News & Notes

by Chris Shreve

Lighting Efficiency Standards Spur Innovation

Congress’s $1 trillion omnibus spending bill, passed in December, included a provision that prevents the Department of Energy (DOE) from enforcing the so-called 100-watt ban on incandescent lightbulbs until March 2013. Nonetheless, many manufacturers are moving forward with products that meet the new standards.

Contrary to public perception, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which outlines new energy efficiency standards, does not ban any type of lightbulb; instead, it requires common lightbulbs to use at least 25% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) meet the new standards—as does the new generation of advanced incandescent bulbs.

According to the Alliance to Save Energy, advanced incandescent bulbs provide light that is indistinguishable from old incandescents, are fully dimmable, contain no mercury, and cost $1 less per year to operate. Five manufacturers are now producing and selling incandescent bulbs that meet the new standards.

Osram Sylvania, however, has taken a different track. The lighting manufacturer announced in November that it would be the first to market a 100-watt-equivalent LED bulb, saying the new bulb will save consumers $220 over its life compared to an incandescent bulb. The suggested retail price for the new LED bulb is $49.98, compared to $3 for CFLs and $1.50 for advanced incandescents. Still, Sylvania believes many consumers will opt for the LED’s long life (up to 25,000 hours), low energy consumption, and warm color temperature. And unlike CFLs, the LED bulb is dimmable, works well in the cold, and is mercury- and lead-free.


California Auctions Greenhouse Gas Allowances

California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) held its first auction of greenhouse gas (GHG) allowances on November 14, 2012.

The auction is part of California’s cap-and-trade program, a central element of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which covers major sources of GHG emissions, such as refineries, power plants, industrial facilities, and transportation fuels. Under cap-and-trade, an overall limit on GHG emissions from capped sectors is established, and facilities subject to the cap are able to trade permits (allowances) to emit GHGs.

According to ARB’s post-auction summary report, all 23.1 million available allowances for 2013 were sold, at a price per allowance of $10.09, which was 9 cents above the state’s lowest allowable price. One allowance offsets one metric ton of greenhouse gases.

The auction did not lack controversy. broke the news that Edison International, owner of California’s second-biggest power utility, submitted a proposal in the wrong format and offered to buy 21 times the allowances it wanted. Even though most of those bids were disqualified after exceeding auction limits, the company still ended up with 1.61 million more permits than it had intended to purchase.

Ironically, the gaffe paid off for Edison, as prices for carbon future contracts rose 30% over the four weeks following the auction. However, it could depress prices in the four ARB auctions planned for 2013, as Edison likely won’t be a large buyer.


Texas Sets New Wind Power Record

At 10:21 a.m. on November 10, 2012, Texas set a new wind record. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of the state, reported that wind power output reached 8,521 megawatts (MW), or nearly 26% of system load at the time, surpassing the previous instantaneous record by more than 150 MW.

One MW is enough electricity to power about 200 homes during hot summer days when electric use is highest, or about 500 homes during periods of typical consumption.

“We have surpassed previous wind power records several times this year,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of Grid Operations and System Planning. “While added capacity is one reason for this growth, experience and improved tools also are enabling ERCOT to integrate this resource into the grid more effectively than ever before.”

Nearly 7,000 MW of the new record included wind power from West Texas wind farms, followed by more than 1,100 MW from wind farms along the Texas Coast.


Electric Power Grid Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks

A long-delayed report says the U.S. electric power delivery system is vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could cause much more damage than natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. The report, released in November by the National Research Council, says an attack on the grid could black out out large regions of the country for weeks or months and cost many billions of dollars.

According to the report, the power grid is physically vulnerable for a number of reasons: it is spread across hundreds of miles; many key facilities are unguarded; and much of the transmission network is being used in ways for which it was not designed and is at risk of multiple failures. Furthermore, important pieces of equipment are decades old and lack technology for sensing and control that could help limit outages; and critical systems, such as communications, sensors, and controls, are potentially vulnerable to cyber attacks.

The National Research Council completed the report in the fall of 2007, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the sponsoring agency, classified the report in its entirety. After a formal request from the Research Council, the report was cleared for public release in the fall of 2012.

The report offers a number of strategies to mitigate and/or guard against future attacks on the power grid. Of particular concern are high-voltage transformers, which are often very large, custom-built, and difficult to replace. A promising solution, the report says, is to develop, manufacture, and stockpile a family of universal recovery transformers that would be smaller and easier to move. The DHS and the U.S. power industry are cooperating to develop such a device.

In terms of cyber security, systems are safest when connections with the outside world are eliminated, the report says. When interconnections are unavoidable, high-quality technical and managerial security systems should be in place, including systems that monitor for and help avoid operator error or intentional sabotage.

The report states that although it is not reasonable to expect federal support for all local and regional planning efforts, the DHS and/or the DOE should initiate and fund several model demonstration assessments across cities, counties, and states. These assessments should systematically examine a region’s vulnerability to extended power outages and develop cost-effective strategies that can be adopted to reduce or eventually eliminate such vulnerabilities.


U.S. Army Teams with Private Sector to Create Nation’s Largest Solar Community

As many as 4,700 military homes in the Southwest will soon be powered by solar energy. As part of its vision for “Net Zero” energy consumption at all installations, the U.S. Army announced in November that it had partnered with Balfour Beatty Communities and SolarCity to install 13.2 MW of solar capacity at residential communities on Fort Bliss, Texas, and the adjacent White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico.

“[W]e are moving closer to achieving our goal of reducing our carbon footprint and becoming completely self-sufficient in energy as an installation by 2018,” said Major General Dana Pittard, commanding general of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss. “Once complete, these solar arrays will resource the largest solar project in any housing area in our Army. The solar project will pay for itself through the installation’s reduced utility bills.”

SolarCity will engineer, install, and maintain the solar systems at Fort Bliss and WSMR, which are two of the Army’s largest installations. Once fully deployed, the project will create the nation’s largest solar-powered community, generating more than 21 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year of clean, renewable energy from more than 50,000 solar panels, while offsetting more than 25% of the electricity typically used in each community.

“This public/private partnership is a strategic and significant investment which will, over the life cycle of the installed photovoltaic system, save the government money while providing an alternative and sustainable source of energy to the installation,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy & Environment).

The project will also help the military meet U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) goals to have 25% of its energy requirements met by renewable energy by 2025. The DOD is currently the largest energy consumer in the United States.


Chicago Garbage Trucks Go Electric

Chicago is set to become the first city in the nation to add all-electric, zero-emission garbage trucks to its fleet. San Francisco Bay Area start-up Motiv Power was awarded a $13.4 million contract in November to deliver 20 electric vehicle (EV) refuse trucks. Chicago currently has 600 garbage trucks in operation.

Before settling on EV trucks, the city evaluated hybrid and compressed natural gas trucks, but ultimately found that its routes did not make those options financially viable. The Motiv EV trucks will use 10 battery packs to power the motor and drive the hydraulics systems. Each truck will weigh 52,000 pounds and have a range of more than 60 miles, with a total energy storage of 200 kWh. According to Motiv’s vice president of business development and marketing, Shyam Nagrani, the whole system can be scaled up or down to meet the needs of any fleet using a conventional chassis.
But the big winners in the switch to emissions-free garbage trucks may be Chicago’s residents. Because, said Nagrani, “Who wants to be woken up at five a.m. by an idling garbage truck?”


LIHEAP Funds to Aid New Yorkers Affected by Superstorm Sandy

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) announced in November that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would immediately release $339 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to New York State. The funds will be used to help at-risk New Yorkers access ways to stay warm.

LIHEAP funds are usually used to purchase home heating fuel but can, in emergencies, be used to purchase supplies—in this case, blankets, generators, furnaces, and temporary rentals—to help those who lost heat and electricity in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

“LIHEAP recipients should not have to choose between keeping warm and paying for food,” said Schumer, “and I am relieved that the federal government will be releasing these critical funds. This will help at-risk New Yorkers access the resources they need to keep warm and be safe during this difficult time.”

LIHEAP is a federally funded energy assistance program that helps low-income families and senior citizens pay their heating bills.


MassCEC Solicits Bids for New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal

In December, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) released the construction bid for the first facility in the nation to support the manufacture, assembly, and deployment of offshore wind projects. The terminal, which will be located inside New Bedford Harbor and protected by the hurricane barrier, will be in close proximity to offshore wind planning areas along the East Coast that are under consideration for development by the federal government.

The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, the first of its kind in North America, has been engineered to sustain mobile crane and storage loads that rival the highest-capacity ports in the world. Construction is expected to commence in the first quarter of 2013 and be completed in 2014.
At the announcement ceremony, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said, “No other port enjoys the same competitive advantages: proximity to the natural resource, a deep-water harbor, a major state financial commitment, federal regulatory approvals, strong community support, and a qualified labor force with two hundred years seafaring experience.”

Massachusetts has set a goal of reaching 2,000 MW of wind energy by 2020. In that time, the DOE projects that 43,000 clean energy jobs will be created in the offshore wind industry


New York Considers a Green Bank

In his State of the State Address on January 9, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a $1 billion “Green Bank” to spur his state’s clean energy economy. Cuomo said the bank would leverage private capital to mitigate investment risk, catalyze market activity, and lower borrowing costs, which in turn would bring down the prices paid by consumers.

The Green Bank is part of a larger plan outlined by Cuomo to establish New York State as “the leader in the clean tech economy.” Steps include expanding the NY-Sun Solar Jobs program, which helps fund solar installations for homes and businesses, to $150 million annually for 10 years; and investing in the Charge NY program, a statewide electric car network that will include charging stations and provide charging infrastructure tax credits.

“The economy of tomorrow is the clean tech economy,” said Cuomo. “We all know it. It’s a foot race—whatever state, whatever region gets there first wins the prize, and we want it to be New York.”

Governor Cuomo also announced a new cabinet-level position to coordinate the state’s clean tech agenda and oversee the state’s energy portfolio. He named Richard Kauffman, a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, to serve as the state’s “Energy Czar.”


Chicago Votes “Yes” on Municipal Aggregation

On November 6, Chicago voters approved a referendum authorizing the city to establish a municipal aggregation program to seek lower electricity rates for residents and small businesses. Municipal aggregation uses the group purchasing power of residents to negotiate a competitive agreement with a certified electricity supplier that could also potentially add cleaner energy sources. More than 200 Illinois towns have already established aggregation programs.

After receiving prices and service qualifications from eight interested companies, in December Chicago chose Integrys Energy Services to supply its electricity. (The current utility, ComEd, is still responsible for delivering electricity, reading meters, billing, and responding to outages.) Based on market prices, the city projects Chicagoans will save 20% to 25% a month on their electricity bills from February to June, representing about $25 in monthly savings for the average household. Over the life of the agreement that ends in May 2015, however, those numbers drop to between 8% and 12%, with the average household saving a total of $130 to $150.

“By buying electricity in bulk,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “we have secured an agreement that will put money back into the pockets of Chicago families and small businesses while ensuring that our electricity comes from cleaner sources.”

Though Chicagoans will save money, giving all the credit to municipal aggregation may be misleading. ComEd could likely offer competitive rates as early as June, when some of its long-term contracts, signed when power was more expensive, expire.


Using QECBs for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in Roaring Forks, Colorado: The VelociRAFTA Project

By Cassandra Lovejoy and Elizabeth Bellis

In 2011, Roaring Forks, Colorado, had developed a plan to expand the popular rapid transit bus system in the area with diesel buses. The transit authority, RAFTA, had received a $9.4 million Federal Transit Administration grant for this project. The project would have allowed more residents to use buses in the mountains instead of having to drive themselves, reducing gas consumption and promoting environmental conservation. It was a good idea, but starting in about September of that year, RAFTA began working with the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to make the plan even better, by utilizing lower-cost CNG and qualified energy conservation bond (QECB) financing. This modification is expected to save RAFTA up to 85 cents per gallon of fuel used. The new system is expected to serve 3,000 riders per day during its first year of operation in 2014.

The decision to move from diesel to CNG was not a simple one, particularly in a Roaring Forks’ high-altitude, cold climate. From September 2011 through March 2012, RAFTA conducted extensive investigation into the safety and effectiveness of CNG technology in cold, high-altitude areas. “They went into a really extensive due diligence process: they took field trips to CNG fueling facilities, they consulted with NREL, they met with a lot of CNG engine manufacturer representatives. And the main reason for all this is they were really worried, understandably, about CNG technology and their engines at high altitude and in extreme cold, because they are up in the mountains at an altitude of about 7,700 feet,” said Paul Scharfenberger, manager of finance for the Colorado GEO. “I’m sure there are other areas that share the same concerns. . . . In the end, the process showed that it really was the right technology.”

In March 2012, RAFTA decided to move forward with the CNG/QECB approach. Five months later, in August, $6.65 million of QECBs were issued to fund the project. Moving from pricing of the bonds to a completed sale took just one week. Facility modifications are expected to be completed in January 2013.

The bond issuance process was one of “the easiest” the GEO has seen. Because Roaring Forks already had experience in issuing Build America Bonds, they were familiar with the issuance process and some of the requirements surrounding tax credit bonds.

When asked for their evaluation of the QECB program, Scharfenberger said, “We absolutely love them. . . . The only drawback is the uncertainty. . . . My biggest qualm is that we can’t get any more of them.”