on the Missouri River Runner line, with a total cost of $30 million. You can find more about this issue here.

Missouri Legislator Suggests Punt to Counties

Missouri State Representative Bryan Spencer proposed to make counties responsible for the upkeep of certain roads that are currently maintained by the state (these are generally rural, two-lane highways). This would reduce the amount of state-maintained roads by 19,000 miles. The roads in question have been state-maintained since 1952, when they were shifted away from county maintenance. To implement the proposal, the state constitution must be amended. You can find more about this proposal here and here. Most proposals to improve Missouri’s road funding problem involve raising the fuel tax.


Women Take Lead at Engineering Organization

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has nominated two women to the ballot for its president-elect.  Robin Kemper and Kristina Swallow are both professional engineers, and one will be ASCE’s president-elect and eventually president. Kemper provides expertise on construction and professional liability issues at Zurich Services Corporation. Swallow leads a team of public works engineers in Las Vegas. ASCE’s current president-elect, Norma Jean Mattei, will step up to the office of president, meaning the top two offices in the organization will be held by women for the first time in the 164 years it has existed. You can find more here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Infrastructure & Environment Review

Ameren Missouri Efficiency Program Ends

Unable to resolve differences with state regulators, Ameren Missouri has let its energy efficiency rebate program lapse. Staff of the Missouri Public Service Commission and the state’s Office of Public Counsel believed that Ameren customer overpaid the cost of the program, and opposed a three-year extension. A proposal from Kansas City Power & Light has been approved, and it might serve as a model for a compromise between the state and Ameren. You can read more about this issue here.

Bans on Texting While Driving Introduced in Missouri

Bills that would prohibit or greatly restrict texting while driving have been prefiled in the Missouri General Assembly session that started January 6: HB1542 and SB821. Currently, texting while driving is banned for drivers younger than 21 and for drivers of commercial vehicles. You can find more about these bills here.

Bill Would Add Missouri Highway Commissioners

HB1446 would increase the size of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission from six members to eight. Each of the seven Transportation Department districts would be represented by a commissioner, and an eighth commissioner would be appointed without regard to district residence.

Missouri Legislators Propose Fuel Tax Increase

Two proposals have been floated by Missouri state legislators. One would increase the tax on gasoline by 1.5 cents and diesel by 3.5 cents. Another would increase all fuel taxes by 2 cents. You can find more about these proposals here or here.

As an alternative to the fuel tax, SB645 would redirect 3 percent of automobile sales tax revenues from state general revenue to the road fund.

Flooded Wastewater Plants Release Sewage in St. Louis Area

Wastewater treatment plants operated by the Metropolitan Sewer District of St. Louis have released millions of gallons of sewage into rivers. The Grand Glaize and Fenton plants were inundated by the recent floods in Missouri. The two plants, which combined treat and average of 20 million gallons of wastewater per day, discharge into the Meramec River.

White House Announces Water Strategy

The White House announced a strategy to the sustainability of U.S. water supplies and systems. The cynic in me suspects that these strategies, programs, and actions were things that were mostly in the works anyway, but someone cobbled them together into a seemingly unified program (you can can get the details here). Even so, we need to take a serious look at our water resources, policies and practices. Good policy that addresses today’s water situation is needed, but sustainable water for our nation will come when we have a culture that values water for the many roles it plays in our environment, industry, health, recreation and almost every other aspect of human life.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

All About Missouri This Week

Bill Prefiled to Ban Texting and Driving

Missouri State Senator David Pearce has prefiled a bill that would prohibit the use by all drivers of hand-held mobile phones to send, read or write text messages. Find out more here.

Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss Tranportation Funding (Just a Little)

So far, Missouri’s candidates for governor have provide few details about how the state will pay to maintain roads. Missouri is 7th among the states in the size of its transportation system, but 47th in state funding.

Candidate Catherine Hanaway suggested that the $200 million annually in state fuel tax revenues that is used to fund the Highway Patrol could be committed to transportation. The Highway Patrol would be funded from general revenue, though Hanaway’s plan does not provide specifics about how other general revenue-funded programs would be cut or how general revenue would be increased. You can find more about Hanaway’s proposal here.

The state General Assembly is also looking at the issue. A prefiled bill (HB 1381) would raise the state fuel tax from 17 cents to 19 cents per gallon.

First Woman Engineering Dean at University of Missouri

My alma mater, the University of Missouri College of Engineering, has named its 11th dean, Elizabeth G. Loboa. She is the first woman to hold the position. Loboa has a background in biomedical engineer. Before coming to Mizzou, she held a joint appointment at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.

Highway Commissioner Appointed

Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Hannibal-area lawyer John Briscoe to serve on the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. The appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.

Springfield Buying Wind Energy

City Utilities of Springfield announced it will be buying energy from a wind farm to be built north of Oklahoma City, OK. The wind farm is being built by Duke Energy Renewables and is designed to produce 200 megawatts.