Sunday, October 25, 2015

Infrastructure & Environment News

My lack of time to write for this blog has reduced me to a compiler of infrastructure news, though such compilation has always been part of Infrastructure Watch. You can links to several alternative energy articles here.

Google Pledges Investment in African Renewables Project

Google pledged to invest in the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in Kenya. You can find more about this project here.

Low Gas Prices No Problem for Solar

Low gas prices didn’t last long around here (at least they didn’t stay less than $2 per gallon for long). Either way, Tony Randall discusses why low oil prices are not a problem for the continued growth of solar power in Bloomberg.

Renewables Generators Face Distribution Problems

As the U.S. develops renewable energy resources, it is facing a problem: the places where we most want to use the energy are some distance from the places where we are best able to generate it.  States in the middle of the country are becoming involved in conflicts between clean energy proponents and landowners, sometimes turning environmental and energy groups into uncomfortable allies.

Missouri is one state where the issue has come to head. Earlier this year, the Public Service Commission rejected a project that would carry energy from wind farms in Kansas to users in Indiana. The commission determined that the project was not needed, and many of the public comments received by the commission expressed opposition to the project. The company behind the proposal, Clean Line Energy Partners LLC of Texas, is also proposing a line to connect Oklahoma to Tennessee, which faces opposition in Arkansas.

Environmental groups have been supportive of the Missouri project. Missouri’s chapter of the Sierra Club has acknowledged that the Clean Line route avoids many environmentally sensitive areas, and expressed hope that it will help in the move away from coal. The Sierra Club also supported a Clean Line project in part of Arkansas where it was opposing an oil pipeline project.

Supreme Court Hears Demand Response Case

The Supreme Court has been hearing arguments in a case related to demand response. Demand response refers to methods large energy user adjust their use to reduced demand during normally high use times when energy is expensive. Demand response reduces peak demand, evens out energy use, and reduces cost of energy production.

Companies have created markets to trade these reductions in demand (sometimes called negawatts) as if they were power being supplied to the market. When major users reduce shift use or move use to off-peak times, they reduce the need to ramp up additional generating units, and save money for generators. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has enshrined this in regulations that require energy wholesalers to pay for these commitments to reduce demand the same amount they pay for a commitment to generate electricity.

The crux of the argument before the court is the regulatory authority of FERC. FERC has authority related to wholesale energy markets, where commitments to generate might be traded (and FERC rules say a commitment to reduce demand should get an equal price). The utility customers who are making the commitments to reduce demand are buying energy in the retail market, which is regulated by states.  Opponents of the FERC rules say that it is getting into retail markets in which it has not authority. FERC argues that it is the only agency that can effective regulate this kind of trading, and that there is a public good in the demand reductions and efficiencies provided by demand response.

You can find more about this case here, along with a description of how it may become important to small retail electricity users (i.e. almost all of us).


John Oliver Thinks Infrastructure Sexy

Comedian John Oliver featured America’s infrastructure in a segment on his show Last Week Tonight. Obviously, Oliver’s tone is humorous and mocking, but he presents a thoughtful essay on the issue. You can see it on YouTube.

New Environmental Director in Nebraska

Congratulations to Jim Macy, who was recently appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts to serve as director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. Macy has worked in the area of environmental regulation and compliance for decades, including leadership roles at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

States Take Lead on Infrastructure Funding

Washington senate leaders have proposed to raise the state gas tax to 11.7 cents per gallon over the next three years. The proposal would also redirect a portion of the state’s sales tax to its transportation fund (more here).

Oregon will experiment with a program of fees based on miles driven rather than a gas tax beginning this summer (more here). Many think this is a more rational way to fund highways.

In my home state of the Missouri, the governor came just short of calling for a gas tax hike as part of the state of the state address. Tax Justice Blog has a nice summary of proposals in several other states.

Baltimore Sewers Featured on Radio

The radio program Marketplace featured the Baltimore, MD, sewer system and the issues associated with a large, aging infrastructure (listen to or read the story here). Baltimore is not unique; these problems are plaguing cities across the nation.

San Francisco Opens New Hetch Hetchy Tunnel

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission opened the New Irvington Tunnel. The 3.5-mile, 9-ft diameter tunnel will carry 265 million gallons a day. It is part of the Hetch Hetchy system, which brings water from reservoirs as far away as Yosemite National Park, 167 miles. (Read more about the project at KQED.)

Real-Time Sensor for Bacteria in Water

A device has been developed in Denmark that can detect bacteria in water. Of course, not all bacteria is harmful, so it seems the usefulness of the tool may be limited to screening for now. However, it continuous, real-time monitoring could be a useful screen to determine when additional testing is should be performed or when a contamination event started. If commercial versions of the sensor are affordable, multiple sensors could be placed in a drinking water distribution system to continuously monitor water quality, disinfection effectiveness, and potential contamination.  You can find out more about the sensor here.

Water and Art

Adres Jacque will build a temporary structure that uses plants to purify water in the courtyard of MoMA PS1. Organisms in the structure will glow in the dark to provide light. See this Fast Company article for more information.

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