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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Stimulus Plan’

MendoCoastCurrent, June 17, 2009

300_127728The West has been at the forefront of the country’s development and implementation of renewable energy technologies, leading the way in passing effective Renewable Portfolio Standards and harnessing the region’s significant renewable energy resources. The initiatives announced at the recent annual western governors’ meeting offered a collaboration of federal and state efforts to help western states continue to lead in energy and climate issues, while driving U.S. economic recovery and protecting the environment.

Secretaries Chu, Salazar and Vilsack and Chairs Sutley and Wellinghoff offered the western state governors next steps to tap renewable energy potential and create green jobs, focusing on energy strategies and initiatives to support their states and constituents.

Included in these initiatives are the development of a smarter electric grid and more reliable transmission system, protection of critical wildlife corridors and habitats, promoting the development of renewable energy sources and laying the groundwork for integrating these energy sources onto the national electricity grid.

“These steps send an unmistakable message: the Obama Administration will be a strong partner with the West on clean energy” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. “We will create jobs, promote our energy independence and cut our carbon emissions by unlocking the enormous potential for renewable energy in the Western United States”

“Our collective presence here demonstrates the Obama Administration’s commitment to working with the Western governors as we begin to meet the challenge of connecting the sun of the deserts and the wind of the plains with the places where people live” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior.

“President Obama has been very clear about his intent to address our country’s long-term energy challenges and this multi-department approach will help increase production of energy from renewable sources and generate new, green jobs in the process” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “When we produce more energy from clean sources, we help protect our farmland and our forests for future generations”

“With their focus on clean energy, electricity transmission and Western water supply, the Governors have shown a commitment to addressing the critical issue of climate change and the challenges it presents to state and local governments” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The areas covered during this meeting, from water supplies and renewable energy, to fostering international cooperation on energy and the environment, are issues we are also focused on at the White House under the leadership of President Obama. We look forward to working together to meet these challenges”

“FERC looks forward to coordinating with DOE and working with the states and local planning entities and other interested parties in the course of facilitating the resource assessments and transmission plans” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

The actions announced include:

$80 Million for Regional and Interconnection Transmission Analysis and Planning:

The Department of Energy announced $80 million in new funding under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to support long-term, coordinated interconnection transmission planning across the country. Under the program, state and local governments, utilities and other stakeholders will collaborate on the development and implementation of the next generation of high-voltage transmission networks.

The continental United States is currently served by three separate networks or “interconnections” – the Western, Eastern and Texas interconnections. Within each network, output and consumption by the generation and transmission facilities must be carefully coordinated. As additional energy sources are joined to the country’s electrical grid, increased planning and analysis will be essential to maintain electricity reliability.

Secretary Chu announced the release of a $60 million solicitation seeking proposals to develop long-term interconnection plans in each of the regions, which will include dialogue and collaboration among states within an interconnection on how best to meet the area’s long-term electricity supply needs. The remaining $20 million in funding will pay for supporting additional transmission and demand analysis to be performed by DOE’s national laboratories and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

$50 Million for Assistance to State Electricity Regulators:

Secretary Chu announced $50 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support state public utility commissions and their key role in regulating and overseeing new electricity projects, which can include smart grid developments, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, carbon capture and storage projects, etc. The funds will be used by states and public utility commissions to hire new staff and retrain existing employees to accelerate reviews of the large number of electric utility requests expected under the Recovery Act. Public utility commissions in each state and the District of Columbia are eligible for grants.

Nearly $40 Million to Support Energy Assurance Capabilities for States:

The Department of Energy also announced that $39.5 million in Recovery Act funding will be available for state governments to improve emergency preparedness plans and ensure the resiliency of the country’s electrical grid. Funds will be used by the cities and states to hire or retrain staff to prepare them for issues such as integrating smart grid technology into the transmission network, critical infrastructure interdependencies and cybersecurity. Throughout this process, the emphasis will be on building regional capacity to ensure energy reliability, where states can help and learn from one another. Funds will be available to all states to increase management, monitoring and assessment capacity of their electrical systems.

$57 Million for Wood-to-Energy Grants and Biomass Utilization Projects:

The Department of Agriculture announced $57 million in funding for 30 biomass projects. The projects – $49 million for wood-to-energy grants and $8 million for biomass utilization – are located in 14 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

In keeping with the Obama Administration’s interest in innovative sources for energy, these Recovery Act funds may help to create markets for small diameter wood and low value trees removed during forest restoration activities. This work will result in increased value of biomass generated during forest restoration projects, the removal of economic barriers to using small diameter trees and woody biomass and generation of renewable energy from woody biomass. These funds may also help communities and entrepreneurs turn residues from forest restoration activities into marketable energy products. Projects were nominated by Forest Service regional offices and selected nationally through objective criteria on a competitive basis.

Biomass utilization also provides additional opportunities for removal of hazardous fuels on federal forests and grasslands and on lands owned by state, local governments, private organizations and individual landowners.

Memorandum of Understanding to Improve State Wildlife Data Systems, Protect Wildlife Corridors and Key Habitats across the West:

During today’s Annual Meeting in Park City, Utah, Secretaries Salazar, Vilsack and Chu agreed to partner with the Western Governors’ Association to enhance state wildlife data systems that will help minimize the impact to wildlife corridors and key habitats. Improved mapping and data on wildlife migration corridors and habitats will significantly improve the decision-making process across state and federal government as new renewable and fossil energy resources and transmission systems are planned. Because the development of this data often involves crossing state lines and includes information from both private and public lands, increased cooperation and coordination, like this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), are important to developing a comprehensive view on the impact of specific energy development options.

Western Renewable Energy Zones Report Identifies Target Areas for Renewable Energy Development:

The Department of Energy and the Western Governors’ Association released a joint report by the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative that takes first steps toward identifying areas in the Western transmission network that have the potential for large-scale development of renewable resources with low environmental impacts. Participants in the project included renewable energy developers, tribal interests, utility planners, environmental groups and government policymakers. Together, they developed new modeling tools and data to facilitate interstate collaboration in permitting new multistate transmission lines.

In May 2008, the Western Governors’ Association and DOE launched the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative to identify those areas in the West with vast renewable resources to expedite the development and delivery of renewable energy to where it is needed. Under the Initiative, renewable energy resources are being analyzed within 11 states, two Canadian provinces and areas in Mexico that are part of the Western Interconnection.

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MendoCoastCurrent, May 20, 2009

Mendocino-Energy-Mill-SiteAt this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions…with acumen.

Start-ups, utilities companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

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MendoCoastCurrent, April 26, 2009

berkeleysolar1The California Energy Commission is conducting a workshop on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 in Sacramento, to discuss the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provisions related to funding for energy projects.

The workshop will focus on Assembly Bill 811 (Levine, Chapter 159, Statutes of 2008) that finances the installation of energy efficiency improvements, distributed generation and renewable energy sources through contractual assessments to determine if and how ARRA money can advance these programs in local jurisdictions.

This workshop is intended to inform and discuss with the public and various stakeholders the types of projects that may be funded, eligible recipients of funds and application processes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
California Energy Commission
1516 Ninth Street
First Floor, Hearing Room A
Sacramento, California

Remote Attendance
Webcast – Presentations and audio from this meeting will be broadcast over the Internet through Windows Media. For details, please go to [www.energy.ca.gov/webcast/].

Webcast participants will be able to submit questions on areas of interest during the meeting to be addressed by workshop participants via e-mail at [AB811@energy.state.ca.us].

Purpose
Energy Commission staff are exploring the efficacy of supporting AB 811 type programs with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. These would promote the installation of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources or energy efficiency improvements that are permanently fixed to real property and are financed through the use of contractual assessments. Included in this discussion will be the costs and benefits of financing such a program, local and state barriers that may exist to implementing AB 811 related programs, and exploring other financing mechanisms that could be quickly implemented to achieve similar energy efficiency project installation and financing as described in AB 811.

Note that the following criteria for project priorities and expending ARRA funds will be taken into consideration when discussing AB 811 and/or other funding:

  1. Effectiveness in stimulating and creating or retaining green jobs in California;
  2. Achieve lasting and measureable energy benefits consistent with the “Loading Order” priority of energy efficiency systems;
  3. Expend money efficiently, with accountability and minimal administrative burden;
  4. Contribute to meeting California’s energy policy goals as defined by the Energy Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy Report, California Air Resources Board’s AB 32 Scoping Plan as well as other relevant energy policy documents; and
  5. Leverage other federal, state, local and private financing to sustain the economy.

Background
ARRA of 2009 will provide nationally $787 billion in economic investment. The goals of ARRA are to jump start the economy and create jobs for Americans.

The Energy Commission is expected to administer three programs that include: the State Energy Program for approximately $226 million; the Energy Efficiency and Conservation and Block Grant Program for approximately $49.6 million; and the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program estimated at approximately $30 million.

In addition, there is more than $37 billion available nationwide that the United States Department of Energy (DOE) will administer through competitive grants and other financing for energy- and climate change-related programs. The Energy Commission will work with other state agencies, utilities, and other public and private entities to identify ways to leverage these funds for California projects.

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Ocean Energy Council, March 17, 2009

fauResearchers in Dania Beach, Fla., landed almost $1.2 million in a federal grant to continue working on an underwater turbine prototype that will use ocean currents to generate power.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Center for Ocean Energy Technology (COET) joined Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., today to announced the funding at the SeaTech campus in Dania Beach. The grant is part of the $410 billion spending bill signed by President Barack Obama. This is the first time the project has received federal funds.

The money will help pay for testing and possibly expanding the staff as the Center moves toward making the turbines a commercial product that can be used in offshore areas around the country. Scientists and engineers say these underwater turbines can power buildings along the coastline and eventually become a major energy source.

All the testing to date has been on land while the FAU Center studies underwater conditions and seeks federal and state permits to put the first prototype in the water, possibly this summer.

The Center expects to raise its national profile and get more funding for this and other renewable ocean energy projects, including ocean thermal energy (OTEC) and deep seawater cooling for air conditioning. “This [money] puts us on the radar screen at the federal level,” said Susan Skemp, executive director of the Center.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2009

17transition2-6001Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he has just signed his first order establishing renewable energy generation as the top priority of the Department of the Interior. Following President Obama’s lead in steering the United States into this new energy path, he said this agenda would create jobs and grow investment and innovation at home. Also noted was that the DOI will focus mostly in western states for generation of electricity through renewable energy (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass).

Secretary Salazar illustrated this opportunity with the Bureau of Land Management backlog over 200 solar energy projects and over 20 wind projects in western states alone. There have yet been any permits or jobs created for these renewable energy projects to be fast-tracked in consideration, evaluated in terms of environmental impact and anticipating the acceptable projects will move forward swiftly.

Starting today, renewable energy projects in solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass will benefit in priority treatment to generate electricity and renewable energy. And Secretary Salazar stated that a newly-formed energy and climate change task force is already working hard, nights and weekend to develop these plans (since January 20th) for presentation to a Dept. of Energy committee soon. 

In tandem, Secretary Salazar indicated that through cross-departmental effort (BLM, EPA, Dept. of Energy, MMS, FERC and others), his goal is to rapidly and responsibly move forward with Obama’s renewable energy agenda to develop and upgrade the United States electric transmission grid.  

When asked about Cape Wind off Cape Cod, Mr. Salazar indicate that “after we hold our hearings around the country [for MMS rulemaking] the jurisdictional issues between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Minerals Management Service shall be accomplished within this year.” Many projects are being inhibited and we are actively clearing the path to move forward.

The roadshow planned by Secretary Salazar shall help identify renewable energy zones (solar energy in western states minus ecological sensitivity (reduction). He explained that today, through solar energy in the western states alone, we may produce 88% of all of the energy needs and adding wind takes it over 100%. This also fuels the need for a national transmission system as a high priority.

Salazar also called for the need to finalize and renew offshore renewable energy rules that protect the United States landscapes, wildlife and environment as we serve as steward of our lands.

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MendoCoastCurrent from Platts Energy Podium, February 12, 2009

The recently approved Economic Stimulus Plan includes expanding the US electric transmission grid and this may be the just the start of what will be a costly effort to improve reliability and deliver renewable energy to consumers from remote locations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Acting Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told the Platts Energy Podium on February 12, 2009.

Wellinghoff defines the Stimulus energy funds as “seed money. But it really isn’t [enough] money to make huge advances in the overall backbone grid that we’re talking about to integrate substantial amounts of wind.”

While details of the plan compromises are unclear, the measure could provide $10 billion or more to transmission upgrades. Wellinghoff said backbone transmission projects could cost more than $200 billion. “And I think we’ll see that money coming from the private sector,” based on proposals already submitted to FERC.

Wellinghoff’s focused on Congress strengthening federal authority to site interstate high-voltage electric transmission lines to carry wind power to metropolitan areas and expects FERC to be heavily involved in formulation of either a comprehensive energy bill or a series of bills meant to address obstacles to increasing renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy, and other matters that fall within FERC’s purview. 

FERC plays a critical role “given the authorities we’ve been given in the 2005 and 2007 acts and our capabilities with respect to policy and implementation of energy infrastructure.”

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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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MendoCoastCurrent, February 11, 2009

President Obama chose two Silicon Valley notables as members of his new Economic Recovery Advisory Board.  The 15-member board shall advise Obama on decisions about the US economy and announced to spur Congress into passing legislation for his economic stimulus plan.

President Obama said he created a panel of outside advisers to enlist voices from “beyond the Washington echo chamber.”

Among his picks is Charles Phillips, president of Oracle and John Doerr, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who serves on the boards of Google, Amazon, and Symantec.

“We will meet regularly so that I can hear different ideas and sharpen my own, and seek counsel that is candid and informed by the wider world.”

The board is headed by Paul Volcker, the former US Federal Reserve chairman and one of Obama’s top economic advisers.

“We’re also going to count on these men and women to serve as additional eyes and ears for me as we work to reverse this downturn,” said Obama. “Many of them have a ground-level view of the changes that are taking place.”

Phillips became president of Oracle in May 2003 and was previously with (the then-investment bank and now-bank holding company), Morgan Stanley.

Doerr is a venture capitalist associated with KPCB, who’s backed quite a few big names of Silicon Valley in their early years. Like Compaq, Sun Microsystems, Intuit, Netscape, and Amazon. He’s also been a major advocate for carbon trading and green tech causes.

Other names on the board include Martin Feldstein, professor of economics at Harvard University; Jeffery Immelt, CEO of General Electric; and Robert Wolf, CEO of investment bank UBS Group Americas.

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, February 4, 2009

imagesWind and solar energy have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.

Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 – 50% declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

“I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,” said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., where DMI Industries of Fargo operates a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20% of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous federal tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Wind and solar developers have been left starved for capital. “It’s absolutely frozen,” said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.

The two industries are hopeful that President Obama’s economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.

Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and Sun Power, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the Midwest, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.

Some big wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their wind farm plans.

Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once fast-growing wind and solar.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant wind turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project’s costs. For example, JPMorgan Chase, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the firm’s managing director for energy investments.

In the solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25% in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10% by midsummer. (For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60% of total installation costs.)

After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, “Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?”

The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.

On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.

“At least one vendor has said that they have equipment for delivery in 2009, where nine months ago they wouldn’t have been able to take new orders until 2011,” Mr. Mataczynski of Renewable Energy wrote in an e-mail message. As he has scaled back his company’s plans, he has been forced to cancel some orders for wind turbines, forfeiting the deposit.

Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money and profits, the main task for the companies is to find new sources of investment capital.

Wind and solar companies have urged Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.

“Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken,” said Mr. Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke. “But it can help at the margins.”

The solar and wind tax credits are structured slightly differently, but the House version of the stimulus bill would help both industries by providing more immediate tax incentives, alleviating some of their dependency on banks.

Both House and Senate would also extend an important tax credit for wind energy, called the production tax credit, for three years; previously the industry had complained of boom-and-bust cycles with the credit having to be renewed nearly every year.

Over the long term, with Mr. Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.

“You drive across the countryside and there’s more and more wind farms going up,” said Mr. Mattern of West Fargo. “I still have big hopes.”

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SUSAN CHAMBERS, The World, February 4, 2009

coos-bay-intro2Coos Bay, Oregon — The jobs are coming, so Ocean Power Technologies insists.

OPT spokesman Len Bergstein said Monday the company wants to get stimulus funds from the federal government.

“We have a strong interest in presenting a project that would be jobs-ready right now,” Bergstein said.

OPT wants to get a test buoy in the water soon. It recently formed an agreement with Lockheed Martin in which Lockheed would provide construction, systems integration and deployment work, according to a press release.

The announcement last week followed on a similar report from Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas and American Bridge in Reedsport that said they plan to share buoy construction work, if Oregon Iron gets OPT’s contract.

Bergstein said the Lockheed agreement is for higher level technical, systems integration work.

“It would not replace work on the coast,” he said.

OPT has said it hopes to get a buoy in the water this year and to submit plans to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the federal government in March.

The Obama administration recently put together the White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, to boost the living standards of the country’s middle class. Its first focus is green jobs, those that use renewable energy resources, reduce pollution, conserve energy and natural resources and reconstitute waste. The task force’s first meeting is Feb. 27.

If the community can get behind OPT’s plans, Bergstein said, the company could submit it to the task force.

“We want to demonstrate that wave energy projects are the kinds of things that can bring jobs to coastal communities,” he said. “Nothing could say that better than being part of a stimulus package.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 29, 2009

images2At his first White House press conference, President Obama declared “the days of Washington dragging its heels are over” and ordered an immediate review of the Bush administration’s refusal to give California authority to enforce tougher emission and fuel efficiency standards on gas and diesel automobiles.

For more than two years California Governor Schwarzenegger has sought to impose stricter standards on automobile manufacturers in an effort to spur adoption of plug-in electric cars.

President Obama’s order may signal his interest in granting California’s request in a matter of weeks. Eighteen other States, representing nearly half the nation’s population, have indicated they wish to follow California’s lead, calling for the establishment of a national electric car-charging network.

President Obama’s push for electric cars is closely linked to his $11 billion high voltage “superhighway” that was passed last night by the House included in the $819 billion economic stimulus.

The newly-chosen, Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Jon Wellinghoff, is calling for regulators and automobile manufacturers to plan integration in the car-charging networks for electric vehicles into the national power grid. “If you’re an automobile company, you’d better get on the bandwagon…because there is definitely going to be a move toward electrification,” said Wellinghoff.  Chip manufacturers and power companies may also wish to jump in.

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SCOTT DUKE HARRIS and MATT NAUMAN, San Jose Mercury News, January 27, 2009

obama-hope2As President Barack Obama and Congress hammer out an economic stimulus package expected to be in the $825 billion range, Silicon Valley clean tech leaders are heartened by an energy agenda that starts with an emphasis on “smart grid” technologies that encourage energy conservation.That agenda will add jobs and bring dollars to several Silicon Valley companies, they say, especially those making smart grid components, solar panels, electric cars and green building materials.

It’s “a good start,” said venture capitalist Pascal Levensohn, whose portfolio includes clean tech investments. “There is a lot of optimism.”

Details of the new stimulus package are still being worked out, but talks suggest that about $60 billion will be applied toward promoting clean, efficient “energy independence” and creating jobs in the process.

Billions of dollars are expected to be applied to weatherizing government buildings, schools and homes. Billions more would go to loans and grants to promote renewable energy such as solar and wind. And still more billions would be spent upgrading the infrastructure of America’s power grids.

Bringing the power grid into the Internet age is a priority. The bill presented by House Democrats includes $11 billion to boost the IQ of electrical grids by employing sensors to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. An alternative bill introduced in the Senate would raise that sum to $16 billion.

“We’ve been swimming upstream,” said Peter Sharer, chief executive of Agilewaves, a Menlo Park maker of a product that monitors electricity, gas and water use in homes and businesses. “We’re finally swimming with the current. That’s what federal support means to us.” 

While initiatives like solar power have cosmic cachet, upgrading the power infrastructure is the logical place to start, some clean tech investors say. “We know that efficiency is the low-hanging fruit,” explained Levensohn, of Levensohn Venture Partners in San Francisco. 

America’s aging power grids now waste 10 to 30 percent of electricity from the generator to the plug, industry experts say. Foundation Capital partner Steve Vassallo likened the grid to a leaky bucket. Instead of simply putting more energy into the system, “the first thing you should do is fix the bucket,” he said.

The weaknesses in California’s energy grid and marketplace were starkly exposed in 2000 and 2001. Then, as Californians were hit by brownouts and ballooning electricity bills, President George W. Bush refused to support temporary price caps and blamed the energy crisis on environmental rules and a shortage of power plants. Only later was it discovered that energy dealers including Enron, a major supporter of Bush and adviser on Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, were gaming California’s dysfunctional energy market, profiteering with schemes nicknamed “Death Star” and “Get Shorty.” Enron would later implode from its own culture of corruption.

The energy crisis inspired Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to seek solutions. Menlo Park’s Foundation started investing in clean tech in 2002, including smart grid companies Silver Spring Networks, based in Redwood City; eMeter, based in San Mateo; and EnerNOC, based in Boston.

The “smart grid” approach employs real-time monitoring and sensors to minimize waste and help identify parts of the grid that are leaking energy and need repairs. In an age of Internet connectivity, utilities typically remain unaware of outages until consumers call with problems, Vassallo said, and still rely on human meter readers walking door-to-door to check energy use “30 days in arrears.”

Pacific Gas & Electric plans to spend more than $2 billion to install 10.3 million smart electric and gas meters. Installations started in Bakersfield in late 2006, and are scheduled to reach the Bay Area by the end of this year.

This digital, wireless device will allow PG&E to get quicker notification of power outages, and also allow it to cut or reduce power during periods of high demand, if a customer agrees. Eventually, PG&E says, smart meters will allow it to better tap into energy that is put into the grid from solar panels installed on homes and businesses.

While California’s grid is “getting smarter,” Vassallo said, most states are served by power grids without the benefit of any information technology and, unlike California, have pricing structures that do not encourage conservation.

Valley companies are keenly scrutinizing the potentially devilish details. SunPower, the San Jose maker of solar modules, is pleased with the “wide, broad, deep effort” to promote cleaner energy as part of the stimulus, said Julie Blunden, a vice president. But she doesn’t think the effort will generate jobs until the second half of 2009.

SunPower, Blunden said, is ready to ramp up work in areas where it has expertise, such as putting solar systems on government buildings, as well as “beefing up areas where we don’t have strong, established channels.”

Weatherizing buildings and promoting new “green” development might benefit companies such as Serious Materials, a Sunnyvale maker of energy-saving building materials, such as heavily insulated windows and greener drywall.

Kevin Surace, the company’s chief executive, sees a lucrative market — 1 million to 2 million homes a year plus tens of thousands of government buildings. His company just bought two window factories, and Surace expects to grow his head count from 150 to 250 or 300 by year’s end.

Project Frog, a San Francisco company that builds green school buildings, is also encouraged. “We’re ready to help schools make use of these funds,” said Adam Tibbs, the company’s president.

Government support may help stimulate more private-sector investments in energy, says Agilewaves’ Sharer and other clean tech executives. But Lyndon Rive, chief executive of Solar City, which was expanding rapidly until the credit crunch hit, said the most important thing for clean tech is for financing to flow again.

“We want to get banks back into buying solar, wind and other renewable” energy assets, Rive said.

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CYNTHIA THIELEN, The Star Bulletin, December 21, 2008

Rep. Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) in the State House

coh1An unusual consortium comprised of large utilities, environmental groups, energy think tanks and ocean energy developers has just written to President-elect Barack Obama about the tremendous potential of wave energy and the role it can play in reducing our nation’s dependence upon oil.

The group includes utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Portland General Electric and Florida Power & Light (the largest utilities in California, Oregon and Florida, respectively); environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Surfrider Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council; and academic entities Oregon State University and the New England Marine Renewable Energy Center. Taking the initiative on Hawaii’s behalf are Robbie Alm, COO of Hawaiian Electric Co., Virginia Hinshaw, chancellor of the University of Hawaii, and Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. I encouraged these Hawaii leaders to participate in the important discussions with the new administration.

In its letter to the president-elect, the consortium is asking Obama to provide support for wave energy, citing “conservative estimates” that indicate wave energy could “supply at least 10% of the current U.S. demand.” That’s a staggering number for an economically imperiled nation that has spent $700 billion in the last two years on imported oil.

The consortium attached a white paper, titled “Ocean Renewable Energy: A Shared Vision and Call for Action,” to its letter. Among the guiding principles are encouraging pilot and demonstration scale projects, streamlining regulatory processes and cooperating in preparation of unified environmental documents.

Economic stimulation can’t take place at home if the U.S. ends up having to import wave energy conversion technology. The consortium stakeholders are making this a major focal point, stating that “without increased government action to encourage demonstration projects and to fund research and development, the promise of ocean renewable energy may never be realized, and the U.S. may see Europe corner the market on these technologies, in much the same way that it did with wind.”

The consortium also stresses the importance of pilot projects in determining the effects of wave energy technology on marine environments to ensure that we protect our ocean resources to the greatest degree possible while extracting energy from ocean waves.

I joined the stakeholders in the consortium and met with Obama’s transition team on December 16, 2008 in Washington, D.C., to discuss how best to integrate wave energy technology into the U.S. energy portfolio.

Hawaii is poised to become a leader. The Department of Energy designated the University of Hawaii as one of two national Marine Renewable Energy Centers. HECO, the administration and energy department signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an effort to meet 70% of Hawaii’s energy needs with clean energy by the year 2030. Since that time, Hawaii has seen bold plans in the renewable sector. Two of the more ambitious projects are Oceanlinx LLC’s wave energy project off Maui, and Better Place’s electric vehicles. But the electric vehicles must be able to obtain energy from clean, renewable resources, such as ocean waves.

The message I gave to Obama’s transition team is that Hawaii is one of the best places in the world for wave energy conversion, and we are ready. We have an abundance of year-round wave energy, a large, concentrated market on Oahu and our residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation because our state exports up to $7 billion each year to import oil. With UH Chancellor Hinshaw, HECO executive Alm and economic director Liu joining the consortium’s call for action, our state will lead.

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