USDA Awards $71M for REAP Projects

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding more funds to help rural businesses reduce energy costs in every U.S. state including the Virgin Islands, the Western Pacific and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The USDA is providing $102 million in loan guarantees and $71 million in grants for 1,114 projects financed through the Rural Energy for American Program (REAP), and the funding is for energy efficiency improvements and/or renewable energy systems.

USDA logo“More rural business owners and ag producers are incorporating energy-saving measures into their business plans,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These actions improve an operation’s bottom line and help reduce its carbon footprint. This funding will help incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology and reduce energy costs. But beyond the local benefits seen by a company saving energy costs and the global benefits of reducing carbon emissions, this funding will also create American jobs by supporting energy production and efficiency installations that are made in rural America.”

Among the projects, nearly $6 million is being awarded for 17 anaerobic digesters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington. In total, these projects are expected to generate and/or save 906 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy – enough to power more than 83,675 homes for a year and cut carbon pollution by an estimated 455,000 metric tons. That is the equivalent of taking more than 131,500 cars off the road for a year.

Rethink Energy NJ Launched

A new poll has found that nearly 80 percent of New Jerseyans believe the state should invest in developing more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Majority support was found across all political parties and all demographic groups. However, the poll reported that 62 percent of New Jerseyans think the pace at which the state is developing and adopting renewable alternatives is too slow. The poll was conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s (FDU) PublicMind for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

rethink-rectangle-600x240_without_URLIn tandem with the poll results, a new campaign has been launched called “Rethink Energy NJ”. The goal of the initiative is to inform citizens about the need for a swift transition to clean energy and a move away from fossil fuel reliance. Campaign supporters include the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

“Investing in renewable energy is a win-win for both our environment and economy,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Rethink Energy NJ. “Developing clean energy sources like solar and wind will reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and threaten our health, while creating jobs. This is a better path forward for New Jersey than the multitude of fossil fuel pipelines proposed that threaten preserved lands, our air and water, and our communities.”

The poll indicates that 77 percent of respondents are very or somewhat concerned with climate change in New Jersey. Eighty percent favor setting a goal of having 30 percent of the state’s energy coming from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020. That is higher than the State’s current 22 percent target. Similarly, 78 percent favor a bill requiring a target of 80 percent by 2050.

The poll also explored public opinion on proposed fossil fuel projects affecting New Jersey. One finding: New Jerseyans favor renewable energy investment over natural gas pipeline investment by a nearly two to one margin. In addition, most respondents are very or somewhat concerned with the impact of pipelines in the state.

Former Gov. Tom Kean said of the findings, “I am pleased to see the launch of this important new campaign, Rethink Energy NJ, to help educate the public and decision makers regarding the need for much greater scrutiny of new pipelines or fossil fuel infrastructure, and the urgent need to move forward with clean, renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency.”

Will Steger Wilderness Center Renewable Showcase

Will Steger, a globally renowned climate expert, has announced a major milestone toward the completion of the Will Steger Wilderness Center, that will be used as a leadership retreat center. The facility now features a stand-alone, carbon free power system that will provide electricity to buildings and workshops throughout the site located outside of Ely, Minnesota near the protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The renewable power system is an extension of the Center’s focus on clean energy and the use of renewable materials and sustainable processes throughout its operation.

Photo Credit: John Ratzloff

Photo Credit: John Ratzloff

The island-mode power grid will also serve as a demonstration project intended to be a model for other off-grid power systems in remote locations.  With the completion of Phase I of this power grid, the system is now capable of providing up to 20 kilowatts of power from a combination of solar and battery sources with solar providing more than half of the energy. The system includes automated demand management capability to provide power for mission-critical functions along with a backup diesel genset for emergencies. It is designed to provide power for multiple buildings on the site and power for the construction finalization of the main retreat center building. The first pilot leadership team is expected to use the center by the fall of 2016.

A launch event will take place October 7, 2015 at the Will Steger Wilderness Center and will include a ceremonial flip of the switch to ‘power-on’ the system by key participants who have provided both technical and material resources. Cummins Power Generation provided the genset and helped in the technical design and feasibility study in the early stages of the project. Other partners include Jon Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar; Dr. Greg Mowry, associate professor in the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas; tenKsolar; and BAE Batteries. Participants in the demonstration project have donated the vast majority of the material and labor for the system.

“This is an exciting time for all those who have worked to demonstrate that it is possible to have a community working with modern technology in a remote wilderness area using only self-contained and renewable energy sources,” said Will Steger, executive director of the Will Steger Wilderness Center. “The completion of the power grid is also a leap forward toward our goal of bringing leaders to a fully functioning wilderness retreat center to work on complex issues such as climate change and sustainability. We’re grateful to all of the contributors to this project who are demonstrating that it is possible to live and work on real-world problems using sustainable practices that will not deplete scarce resources.”

In addition to its future purpose as a leadership retreat center, the Will Steger Wilderness Center has been the base for more than a dozen significant expeditions including the 3,471 mile International Trans-Antarctic expedition, the first unsupported dogsled expedition to the North Pole and many other expeditions that have brought back some of the earliest eyewitness accounts of climate change in remote arctic regions.

BNEF: Wind, Solar Competing with Fossil Fuels

According to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), this year has seen a shift in the generating cost comparison between renewable energy and fossil fuels. The report, “Levelised Cost of Electricity Update,” for the second half of 2015 based on extensive data and global projects shows that onshore wind and crystalline silicon photovoltaics – the two most widespread technologies- have both seen significantly reduced costs while costs have gone up for gas-fired and coal-fired generation.

The BNEF study shows finds that the global average levelised cost of electricity, or LCOE, for onshore wind nudged downwards from $85 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in the first half of the year, to $83 in the second half of the year, while that for crystalline silicon PV solar fell from $129 to $122.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance logoIn the same period, the LCOE for coal-fired generation increased from $66 per MWh to $75 in the Americas, from $68 to $73 in Asia-Pacific, and from $82 to $105 in Europe. The LCOE for combined-cycle gas turbine generation rose from $76 to $82 in the Americas, from $85 to $93 in Asia-Pacific and from $103 to $118 in EMEA.

“Our report shows wind and solar power continuing to get cheaper in 2015, helped by cheaper technology but also by lower finance costs,” said Seb Henbest, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Meanwhile, coal and gas have got more expensive on the back of lower utilisation rates, and in Europe, higher carbon price assumptions following passage of the Market Stability Reserve reform.”

Levelised costs take into account not just the cost of generating a marginal MWh of electricity, but also the upfront capital and development expense, the cost of equity and debt finance, and operating and maintenance fees.

Among other low-carbon energy technologies, offshore wind reduced its global average LCOE from $176 per MWh, to $174, but still remains significantly more expensive than wind, solar PV, coal or gas, while biomass incineration saw its levelised cost stay steady at $134 per MWh. Nuclear, like coal and gas, has very different LCOE levels from one region of the world to another, but both the Americas and the Europe, Middle East and Africa region saw increases in levelised costs, to $261 and $158 per MWh respectively.

Clinton Voices Support for Renewable Energy

clinton-iowaWith a John Deere tractor as a backdrop, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton voiced her strong support for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), solar and wind energy during a visit to Iowa this week.

“We need to capitalize on rural America’s strength as a producer of clean, renewable energy,” said Mrs. Clinton during a speech in Ankeny, adding that she has two main goals in that area. “Half a billion solar panels within four years and enough energy production from renewables to power every home in America within 10 years.”

Noting that Iowa produces a third of its total energy from renewables, especially wind and biofuels. “If Iowa can do it…so can the rest of America,” she said.

“We need to strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Mrs. Clinton continued to applause. “So that it drives the development of advanced biofuels and expand the overall contribution that renewable fuels make to our overall fuel supply.”

Introduced by former Iowa governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Clinton discussed her plan to support rural America which includes investments in rural areas and rural transportation, making the production of agricultural products more profitable for farmers, and promoting the use of clean energy and renewable energy sources.

Listen to Vilsack’s introduction and Clinton’s speech here: Hillary Clinton on Ag in Iowa

Prez Candidates Tell ‘Bootstraps’ Stories

I’ve hit on a few common themes in recent posts after hearing more than a dozen soapbox speeches at the Iowa State Fair. Another one: how the presidential candidates’ parents succeeded with nothing to make life better for their children and the children pulling themselves up by their “bootstraps” to become successful.

Marco RubioThese stories were no different when Florida Senator Marcus Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich took the stage. Rubio’s parents immigrated from Cuba. He noted that America doesn’t owe him, he owes America. He also said that he wants to continue living in a country where what his parents did for him he can do for his children. But that dream, he said, is slipping away. How can the country bring back the American dream? He said the first step is addressing the economy. “We’re not just facing an economic downturn, we’re facing an economic revolution….We need to modernize economic policies so we can compete with the rest of the world.”

He also stressed the need to keep our people safe and noted that America is not fully utilizing its energy resources. Like many before him, other than a passing comment, he did not address energy, environment and agriculture.

Listen to why Florida Senator Marcus Rubio wants to be president:Marcus Rubio at the Iowa State Fair

John KasichOhio Governor John Kasich also shared his “bootstrap” story and shared other antidotes rather than really hitting hard on any particular issue. However, during the question portion he was asked his position on agriculture. He answered, “I’m for agriculture. You listen to Terry Branstad [Iowa Governor] and you think about traditional agriculture but what we really have to do is begin to think about how agriculture is going to look like in the next 20 or 25 years. I believe there are so many products that can come from traditional agriculture that can improve the lives of all Americans. And I keep pushing our people to think about that, to use our universities to do the research and to make sure that agriculture and business is closely linked together so that we can spawn new industries out of agriculture.”

“We’re lucky in Ohio,” Kasich continued. “We found natural gas and one of the great things about that is it’s allowing us to become energy independent. So we don’t have to kowtow to the Saudies anymore when it comes down to conducting our foreign policy. We need to look into the future on all of these things, on agriculture, on energy.”

Listen to why Ohio Governor John Kasich wants to be president: John Kasich at the Iowa State Fair

Click here to read our coverage of the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox series at the Iowa State Fair.

New Holland Partners with SUNY on Biomass Project

sunyNew Holland Agriculture is partnering with the State University of New York (SUNY) on a U.S. Department of Energy funded research project to develop ways to reduce the cost of delivering biomass for refinement.

New Holland Agriculture will provide SUNY with an FR9080 self-propelled forage harvester with 130FB coppice header for use in the project. The forage harvester and header are used to harvest willow and other short rotation woody crops for biomass applications. The equipment was presented last week at the SUNY ESF Research Station to Dr. Timothy Volk, Senior Research Associate with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and his research team.

new-holland-forage“As a company committed to biomass and Clean Energy, New Holland is excited for the opportunity to continue our ten year relationship with Dr. Volk and the SUNY research team,” said Doug Otto, New Holland North America’s Forage Harvester Business Manager. “SUNY’s research played an integral role in our ability to develop the 130FB coppice header, so we are pleased that they will be able to use the header to further their biomass research efforts.”

The relationship between New Holland and SUNY dates back to 2004, when a team of company engineers and product development specialists, headed by John Posselius, Director of Innovations for CNH Industrial, set out to assist Dr. Volk with a research project to optimize the logistics of transporting biomass material. After unsuccessful attempts at modifying existing headers failed to improve logistic efficiencies, Posselius pushed his team to create an original design to efficiently and effectively chop woody biomass such as fast growing willows. Following the research and development phase, Posselius and his team passed the project to a design team headquartered in Belgium to finalize the design of the new header.

Learn more about the project from New Holland.

Nat’l Debt Grows, Energy Costs Rise

Americans have had some recent relief at the pump but it may be short-lived. According to State of the World 2015, long-term energy costs are on the rise. Why? America’s, along with other countries’ growing debt. Author John Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 8.05.27 AMHagens a former hedge fund manager who now teaches human macro-ecology at University of Minnesota, said nations are papering over these costs with debt. He continues that higher energy costs are leading to continued recessions, excess claims on future national resources, and more-severe social inequality and poverty.

State of the World finds that the relatively low cost of energy extraction of oil, coal and natural gas, compared to the benefits seen from fossil fuels may be the most important factor in the industrialized world’s economic success. Historically, the report continues, large quantities of inexpensive fuels were available even after accounting for the energy lost to extract and process them. But, as remaining fuels become less accessible, higher energy costs will have ripple effects through economies built around continued large energy-input requirements. Rising costs, the report states, will endanger highly energy-intensive industries and practices—including the energy sector itself—as well as widen and deepen poverty as everything becomes more expensive.

“Despite having ‘plenty of energy,’ higher physical costs [of extraction] suggest that energy likely will rise from a historical average of 5 percent of GDP [gross domestic product], to 10–15 percent of GDP or higher,” writes Hagens.

State of World 2015 coverIn the short term, Hagen notes nations are taking on growing debt to avoid losses in GDP—an indicator of the economic health of a country. Since 2008, the Group of Seven nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have added about $1 trillion per year in nominal GDP, but only by increasing their debt by over $18 trillion.

However, Hagens argues, continued use of credit to mask the declining productivity of energy extraction is unsustainable. For each additional debt dollar, less and less GDP is generated, and, at the same time, our highest-energy-gain fuels are being depleted. Energy is becoming more expensive for the creditor in the future than for the debtor in the present.

“We have entered a period of unknown duration where things are going to be tough,” writes Hagens. “But humanity in the past has responded in creative, unexpected ways with new inventions and aspirations.” While policy choices such as banking reform, a carbon and consumption tax, and moving away from GDP as a proxy for well-being are good long-term ideas, “we urgently need institutions and populations to begin to prepare…for a world with the same or less each year instead of more.”

EIA Unveils Updated Global Energy Portal

EIA International Energy PortalThe U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has gone live with its updated International Energy Portal to improve access for people seeking information on international energy data and trends.

“With most of the future growth in energy consumption expected to occur outside of the United States and with increasingly interconnected world energy markets, a clear perspective on the international energy landscape is critically important, and EIA’s redesigned International Energy Portal makes it easier to gain insight into global energy developments,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.

According to EIA, the expanded International Energy Portal provides:

  • Increased access to data. The International Energy Portal includes a powerful new data browser that includes historical information on country-level energy use dating back, in many cases, more than 30 years.
  • New user-driven customization. The International Energy Portal introduces many features that enable users to customize their experience with EIA’s international data.
  • New data visualization features. These features include summary graphics of the world’s top energy producers and consumers broken down by energy source. Users can also generate a variety of data visualizations to quickly see how energy production, consumption, reserves, imports, exports, and carbon dioxide emissions have changed over time.
  • Improved access to international analysis. The International Energy Portal links to EIA’s international forecasts and projections such as EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook and International Energy Outlook. It also provides access to EIA’s entire library of international reports and analysis.
  • Enhanced data downloads. The International Energy Portal incorporates a complete application programming interface (API) that provides access to EIA’s historical international data.

Book Review: The Power Surge

As I write about energy each day, I often wonder what the trade-offs or consequences will be if a technology takes off, or even if it fails. How will it, if at all, alter America’s energy landscape? From my point of view, we are a country in fear of change and in fear of taking The Power Surgeaction. We are a country that spends more time worrying about what celebrities wore to an award show and when the next iPhone will be hit the streets, then worrying about the underlying causes of recessions (many economists blame oil prices) and what the consequences are of the decisions made, or more often than not, not made, by our elected officials.

So I was very excited when I read, “The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future,” by Michael Levi who is the Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment and Director, Center for Geoeconomic Studies and Council on Foreign Relations. I have never read a book that does a better job of presenting various energy scenarios and the intended and unintended consequences of them and written and presented in a way based on research, economics and trends and not based on emotions.

There is no argument that there is a battle afoot over America’s, and quite frankly, the world’s energy future.

Our entire life is dependent on energy. We as a society can not function in our current “lifestyle” without energy. Period.

And despite what you personally believe, there are economic, security and environmental consequences and/or benefits to all decisions made and not made as eloquently demonstrated by Levi (and this includes those who believe climate change is a hoax). Levi begins the book with a three very probative and questions and one that he uses against all scenarios he presents in the book. In other words, how does the technology, legislation, or action fare against these three pillars?

  1. Does each energy source that has recently thrived offer important opportunities to improve the U.S. economy, strengthen national security or mitigate climate change while not causing intolerable damages on any of those fronts?
  2. Is is possible to seize those opportunities simultaneously- or would pursuing some of them severely undermine others?
  3. And can the United States take advantage of these opportunities without fundamentally altering the role of government in America?

The book begins with an in-depth discussion of all things oil and touches upon renewable energy sources such as biofuels. He also covers electricity and the role of natural gas in our current and energy future as well as technologies like wind and solar. He also points out that all sides of the issue overstate some of their claims and it was refreshing to see someone who doesn’t only call out claims on the side he/she is against. He writes, Continue reading