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Archive for April, 2009
Apr
30
Piling on Support to Equalize Biomass and Wind Subsidies
by damian | Uncategorized


The biomass industry has become a rising star in Congress in its push to bring renewable energy tax credits for biomass in line with those provided for wind, Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, told attendees at the International Biomass Conference yesterday in Portland. The industry lobby in the past didn’t have enough clout to win subsidies for biomass producers, he said.

“All of a sudden, we have traction to get parity with wind energy,” said Cleaves.

The Association has adopted Ron Wyden’s catchy term for biomass - the “half-credit technology” - to illustrate that biomass receives only half of the 2.1 cents per kilowatt-hour credit that wind and other renewable projects receive for green electricity production. They’re pushing for reform in the energy tax code to provide a subsidy per ton of CO2 reduced for each technology. Cleaves claims that biomass provides “the biggest bang for taxpayers’ buck in carbon replacement” with four times the environmental benefits of wind.

In testimony to the Senate finance committee last week, Tufts economist Gilbert Metcalf demonstrated how even renewable technologies that receive equal subsidies, geothermal and wind, are actually subsidized very differently when compared on a subsidy-per-ton of CO2 basis. Given that an average wind turbine produces energy about 27% of the year (its capacity factor) compared to geothermal’s 73%, the subsidy ends up being $7.74/ton of avoided emissions for geothermal and $12.28/ ton of wind, according to Metcalf’s calculations. In other words, taxpayers are paying wind producers 60 percent more to reduce CO2 emissions than they’re paying geothermal producers.

The Senate finance committee meeting last week on “technology neutral” energy tax policy provides an interesting glimpse into the debate.

Apr
24
Smart grid opportunities for software developers
by damian | Uncategorized


Smart grid technology may have many hurdles to overcome before it’s widely adopted by consumers and utilities, but that just means the opportunities for making money (and losing it) in the space are huge for today’s software developers and IT professionals, agreed panelists at yesterday’s InnoTech smart grid presentation in Portland. The panel steered away from hype, however, challenging the notion that the smart grid is the next Internet revolution because the benefits haven’t yet been proven.

Here are the list of top business opportunities and challenges for smart grid technology I pulled from the panel:

- Software companies should work with utilities to use existing technologies, or a combination of technologies, to create new tools for managing the grid, said Patrick Mazza from Climate Solutions. This is also the best way for software companies to tap into the smart grid stimulus funding, since the U.S. Department of Energy will distribute most of it through utilities, he said.

- Smart meters only scratch the surface of the smart grid, said Steve Jennings from BPL Global, who said the best approach is to develop a platform that addresses applications across the grid, from the power plant to the home. Interoperability is the key to developing technologies that work across the spectrum of the smart grid.

- Smart grid developers have yet to find the killer app, the feature that fuels adoption. Jeff Hammarlund, who teaches the smart grid graduate seminar at Portland State University, thinks that killer app will be smart appliances but utilities must adopt variable rate schedules based on time-of-day electricity use before any consumer application can be successful.

- Steve Blaine from CH2M Hill was the lone dissenter in the group, arguing that paying billions to upgrade the grid with digital communications may not have any real benefit for consumers. He thinks the real opportunity lies in energy storage. Why build a smart grid to manage renewable power production, for example, when all you need is the ability to store energy that’s generated off-peak?

Apr
22
Cisco builds an EcoMap in San Francisco
by damian | Uncategorized


Cisco announced today that it’s building an interactive map of carbon emissions in San Francisco, similar to the solar map the city launched in 2007.

Residents can already log on and see the solar energy potential of their roof. The new Urban EcoMap, developed by the same contractor CH2M Hill, will use the Google maps interface to show the carbon footprint of any given zipcode, as well as carbon savings (or emissions) that result from the everyday choices residents make, from waste disposal to transportation to home energy use. The site will operate on an open platform to allow user-generated updates and integrate with social networking sites to allow collaboration and discussion.

The city of San Francisco is partnering with Cisco to provide data from waste management, public transportation and other agencies. A resident could log on and map out their route to work, for example, to see the carbon savings that would result if they choose to walk or bike instead of drive or bus it.

I’ve also heard that the map will use data from an infrared thermography fly-over of the city that determines heat loss from individual buildings to measure the potential for energy efficiency upgrades for any address.

The idea is to raise awareness of how individual choices affect a neighborhood’s carbon emissions and to provide an easy way for citizens to take actions that lower their carbon footprint.

It’s still unclear just how they’re measuring carbon emissions and the carbon reductions that result from behavioral changes, however. There isn’t really an adopted standard yet for measuring carbon emissions in the U.S., though the E.P.A. is working on rules for reporting greenhouse gas emissions and building a national greenhouse gas registry. It seems that any calculation from the EcoMap would provide a ballpark range of emissions with the potential to show just how small a dent you actually make with one individual action.

The map goes live to the public on May 21 when Cisco will unveil a similar map it’s developing for Seoul, South Korea.

Apr
15
Designing Portland’s Sustainability Center of Excellence
by damian | Uncategorized


Several construction projects now underway in Portland will attempt to meet the Living Building Challenge, which shoots past LEED standards for sustainable design to achieve a building with net-zero energy and water use, among other goals. The problem is, even the best architects in the greenest city in America aren’t quite sure yet how they’ll get there. I wrote about some of the initial ideas Portland designers have for the city’s Sustainability Center of Excellence today on the NYTimes Green Inc. blog:

Some of Portland’s most celebrated thinkers in green design gathered last week with city and state officials at the Gerding Edlen Development Co. offices to dream up features for the city’s proposed Sustainability Center of Excellence - a state-of-the-art high rise that would function both as an emblem of hyper-green design, and a locus for green-building research and education in the region…

One popular idea was the “aware chair,” which would recognize the distinct print of each users’ backside and automatically adjust the lighting, temperature and other features of an office environment to a collection pre-set preferences. Also discussed: electricity-generating revolving doors attached to a “macho-meter” that instantly displays the entrants’ push power (and presumably, his or her contribution to the building’s zero-energy profile.)

See the full article here.

Apr
14
Sustainable Businesses Tackle Portland’s Rose Quarter Plans
by damian | Uncategorized


A new sustainable business trade association has formed in Portland with the intention to lobby city and state government on behalf of small green companies.

The group of about 30 sustainable business leaders formerly known as PDX Lounge met for the first time last week at the Leftbank to set an agenda, which includes establishing a statewide trade association, building a support network for green businesses and perhaps embarking on a regional marketing strategy. They’ll meet again today at Leftbank from 6 - 8 p.m. to discuss the Rose Quarter redevelopment plan with members of City Council.

“Our hot button issue right now is the new proposed soccer stadium and bright lights district,” said said Sattie Clark, a co-owner of Eleek who’s organizing the sustainable business association meetings. “A lot of people are disturbed by what is happening and the lack of public process. Certainly as sustainable businesses, we can organize the dissenters.”

Sustainable businesses are increasingly frustrated with the Portland Business Alliance, which supports projects such as the Columbia River Crossing and the Rose Quarter expansion that have questionable green benefits, said Clark. Green businesses want an association that represents their values, she said.

The city had previously committed to opening an interim sustainable business center at Leftbank while the proposed Sustainability Center of Excellence is completed, but the project was axed due to budgetary concerns.

Apr
13
Oregon could get fed backing for home energy scores
by damian | Uncategorized

Gov. Kulongoski was ahead of the curve when he proposed SB 79, requiring a home energy performance rating for every house on the market. The L.A. Times reported this weekend that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan wants an energy score for homes on the market and corresponding mortgage incentives to make energy efficiency improvements. He made the same comparison Kulongoski did, that knowing the efficiency of your home should be as easy as knowing the gas mileage of your car. That’s good news for Oregon. The state can require as many energy certificates as it wants, but without sufficient buy-in from mortgage lenders or other financing programs, the retrofits and energy savings won’t happen.

Apr
09
Down come the ethanol giants
by damian | Uncategorized


Nigel Jaquiss reports in WWeek on the implosion of Cascade Grain’s new $200 million ethanol plant in Clatskanie and the political process that pushed millions of taxpayer dollars to be lost in the failed plant. The article, “Corndoggle,” (ha!) points out that Oregon lawmakers essentially created a market for ethanol in the state with the renewable fuel standard then loaned money to Cascade Grain for the plant’s construction only to have it close after operating for just seven months. The company blames the spike in the price of corn for its demise, but Jaquiss sites unnamed sources that say the plant was shoddily built and its product was loaded with sulfates.

It’s interesting to point out that Pacific Ethanol (Nasdaq GM:PEIX), which owns the other giant ethanol plant built in Boardman in response to the RFS, is also currently in default on their construction loans. They operated profitably in 2007 but reported a $146,000 loss in 2008 and now have until the end of April to renegotiate their loans, according to a March 31 report to investors. Its chairman and CEO have pumped $2 million into the company to keep it afloat and their annual report is optimistic they can ride out the downturn as their competitors (see above) fall by the wayside.

Apr
07
Oregon’s five hot areas in energy
by damian | Uncategorized

People often ask me what the hottest topics are in energy right now and what I’m covering. Here’s a short list of what I think are the top five areas generating the most buzz in Oregon and a few reasons why. Oregon’s focus isn’t much different than the national focus, but Oregon has its own unique spin. I’m interested to know - what are your top 5??

1. Smart Grid

The state’s leading energy consultants, high-tech companies and utilities are all looking for opportunities in this emerging sector. The Clean Technology Alliance recently held a brain-storming session for Portland companies interested in tapping the $4.5 billion federal stimulus allocation for smart grid. And Portland State University is scrambling to become the center for thought, innovation and collaboration in the space with a graduate-level research seminar and spring smart grid conference.

2. Energy Efficiency

Some $33.5 million will be available through the Oregon Department of Energy for energy efficiency retrofits and Housing and Community Services for low-income weatherization. Senate Bill 79 would mandate minimum levels of efficiency and implement a rating system for all homes on the market in Oregon. And Portland will begin a pilot project for on-bill financing of energy efficiency projects in select neighborhoods.

3. Electric Vehicles

Portland is apparently competing with San Francisco now for the title of EV King, writes clean car blog Gas 2.0. Gov. Kulongoski is making a concerted effort to attract EV manufacturers to the state and the legislature is considering HB 3253 that would provide a $5,000 tax credit toward the purchase of plug-in hybrids.

4. Sustainable Communities

The newly-founded Portland + Oregon Sustainability Institute is pushing the eco-block concept of sustainable urban planning, a gray water recycling bill is in the legislature and the city is adopting a district energy plan in Portland’s North Pearl District.

5. Cap and Trade

Businesses and environmental advocates are watching SB 80 closely. RePower Oregon recently announced a new proposal to drop the trade part of the cap and trade bill and establish a fund for offset projects instead. The state’s growing sustainable business cluster is counting on the state to put a price on carbon to stay competitive and there’s concern that legislators will drop the ball on this one. On the flip side, large emissions-heavy industries are pushing to kill the bill, arguing it would hurt the state’s already damaged economy. (See my Green Inc. article on the economics of regional cap and trade here.)

Apr
06
SE Portland Block Plans District Solar Heat
by damian | Uncategorized


Neighbors on one entire block in Southeast Portland’s Sunnyside neighborhood are on board to install a district solar thermal system to heat their homes.

Only a handful of the 14 houses on the block get enough sunlight to power a solar system. But those choice spots can get enough energy to heat the whole block, said John Sorenson, president of MidTech Energy and a consultant on the project. So the neighbors, inspired by MidTech’s Sunnyside district energy plan, which has stalled due to lack of funding, decided to pool their resources and install their own solar thermal system. (They’re also seeking funding from the city for upfront capital costs and will need city approval to install it.)

They’ll start with full energy efficiency retrofits in every house on the block to ensure the renewable power doesn’t go to waste. Then the fences will come down and they’ll dig up their backyards to install a series of interconnecting pipes. Solar panels on a central plant and on a few neighbors’ roofs will then heat the water, which is pumped to heat exchange systems in every house on the block.

Instead of rebuilding the fences, the neighbors also plan to install a bioswale down the center of the block for rainwater catchment and permaculture. Sorenson hopes the project will serve as a pilot for the Sunnyside district energy plan.

See my past coverage in the Daily Journal of Commerce here and here.

Apr
02
one more to test
by damian | Post

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