Category Archives: Energy sources

The Nuclear Option by NOVA (2017)

When: Wednesday April 11, 7:00-8:30 pm  Title: The Nuclear Option by NOVA (2017)

Where: Peacock Hall

Five years after the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the unprecedented meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, scientists  wonder: what’s next for Fukushima? What’s next for Japan? What’s next for a world that seems determined to jettison one of our most important carbon-free sources of energy? Despite the catastrophe, a new generation of nuclear power seems poised to emerge phoenix-like from the ashes. NOVA investigates how the realities of climate change, the inherent limitation of renewable energy resources, and the optimism and enthusiasm of a new generation of nuclear engineers is seeding a Renaissance in nuclear technology. What are the lessons from Fukushima and how might we be able to build a safe nuclear future?  (One hour film with optional discussion after.)

Trailer:  http://youtu.be/u1wKpZsU2-o

Q&A Afterwards:  Nuclear energy engineer, Vicki Swisher will be the film’s discussant. She has over 40 years experience in the commercial nuclear industry, and has worked in almost every area of nuclear development including design, construction, plant startup, licensing, and project management during her career. Vicki is a Rossmoor resident and a director in Fourth Mutual.

Recent SR opinion articles regarding concerns about utilizing the Nuclear Power option:

Nuclear Power Is Not Green Energy

Nuclear Power: Salvation or Catastrophe?

Residential Solar in Hawaii

My husband and I were vacationing on the island of Molokai last month when the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (HPUC) approved two new solar programs for residents who are interested in installing rooftop solar panels and energy storage systems. These new programs were intended to expand opportunities for residential rooftop solar, which were diminished after the HPUC ended the state’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) program in 2015.

A few months ago, the New York Times reported that several states, including Hawaii, had rolled back their solar incentives in response to efforts by a powerful and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities. I remember wondering how could this happen in Hawaii, a state that requires 100 percent renewable energy sources no later than 2045 – the most aggressive renewable energy targets in the nation. On the way from the Molokai airport to our vacation rental, I noticed many homes with solar panels on their roofs. Our driver, who is a Molokai native, told us that the island’s power company no longer allows new residential rooftop solar hookups because they unstabilize the grid. To satisfy my own curiosity, I got online and did a little digging.

Prior to HPUC’s 2015 landmark decision, Hawaii’s NEM customers were paid retail value for the excess power their system generated and exported to the utility grid. This and other state and federal incentives, plus the fact that Hawaii’s electricity rates are the highest in the United States., have made rooftop solar an attractive option to many residents who wish to lower their energy bills. The number of rooftop solar installations skyrocketed. According to a Greentech Media report, in 2015 Hawaii had more rooftop solar per customer than any other state – one of nine Hawaiian residences were photovoltaic (PV) powered.

But the high volume of rooftop solar systems interconnected to the grid has caused concerns about the reliability of Hawaii’s physically-limited electric grids. Island utilities began to delay approval of already-submitted applications and stopped accepting new applications. By 2015 thousands of customers of Hawaiian Electric, the state’s dominant utility, were waiting for approval to interconnect to the grid. Customer frustration was high.

In January 2015, Hawaiian Electric filed an application with the HPUC to end the state’s NEM program. In October the same year, the HPUC issued an order to shut down the NEM program to new customers and replace it with an interim program until regulators could come up with a more permanent solution that incentivizes adoption of new technology. The interim program gave permitting priority to solar systems with storage and reduced the compensation rates for power exported to the grid. Instead of retail prices, customers were paid much lower wholesale rates. The interim program quickly and drastically reduced the demand for residential solar. As Hawaii’s solar industry continued to lose jobs and the caps were maxed out, solar companies pressured the HPUC to raise caps, while the utilities tried to push customers to choose the more costly option with storage system.

HPUC’s new decision last month heavily favors technology. For example, it launched a Smart Export program that allows customers to store energy within batteries during off-peak hours and export that energy to the grid during peak hours. It also adopted a Controllable Customer Grid Supply program for non-storage systems, which requires advanced equipment to allow the utility to manage power from a customer’s PV system.

We’ve heard about potential grid overload that could happen in California sometime in the future, and about the emerging storage technology. At this point, storage systems don’t seem to make economic sense for many people because of their high cost. In Hawaii, during the two-year run of HPUC’s interim program, only 166 systems with storage have been energized, according to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. However, like all new technologies, price for storage systems will eventually come down, and hopefully residents here in California who are interested in solar energy can take advantage of the advanced technology before we reach the point of grid overload.

This article first appeared in the November 29, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Jennifer Mu can be emailed at barnhartmu8833@gmail.com.

Cap and Trade: Boon or Boondoggle

I am not a fan of the new Cap and Trade Extension Law, so just know that this column does not praise the signing into law of AB 398 as most of the popular press has done since July. I am in good company in my concerns that California’s green future is in jeopardy because of it. Over 50 environmental organizations fought this version of a Cap and Trade Extension, including Food and Water Watch, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, 350.org, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Courage Campaign, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Interfaith Climate Action Network, Consumer Watchdog and Citizens Climate Lobby.

The California Cap and Trade Program began in 2012 and is due to expire in 2020. It allows polluters to keep polluting as long as they pay a fee to the state in the form of buying carbon credits at quarterly auctions. Since 2012, California has enjoyed a slight decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At least 80 percent of this reduction can be attributed to enacting regulations, not to the Cap and Trade Program. These regulations have included mandates to increase renewable energy and improve fuel efficiency standards. Environmentalists were enthusiastic about SB775, a competing Cap and Trade Extension bill that would have put a higher price on carbon, mandating significant curbs on polluting and providing environmental justice for frontline communities suffering disproportionately from its effects. Industry and business did not share this enthusiasm; SB775 was never brought up for discussion in its first committee.

Major big supporters of AB398 included the Western States Petroleum Association (Big Oil), the Chamber of Commerce and enough Republicans to provide a challenge-proof two-thirds vote. Several amendments accepted at the last minute made it more palatable to cash-strapped Central Valley counties, big agriculture and others. Governor Jerry Brown pushed hard for AB398; it got tense at times with backroom deals and nasty threats.

The new Cap and Trade Law will take effect in 2020 and extend until 2030. One concern is that polluters will be provided more free carbon credits than in the current program. Calculations show that instead of providing any “cap,” GHG emissions may rise. Already it seems that carbon auctions have not generated the promised windfall of cash. In February only 16 percent were sold; in May only 2 percent were sold. Industries had enough free credits to meet their caps and didn’t need to buy any. Also, companies may bank credits, meaning that previously accrued credits can be carried forward, which enables increased pollution.

The legislature has already planned how they will spend future profits that may be imaginary. Whether the money will actually be collected to pay for the governor’s $1.5 billion green spending plan is seriously in doubt. Even if the legislature’s budgetary assumptions turn out to be accurate, is allowing the state to be bought off by polluters really a good bargain?

Another concern is the inherent unfairness of “carbon offsets.” The number of offsets has been increased in the new law. For example, a corporation such as Chevron (the largest stationary emitter of GHGs in California) is allowed to plant trees in the central valley while exposing the residents of Richmond to increasing amounts of pollution including nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, as well as particulate air pollution, These have caused an increase in the rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer among people living near these refineries – people who are disproportionately people of color. It’s worth noting that 75 percent of the crude oil imported into the United States is refined here and then exported for sale abroad.

As if this all isn’t bad enough, another provision of the law removes the regulation of air pollution from local control to the state. The state’s California Air Resources Board (CARB) has already prevented the refinery caps that were about to be passed this September by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). Due to state control, Chevron is now permitted to expand its operations, making way for the import and refining of much dirtier forms of oil, for exam for example, tar sands crude.

If you are wondering why two-thirds of both the Assembly and the California Senate passed this bill, it could be called political compromise, or corporate money’s impact on politics. Or racism. Or if you were sitting in the Senate Energy Committee chamber as I was, you would have seen Governor Brown scowling throughout the entire proceedings, imaginary whip in hand. He can be a scary fellow.

This article first appeared in the October 25, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Carol Weed can be emailed at carol4ofa@gmail.com

 

A Life-Changing Story in Haiti

If you Google “renewable energy in the third world,” you will see pictures of a mud hut with a PV solar panel standing next to it, or attached to its straw roof. It seems hilarious, like a sketch taken out of “Saturday Night Live.” But it’s real. The solar panel provides electricity for the family living in the hut, which was never before available to people in rural regions in the world’s poorest countries.

A friend from my old neighborhood emailed me a video showing a group of young Haitian kids reading books and doing homework under a solar-powered street lamp. My friend and her husband’s charity foundation, the Wilcox Family Foundation, is a major benefactor to Habitat for Humanity’s recent solar lighting project in Canaan, Haiti. With funding provided by her family foundation and USAID, Habitat for Humanity recently installed 70 solar streetlights in this settlement community a few miles outside of Haiti’s capitol, Port-au-Prince. Those streetlights have drastically improved the lives of Canaan residents.

Canaan, named after the biblical “Promised Land,” is a large settlement developed after the devastating earthquake in January 2010. Today, it has grown into the fourth largest city in Haiti, with an estimated population of over 200,000. After billions of dollars donated worldwide to help rebuild Haiti since the earthquake, many residents in Canaan still live in the dark after nightfall, with no running water and no sanitation services.

The street lighting project my friend helped to fund is part of Habitat for Humanity’s Quick Impact Projects. The goal is to provide quick answers to some of the community’s immediate needs. Before the lights were installed, people were afraid to go out at night. Women and girls were raped after dark and merchants were robbed on their way to work at dawn. Thanks to the solar street lamps, there is now nightlife in Canaan. The video I mentioned earlier shows people gathering around a night market; there was music playing, people making food and crafts and children reading and studying; all occurred in the light under a single street lamp. The community is now safer and children have a better chance to succeed in school.

The Canaan story is only a tiny part of the large picture of how renewable energy has changed life in Haiti, including that of people living in the remote, poorest regions.

Before the earthquake, only 12.5 percent of Haiti’s population was connected to the electricity grid. People who had money used small diesel fuel generators for electricity. Recovery efforts immediately after the earthquake focused on projects with instant impacts, such as street lighting, to provide safety in settlement camps, especially for women and children.

Later, small-scale solar products such as personal, portable solar LED lamps were donated and distributed to numerous communities. But in addition to the lighting, people need access to reliable electricity services for other basic life-sustaining activities, like cooking.

Kerosene fuel is not only a health hazard for its harmful fumes, but also a fire hazard in crowded tent camps. Upgrading and expanding the country’s antiquated, damaged and unreliable energy infrastructure wasn’t a viable option. Clean energy became the solution.

Although Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries, one thing it has in abundance is the sun. Small, independent power grids powered by solar panels were developed to provide clean, reliable solar energy to homes and businesses. These micro-grids have been established to power hospitals, schools and towns. They have helped farmers and agricultural businesses increase production, and provided power to process local crops that would otherwise perish before arriving at markets.

Along with other renewable energy resources – hydropower, wind, biomass and geothermal that are being developed or planned in Haiti, it is estimated that by 2030 Haiti can decrease energy prices for residential consumers to at least a third of current levels, while incurring savings in fossil fuel import cost.

Similar sustainable energy strategies are being developed in other Caribbean, Central and South American and African countries. Clean energy technology has improved quality of life for so many and reduced the carbon footprint from that part of the world.

Yet here we are, in the backyard of the world’s center of high tech and innovation, forced to fight for access to rooftop solar. Is something wrong with this picture?

This article first appeared in the April 19, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Jennifer Mu can be emailed at barnhartmu8833@gmail.

SYRIANA – a geopolitical thriller about Big Oil

Sustainable Rossmoor will present the movie SYRIANA on Wednesday, October 11 at 7 pm in Peacock Hall.  The movie focuses on petroleum politics and the global influence of the oil industry. Big Oil’s political, economic, legal, and social effects are felt worldwide from the players brokering back-room deals in Washington to the men toiling in the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. This thriller weaves together multiple storylines that show the human consequences of the fierce pursuit of wealth and power.

A career CIA operative (George Clooney) uncovers the disturbing truth about the work to which he’s devoted his life. An up-and-coming oil broker (Matt Damon) faces an unimaginable family tragedy and finds redemption in his partnership with an idealistic Gulf prince. A corporate lawyer faces a moral dilemma as he finesses the questionable merger of two powerful U.S. oil companies, while across the globe, a disenfranchised Pakistani teenager falls prey to the recruiting efforts of a charismatic cleric. Each plays their small part in the vast and complex system that powers the industry, unaware of the explosive impact their lives will have upon the world.

Credit: Photo by REX/Snap Stills 5

Clooney won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role, and Stephen Gaghan’s script was nominated by the Academy for Best Original Screenplay. The film is R rated for violence and language. Subtitles in English. An optional discussion follows.

SYRIANA: Behind the Film.

Stephen Gaghan, Academy Award-winning screenwriter & director of Syriana, talks to Charlie Rose about learning from the real-life CIA protagonist how Washington D.C. orchestrates coupes, etc. (4 min video).

“The Oil business and the Arms business are the same business” Gaghan heard this repeatedly (1.5 min video).

Audiotape, 9 min with Gaghan about why he wanted the first half of this post 9/11 film to be confusing, why he doesn’t consider the film depressing, and where the “voices” in the film come from.

Credit: Photo by REX/Snap Stills 5

Why does the US need Middle Eastern oil? Still? We have oil wells. We’re energy independent now, . . . aren’t we?

Our “energy independence” refers to electricity generation only. In 2016, U.S. net imports (imports minus exports) of petroleum from foreign countries were equal to about 25% of U.S. petroleum consumption. The world’s top three oil producers are Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the US – in that order.

Petroleum includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, liquefied refinery gases, refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel, and biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel. About 78% of gross petroleum imports were crude oil in 2016. The majority of that is refined in the US, and then exported. That is to say, US refineries “need” Middle Eastern oil much more than US consumers. The price US citizens pay in pollution, corruption, wars, the international arms industry, . . . is all for the benefit of Big Oil. All this continues despite the drop in oil prices and production which began in 2013.

Upcoming Films: TBA