- NewEnergyNews: NATURAL GAS, A BRIDGE NOT SO FAR

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

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YESTERDAY

THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Oct. 30:

  • TTTA Thursday-HOW TO TALK TO CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS
  • TTTA Thursday-WIND AT STAKE IN THE ELECTION
  • TTTA Thursday-THE AESTHETICS OF SOLAR
  • TTTA Thursday-EV MRKT TO MORE THAN DOUBLE BY 2023
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: THE DIFFERENT WAYS TO MAKE THE TRANSITION TO NEW ENERGY
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 29: WIND MAY TIP KANSAS ELECTION; YOUNG VOTERS BRING NEW ENERGY; GREEN BUILDINGS BOOMING
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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: THE AFFORDABILITY OF THE NEW ENERGY TRANSITION
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 28: WIND BOOMS AS ‘MOST AFFORDABLE ENERGY OPTION’; OBSTACLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR BIG SOLAR; GEOTHERMAL COMING BACK
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: THE HEALTH IN EMISSIONS CUTS
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 27: NEW ENERGY OVER 40% OF U.S. NEW BUILD IN 2014; EMPLOYEE BENEFITS NOW INCLUDE SOLAR; WIND BRINGS JOBS TO MICHIGAN
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • Weekend Video: Talking With The Redwoods
  • Weekend Video: Evangelicals Confront Climate Change
  • Weekend Video: Living The Platinum Rule: Making The Best Invention Of All Time Better
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE- EU UPS THE WORLD’S BAR ON EMISSIONS CUT TARGETS
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-FIRST BIG MOROCCO SOLAR NEAR POWERING UP
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-NORTH SEA WIND-HYDRO INTERLINK TO GROW
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-TURKISH GEOTHERMAL GETS INTELLIGENT
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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  • Thursday, August 13, 2009

    NATURAL GAS, A BRIDGE NOT SO FAR

    Natural Gas: A Bridge Fuel for the 21st Century
    John Podesta and Timothy Wirth, August 10, 2009 (Center for American Progress)

    SUMMARY
    Natural Gas; A Bridge Fuel for the 21st Century by John Podesta of the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Timothy E. Wirth of the Energy Future Coalition, re-emphasizes the growing approval of natural gas by progressive Democratic leadership.

    Late in July, dedicated environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., published an editorial in the UK Financial Times endorsing natural gas as a bridge away from coal and to New Energy.

    Al Gore recently enthusiastically approved the idea at Senator Harry Reid’s Las Vegas Clean Energy Summit.

    At the same time, Podesta, the founding father of CAP (one of the most influential progressive thinks tank in the country), published his memo of endorsement.

    Reasons natural gas might be a good idea: (1) It is the cleanest fossil fuel that could be burned for power generation, causing no more than half the greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) of coal. (2) Recent advances in drilling technology make it possible to get at enormous U.S. reserves embedded in shale economically.

    click to enlarge

    Estimates put domestic natural gas reserves, including the new shale bed discoveries, at an amount capable of filling U.S. power needs for 90 years.

    The new shale bed gas finds are primarily in Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. For several of those states, a boost to their economy would be revitalizing.

    click to enlarge

    Of the fossil fuels used to drive power plants, natural gas can most readily be combined with wind installations, solar power plants and existing coal plants. Its flexibility would therefore facilitate a reduction in the use of coal from old plants as well as an increase in the building of New Energy.

    Natural gas works well with New Energy. (click to enlarge)

    The average U.S. coal plant is 35 years old. U.S. plants older than the average age ALONE account for 7% of world GhGs.

    The Podesta/Wirth CAP/EFC paper points out that if shifting to natural gas is a good idea, it would be helpful for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, to include provisions for greater use of natural gas in the climate and energy legislation they are preparing for consideration by the Senate in September.

    Policies recommended by Podesta and Wirth that would spur the transition to natural gas and New Energy for electricity generation:

    (1) Financial rewards (incentives) for retiring coal plants in favor of natural gas plants and New Energy installations
    (2) Incentives (credits) to compensate power producers for moving to natural gas and New Energy beyond the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) requirments
    (3) Incentives for developing and deploying dispatchable New Energy and New Energy storage technology
    (4) Requirements for grid operators to consider the price of emissions in their trafficking of electricity, so as to favor natural gas and New Energy sources
    (5) Expanded carbon capture and storage (CCS) provisions and remunerations to include other storage technologies as well as requirements that existing coal and gas plants be retrofitted with sequestration and/or energy storage capabilities
    (6) Elimination of disincentives to the installation and use of combined heat and power (CHP), or cogeneration, technology

    The alteration of antiquated and counterproductive policies that prevent coal plants from using CHP technology could perhaps be the lowest hanging fruit on the climate change fight tree. CAP estimates CHP alone could cut U.S. fossil fuel use 30%, cut U.S. GhGs 20% and save $150-to-$250 billion per year. (No wonder Amory Lovins has been screaming about CHP for years.)

    Combined Heat & Power, aka cogeneration, the best efficiency. (click to enlarge)

    Changing the policy would require: (1) A review of regulations by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and state public utility commissions; (2) FERC guidance to regional transmission organizations (RTOs) to support demand response
    and energy efficiency in power market auctions or incur penalties; (3) A FERC-led effort to create similar programs outside RTO territories; (4) A financial reward for the lowest cost/cleanest power sources; (5) A review of RTO governance to eliminate undue influence by private interests.

    Policies that would spur the transition to natural gas for transportation:
    (1) Incentives to expand the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) to fuel heavy transport (buses and trucks)
    (2) Rapid transit system incentives for communities to deploy and use compressed natural gas buses

    Current admirable federal efforts to drive the transition to battery electric vehicle (BEV) personal transport will fail to do anything to change reliance on oil in heavy transport because current BEV technology will not move heavy loads. Compressed natural gas (CNG) will.

    The NAT GAS Act, S1408, authored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Harry
    Reid (D-NV) and Orrin Hatch (D-UT), will facilitate the development of a 100% CNG heavy transport fleet. The companion House bill is HR 1835, authored by Representatives Dan Boren (D-OK), John Larson (D-CT), and John Sullivan (R-OK).

    Batteries can't yet do heavy duty but natural gas can. (click to enlarge)

    A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that runs on CNG costs 30 times less than a subway system and requires no construction time.

    Policies that would spur the transition to natural gas by increasing production:
    (1) Fund and require a “comprehensive” study of natural gas impacts on air, water, land, and global climate change and compile regulatory best practices/recommendations for drilling, transporting, refining and using it
    (2) Requirements for public disclosure of natural gas production-generated toxicities
    (3) Expansion to medium and large scale producers of the STAR program in which independent natural gas producers voluntarily capture and profitably resell methane, a powerful GhG, instead of releasing it

    Research and Development (R&D) that would spur the transition to natural gas:
    (1) Turbine efficiency
    (2) Energy and emissions storage technologies
    (3) Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technologies
    (4) New Energy

    This went unmentioned by all the endorsers. Will it be a problem? (click to enlarge)

    COMMENTARY
    As documented by TALLY OF INTERESTS, Marianne Lavelle’s superb chronicle of lobbying on the climate and energy legislation, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) has become much more aggressive on behalf of independent natural gas producers in recent months. (See LOBBYISTS PUSHING HARD)

    Are all these endorsements an indication of ANGA’s effectiveness? Possibly. But do they make sense? It would be hard to find a duo with environmental credentials as substantial as those of former Vice President Al Gore and noted legal environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and they say natural gas makes sense. But they aren't infallible. Bob Dylan said, "...don't follow leaders..." Instead, Mr. Dylan could have added, examine what they are selling.

    Fracturing - the problematic way to get at shale gas. (click to enlarge)

    In his opinion piece in the Financial Times, RFK, Jr., made a series of salient points and included some important cautions.

    In favor of natural gas:
    (1) Conversion could be relatively fast and affordable, with coal plants being retrofitted;
    (2) Funding such retrofitting would be a shot in the arm for the economy;
    (3) New drilling techniques have created a safer means of production and a new abundance of supply;
    (4) Almost anything is better than coal, which generates the worst GhGs of any power source, ozone and particulates, acid rain, neurotoxic mercury and dangerous waste from environmentally devastating mining processes;
    (5) New Energy is ready. Natural gas is available, is affordable and is abundant enough to bridge the gap while the New Energy infrastructure is built.

    Kennedy added a cautionary caveat: The drilling for and extraction of natural gas from the shale where it has been rediscovered in abundance is a potential environmental hazard and will require rigorous regulatory vigilance. (See Buried Secrets: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threats)

    Regulation required. (click to enlarge)

    Kennedy made a point very similar to one made in the CAP paper: Regulatory requirements on grid operators to take note of and give preference to New Energy and natural gas sources in the transmission system is possible and would immediately reduce as much as 75% of the use of coal.

    In terms of the climate change fight, natural gas offers a really interesting opportunity. CAP estimates an emissions allowance price of $7-to-$14 per ton would likely drive grid operators to prioritize gas over coal. What this means is that gas producers have a LOT to gain from supporting a cap&trade system. It moves a substantial portion of the oil&gas industry from the anti-climate change bill to the pro-climate change bill side.

    As Kennedy pointed out, the single biggest benefit from a mandatory shift to natural gas would be ridding the nation of “antiquated and horrendously inefficient...ancient [coal] plants…” that are 60-to-75% less efficient than new natural gas plants. The oldest and dirtiest part of the coal plant fleet provides 21% of U.S. power but spews half its power sector GhGs and is responsible for much of the mercury and acid rain.

    Newer coal plants, Kennedy recommended, should be required to co-fire with natural gas.

    Footnote: The turn of the New Energy discussion toward natural gas will no doubt significantly assuage T. Boone Pickens’ disappointment at having to postpone his 4,000-megawatt wind project in the Texas panhandle earlier this year. The wind will come. Meanwhile. Pickens has some of the biggest names in progressive Democratic politics signing up for all the natural gas he can pump and all the CNG he can supply.

    From pickensplan via YouTube.

    QUOTES
    - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr: "Natural gas comes with its own set of environmental caveats. It is a carbon-based fuel and its extraction from shale, the most significant new source, if not managed carefully, can have serious water, land use and wildlife impacts, especially in the hands of irresponsible producers and lax regulators. But those impacts can be mitigated by careful regulation and are dwarfed by the disaster of coal."
    - Al Gore: “I endorse Boone’s plan for 18-wheelers…”
    - From the CAP paper:” Natural gas can serve as a bridge fuel to a low-carbon, sustainable energy future. In particular, natural gas can provide the critical low-carbon “firming” or back-up fuel that can enable deep market penetration of both wind power and concentrated solar thermal power…Using clean domestic natural gas will also enhance our economy. Since it is produced in the United States, higher gas demand will create more jobs, and using domestic gas in lieu of imported oil would reduce our trade imbalance, keeping energy dollars at home instead of exporting oil dollars overseas. Gas could also be the basis for development of new, clean-energy technologies such as wind-gas hybrid electricity plants, carbon capture and storage, and natural gas transportation fuels. Such low-carbon technologies would find a market overseas. America and the world’s needs for new jobs and new energy sources coincide with the emergence of a powerful wave of clean-energy investment. More than $155 billion was invested in clean-energy technologies in 2008 alone and investments are expected to triple in the next three to four years…The American Clean Energy and Security act, or ACES…could become more effective at job creation, oil reduction, consumer protection, and greenhouse gas pollution reduction if it did more to encourage and require a broad range of no- or low-carbon energy technologies. The Senate has an opportunity to incorporate such proposals into its bill during the debate on energy and global warming legislation this fall.”

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