Monday, February 26, 2007

This is not your father's waste incinerator

According to this article on, a company in Bristol, CT is on its way to commercializing a machine that uses a plasma arc to convert large quantities of waste into syngas and a "glasslike material". Though they seem to have come up short in at least one hazardous waste demonstration, the technology still has some intriguing possibilities if it works for plain-old municipal waste.
"The system is capable of breaking down pretty much anything except nuclear waste, the isotopes of which are indestructible. The only by-products are an obsidian-like glass used as a raw material for numerous applications, including bathroom tiles and high-strength asphalt, and a synthesis gas, or “syngas”—a mixture of primarily hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be converted into a variety of marketable fuels, including ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen."

Is this for real? It seems like it would take considerably more energy to run than you would get out of the waste, but I'd need a little more input to do an energy balance. What is the energy content of typical municipal waste?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

More exciting charts

So, I put together a chart of CT generation sources from 2005 and, just for giggles, 1990. (source)

Not too much has changed, except a lot of oil has been replaced with NG. Also, I'd like to know what happened to all those hydro and renewables. I guess it's not really fair to just grab two years at random -- we should be looking at trends.

I really need to get off this electricity kick for a while. Energy comes in so many forms. Did you know that they now put catalysts in wood stoves?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Where your power comes from

I made this chart based on data from the EIA. This only covers one month -- the annual data will take a little more time to compile than I can spare this morning -- but it gives a decent overview of who steps up to the plate when you plug your hair dryer in.

More on this later...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Watergate, Whitewater...Broadwater?

Sphere speculates today that Elliot Spitzer may be getting ready to give Broadwater LNG project his support. If you are interested in learning more about this project, Sphere has extensive coverage on the issue (scroll way down and check the right-hand sidebar).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bright Ideas

Legislators in Connecticut and California are considering a ban on the sale of incandescent light bulbs. While I find the idea of legislating common sense to be somewhat unpalatable, this New Haven Register Editorial's criticism of compact fluorescent lights is just plain wrong. CFLs are not more expensive than incandescent bulbs. They are much, much cheaper. Here's some very simple math to show exactly how much cheaper:

bulb cost: $1.00
bulb life: 8,000 hrs
power req'd: 13 W = .013 KW
cost of 1 KWh: .192 $/KWh
cost over 8000 hours: $1.00 + .013X.192X8000 = $21

bulb cost: $0.25
bulb life: 1000 hours
power req'd: 60 W = .060 KW
cost of 1 KWh: .192 $/KWh
lifetime cost: $.25 + .060X.192X1000 = $11.77
cost over 8000 hrs: 8 X 11.77 = $94.16
You save $0.75 when you buy an incandescent bulb but then go on to lose $73.00 for each bulb you change. You can make back the extra cost of the CFL in less than 3.5 days of continuous use. Not only that, but CFLs are cooler so they significantly reduce cooling bills in the summer. Here we have a mass-produced technology that not only conserves energy -- it saves the consumer money. Perhaps one of the reasons legislation like this comes up is because of faulty, misleading representation in editorials from newspapers like the New Haven Register.

Click here for a list of local places that offer discounted CFL bulbs @ about $1.00 each.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

If Municipal Utilities are so great, why doesn't every city have one?

This article by Melinda Tuhus of discusses the difficulties in creating a "Muni". The short version -- great idea but they cost too much to set up. Too bad because they seem to weather market fluctuations pretty well. Customers of municipal utilities in California cities, like Sacramento, were sitting pretty by the pool while everyone else in the state was unscrewing the bulbs from their refridgerator doors.

"DeStefano’s spokesman Derek Slap said all the energy focus has been on reducing municipal spending on energy through conservation and on promoting clean energy."
This is really the only safe bet.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What Happened To English Station Site Remediation Funds?

Photo copyright Bruce Crowder 2007

Looming over the Mill River from its perch on a tiny man-made island, the English Station is a power plant with a history stretching back more than a hundred years. The plant powered New Haven through the second industrial revolution, generating electricity from coal since 1901 and then from oil for the last 30 years or so of its operation. The doors were finally closed in 1992 when it's owner, United Illuminating, decided that running the plant was simply no longer worth the expense.

United Illuminating "sold" the plant several years ago to a small up-start company called Quinnipiac Energy. I say "sold" because QE was actually paid $4.25 million to take the site off UI's hands. Part of the reason for the negative sales price was the fact that a $2 million clean-up was necessary before the site could ever be used. The facility was originally built in the 1880s out of muck dredged from the highly-industrialized river, used for decades as a coal storage yard and then hosted a fossil-fuel power plant for a century, so it is not surprising that soil sample tests didn't come out sparkling clean (click here for a summary of the contamination and a bit more history).

There is a sign hanging on the front gate of the plant claiming "Environmental Clean-up in Progress", but as far as I can tell the ground around the building has not been touched. Obviously samples have been taken and analyzed, but the sign has been up for 6 years now and the site shows no signs of any clean-up that I can see. What is most troubling about this is that the money that was to be used for the clean up is drying up.

"At the time of the sale, a fund of approximately $1.9 million, an amount equal to the then-current estimate for remediation, was placed in escrow for purposes of bringing soil and groundwater on the site into compliance with applicable environmental laws. Approximately $0.5 million of the escrow fund remains unexpended. QE’s environmental consultant reports that approximately $2 million of remediation remains to be performed." [UI SEC filing 11/3/06]

I tracked back through SEC filings and watched the fund deplete year by year, but the estimated remediation cost stayed put at $2 million. The way the laws in CT work, selling a property does not alleviate clean-up responsibility so UI is ultimately responsible for cleaning up the site, but what happened to the $1.1 million?

UPDATE:  From the latest SEC filing 3/31/09
A site on the Mill River in New Haven was conveyed by UI in 2000 to an unaffiliated entity, Quinnipiac Energy LLC (QE), reserving to UI permanent easements for the operation of its transmission facilities on the site.  At the time of the sale, a fund of approximately $1.9 million, an amount equal to the then-current estimate for remediation, was placed in escrow for purposes of bringing soil and groundwater on the site into compliance with applicable environmental laws.  Approximately $0.1 million of the escrow fund remains unexpended.  QE has since sold the property to Evergreen Power, LLC (Evergreen Power) and Asnat Realty LLC (Asnat).  UI is unaware of what agreement was reached between QE and Evergreen Power and Asnat regarding future environmental liability or what remediation activity remains to be undertaken at the site.  UI could be required by applicable environmental laws to finish remediating any subsurface contamination at the site if it is determined that QE and/or Evergreen Power and Asnat have not completed the appropriate environmental remediation at the site.  In July 2008, Evergreen Power and Asnat submitted a claim seeking compensation for environmental remediation on the property, including the existing building which remains on the site.   Based upon the current status of the evaluation, UIL Holdings has not recorded a liability related to this claim in its Consolidated Balance Sheet as of March 31, 2009.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Diesel Clean-Up

Photo copyright Bruce Crowder 2007

This morning in Hartford, the Connecticut legislature will be hearing public testimony on a bill intended to target school bus pollution (yes, I should have posted this sooner). Clean Water Action and other groups are asking the state to retrofit school buses with diesel oxidation catalysts, or DOCs, and other pollution control equipment. These retrofits have recently been approved by the EPA and have been show to drastically reduce diesel emissions (click here for a list of available equipment and emission figures and here for a description of the technology).

I was a bit slow to come aboard the campaign and I can't say I'm on 100%. The problem for me is that the DOCs are not certified for use with biodiesel, which not only significantly reduces emissions but also reduces our dependency on foreign oil. In the near term, though, biodiesel is probably not likely to be used by state vehicles in concentrations greater than about 20%, which leads to only modest reductions. So, the retrofit approach has a greater health impact, but discourages use of renewables. It will prevent the state from meeting it's alternative fuels standard with biodiesel (Gov Jodi Rell calls for mandatory 10% mix in state vehicles by 2012) and it will push us towards other "alternatives" such as compressed natural gas.

I'm not sure that biodiesel would actually pose a problem for these catalysts, but without dedicated testing I can understand why manufacturers would void warrantees. Perhaps we could encourage testing and certification with biodiesel.

If you are interested in this campaign, contact Roger Smith via email or telephone: 860-232-6232.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Cheap Electricity

According to the EPA, Americans pay less for electricity now than we did in 1960 (pdf page xxxi). I wonder what this graph would look like for Connecticut.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Green(ish) heating

Heating with oil? Green it up a bit. Several Connecticut heating oil companies are now offering heating oil mixed with biodiesel -- sometimes at no additional charge.

Santa Energy
Devine Bioheat
others *Warning: this website is notoriously out of date.

Ethanol, another biofuel that can be mixed with gasoline, is often criticized for having a low energy yield -- somewhere around 1.3 units of energy yielded for every 1 unit of input [Download pdf]. Biodiesel, on the other hand, has been shown to have a yield of about 3.2. [Download this (big pdf) study sponsored by the USDA and USDOE to see for yourself.]

Ask your oil company to start supplying biofuel.

Who are we fighting?

I recently read in the New Haven Independent about a group of United Illuminating customers who have formed an organization called “Fight The Hike”. In an attempt to overcome ten years of political inertia, these brave activists have embarked on a mission to force the CT legislature to take action regarding electricity regulation. Bravo to this group for stirring the energy policy pot. According to their website, they have 3 demands:
  • The rate hikes must be RESCINDED immediately,
  • The state legislature must pass RE-REGULATION LEGISLATION, and
  • The DPUC members, who have approved the hikes, must RESIGN for failure to uphold the public interest.
While I do wholeheartedly support the idea of this group (and everyone, for that matter) forcing the CT legislature into action, I am concerned that these particular demands are not the right approach. Here’s why:
The reason that de-regulation has thus far failed to display any benefits from free-market competition is because our legislature set the standard offer too low. Instead of addressing the lack of emerging competition, they continually postponed changes for 10 years. At the end of 2006 we were still being offered 1996 rates minus 10%. Who can compete with that? The price of oil has doubled and natural gas has gone through the roof. Why should we not expect that our rates will go up? It is worth noting that before UI could even say "rate hike", Levco Energy had announced that it would begin signing up customers in that region. Now UI customers have one alternative. If we pull back the hikes, that one alternative will disappear as quickly as it appeared.
This hike is comprised of "pass-through" charges based on real generation rates that UI has negotiated with electricity generators (UI no longer operates any generation facilities). The DPUC is actually required to approve increases based on higher generation charges:

"The DPUC must adjust such rates to reflect changes in state and federal taxes and the utilities' costs of obtaining energy."

UI will not see any of the money from this increase -- they pass generation charges directly to the cutomer. If the DPUC had not approve these charges, someone would eventually have to pick up the difference. It has been suggested that taxpayers should foot the extra charge, but this would discourage conservation by spreading one person's wasteful lifestyle to his luddite neighbor's tax bill. People should pay for what they use and they should use much, much less of it. I think the DPUC made the right decision. The locally-fixable part of this problem is not corporate greed, it’s lack of competition.
Re-regulating, is somewhat of a toss-up in my opinion. First of all, I guess it would mean that the state or the utilities would re-purchase all of the power plants that they sold off. Whether or not they have that money is a question that I can’t really answer. Maybe they can rent them back or something. In any case, I’m not sure it’s time to give up yet on deregulation here. It has not been particularly successful in all (or any) of the goals it was meant to accomplish, but I think that is because it was set up to be doomed from the beginning. In theory it should work (as it did for long-distance telephone rates), but something has to be done now to encourage more competition. On the other hand, is it wise to have a commodity as critical to our culture as electricity at the mercy of a totally free market?


I have recently found myself looking for more and more opportunities to express my thoughts regarding local energy issues. Rather than continuing my attempts to work topics like LNG and net metering into discussions about football, I figured I would create a forum in order to narrow readership to the two or three other people who actually care about these issues. Please feel free to share your comments and concerns.