2 Energy Companies Team Up to Form Alterra Power

Canada is now the home to a giant renewable energy company. Vancouver-based Magma Energy, a geothermal company, has purchased wind, solar and hydro energy company Plutonic Power, also based in Vancouver, to form Alterra Power Corp. The deal is worth around $190 million but when the two companies are combined, their net worth is estimated to be worth $575 million.

In a financial analyst call this week, Ross Beaty, Magma’s Chairman and CEO said that “size matters” and “the power business is all about the cost of capital.”

In a press statement Beaty commented, “This merger will strengthen both companies and will create a larger, more diversified renewable energy company with assets across a broader spectrum of the clean energy industry. It has the potential to lower the cost of capital to develop each company’s existing growth assets, to enable those assets to be developed more quickly, and to better attract new opportunities for future development. Geothermal will remain a core focus of the new company, but hydro, wind and solar assets will be solid business platforms for future growth. In the renewable energy business, bigger is better and this combination will achieve that while enhancing returns to each company’s shareholders.”

The new company, Alterra Power Corp, intends to develop new energy sources either within Canada or globally, whatever projects will provide the best return on investment for shareholders. Magma already operates projects in the U.S., Iceland, and Latin America while Plutonic has wind projects in Canada and is looking to acquire some solar projects in the U.S.

Donald McInnes, Plutonic’s Vice-Chairman and CEO said, “2010 was a breakout year for Plutonic having completed the transition into an operating company. To continue to build on the success of our history as a project developer, a merger with Magma will provide our shareholders with the best path to further value creation achieved through a larger market size, greater liquidity, better access to capital, and diversity of geography and technology with a healthy development pipeline that provides significant growth opportunities.”

In conjunction with General Electric (CE), Plutonic Power operates Canada’s largest wind farm, the Dokie Wind project. Under a 25 year Electricity Purchase Agreement with BC Hydro, the now fully operational wind farm will is expected to generate 320,000-340,000 MWh per year – enough energy to power about 34,000 homes. It is comprised of 43 wind turbines and located in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. As part of the project, Plutonic Power also built seven kilometres of transmission lines and an electric substation.

Are US Strategic Petroleum Reserves the Answer?

As gas prices continue to rise and in some areas across the country they are now over $4.00 a gallon, some are calling for oil to be released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) as a way to bring consumers relief. In fact, on average, gas prices are averaging 75 cents more per gallon than this week a year ago. However, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) believes there’s a better plan.

“People who are fascinated with tapping the SPR for additional gasoline should know that the U.S. ethanol industry annually produces the same or more fuel than the volume of gasoline we could refine from the SPR – except that ethanol is a renewable resource that is replenished every year thanks to American farmers and Mother Nature,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of ACE. “Drawing on the SPR might provide short-term relief, but once the SPR is tapped, that oil is gone, and the U.S. would have to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to resupply. Ethanol is the only commercially available alternative to oil today, and it costs less – E10 blends are already 15 cents per gallon less than unleaded.”

So how much gasoline is in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? For starters, the SPR contains 727 million barrels of oil which equates to 34 days of oil at current average daily U.S. consumption levels of 21 million barrels a day (it’s slightly lower with the recession). These 727 million barrels will yield 19 gallons of gasoline per barrel or 13.8 billion gallons of gasoline. So at our current average use of 21 million barrels per day, we’d have about 65-66 days worth of gasoline or a little over 2 months worth. That’s it folks – two months. American ethanol producers supplied 13.23 billion gallons of fuel in 2010 or nearly the same amount that we have in our reserve – 10 percent of our yearly fuel supply.

“There are much better solutions to provide consumers relief at the pump,” said Ron Lamberty, ACE’s Vice President / Market Development. “Allowing motorists to use 10.5 percent ethanol per gallon – only an extra half a percent – would boost the gasoline supply by the same amount as the 11 million barrels they released from the SPR after Hurricane Katrina. Or allowing motorists to use 12 percent ethanol per gallon would be four to five times more effective than the oil released after Katrina – not to mention the benefit to motorists’ pocketbooks since ethanol is more cost-effective than gasoline.”

Lamberty notes that ethanol is currently selling at the rack for around 50 cents less per gallon than gasoline.

“America’s ethanol producers are ready, willing and able to supply more domestic, renewable fuel, but they are being blocked by bureaucracy and special interests supporting Big Oil and Big Food. Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve when we have 200 domestic producers of renewable fuel at the ready is senseless and short-sighted. Being satisfied with U.S. ethanol producers exporting homegrown fuel is not an option,” Jennings added.

Here is another interesting factoid: despite a Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) that calls for an increase in the use of ethanol, the U.S. is actually exporting ethanol today because the fuel market is locked at 90 percent petroleum and only 10 percent ethanol per gallon. The U.S. exported 397 million gallons of domestically produced ethanol during 2010, a four-fold increase over 2009. The U.S. EPA did approve E15 for use in vehicles 2001 and newer, but litigation and pending labeling requirements are preventing its implementation.

KiOR to Sell Biomass Product to Oil Company

Maker of biomass-based renewable gasoline and diesel products KiOR will sell its biocrude to oil company Hunt Refining Co.

This article from Reuters says the Hunt Texas oil empire will buy an unspecified amount of the product from Khosla’s first plant, still to be built in Columbus, Mississippi:

KiOR says its “Biomass Catalytic Cracking Process,” aided by a catalyst developed from a precursor company called BIOeCON, can aid the process of pyrolysis: super-heating organic matter in the absence of oxygen to break it down into a substitute for crude oil. The company was created in 2007 as a joint venture with Khosla Ventures, which provided the company’s $1.4 million Series A round.

KiOR has since raised $40 million as part of a planned $95 million Series B round of funding, and is seeking $75 million in Mississippi state grants for its Columbus plant. The Mississippi cash was dependent on KiOR landing a contract with a refinery; KiOR’s process doesn’t yield a final fuel product like ethanol or biodiesel, but rather a “biocrude” very similar to crude oil, which then can be refined into various products like gasoline, diesel and fuel oil. The deal with Hunt Refining would appear to help move KiOR’s negotiations for the Mississippi grant package closer to fruition, though the company didn’t mention that in its Wednesday press release.

As you might remember from Joanna’s post last month, KiOR is seeking $1 billion in federal Department of Energy loan guarantees and hopes to use the money to build four plants able to crank out 250 million gallons a year.

Sen. Grassley Calls For Honest Discussion on Energy & Ethanol

In a Senate floor speech earlier this week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a long-time supporter of biofuels, said, “Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do everything I can to educate my colleagues and the public on the benefits of domestic biofuels.”

Grassley is concerned about the movement in DC to end ethanol subsidies and incentives as well as the amendments that passed the Congress that would keep the EPA from the ability to do its job bring American consumers E15 and block federal funds from being allocated to build out biofuel infrastructure. He is also concerned that people, nor his colleagues, are taking America’s energy security and the country’s dependence on foreign oil as serious enough threats.

He began his speech with a few statistics about the rising cost of gas and the diminishing cash in American’s wallets.

“According to the Energy Information Administration, gas prices jumped 19 cents during a one week period at the end of February. This is the second largest one-week jump in more than 20 years. American’s are now paying an average of $3.38 a gallon for gasoline. This is 68 cents higher than this time last year. The average cost to fill up a tank of gas is likely around $50. For a family struggling to make ends meet, these are valuable dollars spent at that pump, going overseas.

Our country is at risk. Our economy is at risk. Our nation’s security is at risk.

Grassley then went out to say that he believes for our country to thrive and grow, we need access to reliable affordable energy and this includes nuclear, clean coal, domestically drilled oil, and renewable energy like wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels. However, he focused his speech on ethanol. At one point he said:

U.S. ethanol production is larger than what we import from Saudi Arabia or from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Without domestic biofuels, we’d be on bended knee even more than we are today begging others for oil. Ethanol is the only reliable, legitimate alternative to crude oil. Domestic ethanol currently accounts for nearly 10 percent of our transportation fuel. There is no other renewable fuel that comes close to achieving the economic, environmental and national security benefits currently delivered by ethanol.

Ultimately, the purpose of Senator Grassley speech was to announce plans for an educational campaign amongst his colleagues. He concluded by saying, “The American public deserves an honest, fact-based discussion about the benefits of reducing our dependence on people like Hugo Chavez and Moammar Kadafi.”

Click here to read Senator Grassley’s entire speech.

City of Hayward Adds Solar Power to City Water Facility

The City of Hayward, California has completed the installation of a 1 megawatt (MW) solar energy system  for the city’s Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF). The system will generated an estimated 1.95 megawatt hours of energy each year offsetting approximately 24 percent of the need’s of WPCF. The facility treats nearly 12 million gallons of wastewater per day for the 220,000 people who live and work in the city of Hayward.

The system was designed and installed with the help of REC Solar. The solar system covers approximately eight acres within the WPCF, and utilizes ground-mounted, single-axis trackers along with 5,152 REC Group REC 225PE solar panels.

“I am very proud of what has been accomplished,” said Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney. “Environmental sustainability is one of the top priorities for the City Council. This solar energy system will provide a significant amount of power to the highest energy-consuming facility owned by the City and contribute substantially to our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the community’s dependence on non-renewable energy sources.”

The city adopted a Climate Action Plan in July 2009 to help them become more sustainable. Installing the solar system at WPCF was one component of meeting their plan. The project was made possible with financial assistance from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) and the California Energy Commission.

“Forward-thinking municipalities like Hayward are key to encouraging the adoption of renewable energy technologies, as they recognize both the environmental and economic benefits of large-scale solar installations like that at the Water Pollution Control Facility,” said Kam Mofid, President of REC Solar, Inc. “It is particularly meaningful to provide clean energy to a facility dedicated to clean water and a cleaner environment. We are excited to contribute to the city of Hayward’s sustainability efforts and help the community reduce its carbon footprint.”

U.S. Embassy Installs Micro-Wind Turbines

The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland is installing TurboMill micro-wind turbines to generate renewable energy. The wind turbines are manufactured by WindStream Technologies and the initiative is part of the embassy’s membership in the “League of Green Embassies” program that encourages energy efficiency and green building strategies.

The TurboMill is durable enough to survive for years in harsh winters as well as scalable so if the embassy’s energy needs grow, they can add more micro wind-turbines to their system. While many turbines need generous wind speeds to generate electricity, the TurboMill can generate energy even from low winds of ranging from only 4-5 mph.

The League of Green Embassies is a consortium of about 80 U.S. embassies that are working to incorporate the very best in new U.S. company products and technologies for energy efficiency and cost savings. The installation was highlighted at an embassy press event with Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday, March 8.

“The League of Green Embassies is deeply committed to promoting energy efficient and high performance building practices,” said Ambassador Bruce Oreck. “U.S. embassies are perfect venues to illustrate U.S. green leadership. We want to promote U.S. companies with intelligent building products, services and technologies. WindStream’s innovative product fits well into this effort.”

E85 Sales in Iowa Break Records

E85 sales in Iowa have broken all records reaching an all-time high for the state. According to the Iowa Department of Revenue, sales of E85 by Iowa retailers reached 9,311,908 gallons last year representing a 43% increase over 2009 sales.

“E85 has been a great success for Iowa consumers and retailers alike,” stated Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw. “With gasoline prices shooting skyward, E85 is the most cost-effective fuel choice for consumers today. And many E85 retailers have noted that E85 accounts for almost 10 percent or more of their total fuel sales. With more and more flexible fuel vehicles rolling off assembly lines, the only thing holding E85 back is the lack of E85 pumps.”

Iowa motorists currently have 138 retail locations available to purchase E85. Click here to view a list of all the E85 stations in the state.

IRFA predicts that it is likely to see more ethanol blended fuel sales because Iowans are looking for ways to fight back against high gas prices. “Unrest in the Middle East coupled with the desire to promote Iowa jobs is leading more Iowans than ever to choose the E85 dispenser. We are excited that several additional retailers are planning to add E85 and other mid-level ethanol blends to their stations this year.”

Iowa is a good place to be amid rising gas prices. The state is the number one producer of renewable fuels production, with 41 ethanol plants with the capacity to produce 3.7 billion gallons of ethanol per year. In addition, the state boasts 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce 315 million gallons per year.

Book Review – The Forbidden Fuel

This week I read “The Forbidden Fuel: A History of Power Alcohol,” by authors Hal Bernton, William Kovarik and Scott Sklar. The book was originally published in 1982 and then republished in 2010 with a new Foreward added as well as a new Introduction added that gives the readers an update on where the ethanol industry is today. This book is absolutely the best history of alcohol fuel, aka ethanol, that I’ve ever read. But that being said, the reader must beware, that when reading the book, it was written in 1982 and the information and issues delivered were from that era. So when the authors discuss net energy, water use, etc., those facts and figures were the most up to date in 1982, not the most current in 2011.

On that note, here is what I found most interesting about the information in the book. The same issues that the industry is fighting today, food versus fuel, indirect land use, net energy, and more, are the same issues that the industry was fighting 40 years ago. In fact, some of these issues date back more than 60 plus years ago. The petroleum industry has been using the same arguments against using ethanol in fuel since the 1930s. So what I find most disturbing is that the ethanol industry has not been able to successfully fight these issues in literally 80 years, and therefore the oil industry has had no need to change its game.

The authors write that the first backlash from the oil industry came in 1933 when Iowa proposed a mandatory blending of ethyl alcohol in gasoline. The Iowa Petroleum Council printed a pamphlet headlined, “The alcohol-gas scheme outrages common sense.” The pamphlet warned that blending what today is known as E10 would constitute a raid on Iowa motorists’ pocketbooks. As the campaign progressed, the media began writing articles, perpetuated by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that “farmers would make motorists pay for farm relief.” In essence, with the debate going on today surrounding VEETC (the blender’s credit) and other ethanol incentives, the anti-ethanol movement is still attacking farmers and telling American drivers they are subsidizing American farmers.

Another interesting element of the book was to learn about the continual rise and falls of ethanol. With those rise and falls, the industry enthused optimism about how much fuel they would produce using what types of feedstocks. Researchers have had high hopes for aquaculture (kelp, algae, etc.) for more than 40 years. They have also been researching the potential for biomass. Needless to say, none of the optimism has come to fruition, but I do believe that now more than ever, the industry is truly on a breakthrough with advanced biofuels.

I believe that the industry needs to go back and read this book. Not for the science per say, but for the history of ethanol. The industry is fighting a very difficult battle and will learn a great deal from this book. If anything, you’ll take away what has worked and not worked in ethanol’s public communication battles.

More Wheeling & Dealing in DC on Ethanol

There is more wheeling & dealing on ethanol measures going on in DC today. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced a bill that would repeal the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) also known as the blender’s credit. Policy makers have been attempting to end VEETC for many years and made an unsuccessful, but down to the wire attempt last year.

In response, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said, “At a time when gas prices are rising due to our dependence on foreign oil, this is the wrong choice at the wrong time. Ethanol – produced right here in America – is creating jobs that cannot be outsourced, strengthening our national security and improving our environment today. In fact it is the only significant progress this nation has made in reducing our dependence on foreign oil since the OPEC oil embargo. Ethanol is currently ten percent of our nation’s fuel usage and we can do more with greater access to the market.

Buis continued, “The ethanol industry is fully prepared to reform and reduce the cost of current tax programs; I would suggest Sens. Coburn and Cardin introduce legislation requiring the oil industry to do the same. In fact, Growth Energy proposed last year, in its Fueling Freedom plan, reforming the ethanol tax program and adopting policies to benefit consumers at the pump. We stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration to accomplish these goals.”

Then later in the day Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), introduced an amendment that would strip amendments by Reps. John Sullivan, (R-OK), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), from the House-approved Continuing Resolution that is now before the U.S. Senate. These amendments block the EPA from rolling out E15 and prohibit funds to be dedicated to install blender pumps and other build biofuel infrastructure.

“The Sullivan and Flake amendments would deprive America of an opportunity to break its addiction to foreign oil. Sullivan and Flake would harm our economy by erecting new artificial market barriers to ethanol, and blocking support for construction of blender pumps and ethanol storage facilities,” said Buis. “Sen. Nelson is standing up for our nation’s national and economic security by opposing the Sullivan and Flake amendments, which were a triumph for OPEC and a loss for America. It’s time we fought as a nation to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.”

Buis continued, “This amendment puts aside politics and lets the science speak for itself. EPA’s consideration of E15 was based on a more exhaustive study and collection of data than any of the 11 previously-approved petitions. No other fuel mix has been tested more.”

Oil is predicted to stay above $100 a barrel, threatening the United States’ economic recovery and taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of Americans’ pockets each and every day. I applaud Sen. Nelson for opposing these job-killing amendments and supporting the only fuel alternative that is cleaner and more cost-efficient than gasoline derived from foreign oil,” he concluded.

POET’s Biorefineries Slash H20 Use

POET biorefineries have slashed water use through the utilization of the company’s Total Water Recovery technology. Across the board, the company’s plants have reduced water use by a total of 411 million gallons of water per year compared to 2009 levels. This savings means that on average, a POET ethanol plant uses 2.77 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced. The industry average is 3 gallons of water per 1 gallon of ethanol produced.

But this achievement is not near POET’s goal. With startup of systems at their biorefineries in Mitchell, S.D.; Ashton, Iowa; and Portland, Ind., the company is nearly halfway to its goal of saving 1 billion gallons of water annually by 2014, which would mean using 2.33 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced. POET’s water saving goal is one part of its company-wide sustainability initiative called “Ingreenuity.”

“I’m proud that in each of the 23 years we’ve been in business, we’ve been able to improve the environmental performance of ethanol production,” POET CEO Jeff Broin said. “Water is one of the most important resources on our planet. We will continue to find ways to maximize that resource and other resources in our ongoing work to be as efficient as we can be.”

Currently, 12 of POET’s 26 plants are running the system at full capacity, and another six are scheduled to come online this year. Total Water Recovery will also be running in their 27th plant, POET Biorefining – Cloverdale, which POET recently acquired and will start production later this month.

According to the company, in 2009, their plants used an average of three gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, which is an 80 percent decrease from when the company first produced ethanol in 1988. That average includes the alternative sources of water used at several POET plants. At POET Biorefining — Corning (Iowa) most of the water used for cooling comes from the Corning Waste Water Treatment Plant. One hundred percent of the water at POET Biorefining — Portland (Ind.) is recycled from a nearby quarry. POET Biorefining — Big Stone (S.D.) gets 80 percent of its water from the cooling ponds of an adjacent power plant and discharges it back to the power plant.