May 22 2013
Florida legislators passed a bill this year to repeal the state law that requires most gasoline sold in the state to include 10 percent ethanol. The bill, awaiting action from Gov. Rick Scott, would be largely symbolic, because federal law still requires that gasoline be mixed with ethanol or other biofuels.
Opposition to the mandate has united some unlikely allies in the oil industry and environmental community.
Senior editorial writer Paul Owens recently conducted an email interview with Charles Drevna, an ethanol critic and president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers.
Q: What is the Renewable Fuel Standard? Is it meeting its objectives?
A: The federal Renewable Fuel Standard, established in 2005 and expanded in 2007, requires that increasing volumes of biofuels be blended into U.S. gasoline, with the goals of protecting the environment and reducing dependence on foreign oil.
But growing ethanol feedstock to meet the RFS destroys natural habitats and converts wild lands to farmland at an alarming rate. The process of producing ethanol depletes water resources and causes higher greenhouse gas emissions than producing fossil fuels, and is expected to for years to come.
And these are not sacrifices that must be made in the name of energy security. Gasoline demand has been declining since 2007, and increased production of North American oil and natural gas is mitigating concerns about imported energy.
Q: How does the mandate impact consumers?
A: Ethanol contains 33 percent less energy than gasoline, meaning that as more ethanol is forced into fuel, vehicles will cover fewer miles per gallon, and consumers will need to fill up more often.… In boats and other smaller engines — such as those in motorcycles, lawnmowers or generators — ethanol can quickly cause the corrosion of metal parts (including carburetors), degradation of plastic and
May 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm by Emily Pickrell
Renewable fuel standards are distorting the refining industry in ways lawmakers didn’t foresee when they set the mandates, industry representatives said Tuesday at a Houston conference.
Import of renewable fuel from Brazil, production fraud and and a misinterpretation of rules governing the use of a 15 percent ethanol blend called E15 are among the problems that have arisen from existing renewable fuel standards, said Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.
He spoke at the North American Refined Products conference sponsored at the Saint Regis Houston by Platts, an energy information service.
Most domestic ethanol is made from corn, but imports of cheaper, sugar-based ethanol from Brazil have cut into demand for ethanol from domestic producers.
The resulting glut in domestic capacity has prompted producers to advocate a 15 percent ethanol content in gasoline.
“E15 is the best answer for the corn ethanol industry,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. “It is plagued with overcapacity and E15 is seen as the answer.”
But refiners and some consumer advocates contend older vehicle engines can’t handle the higher blend.
The first renewable standard, which Congress passed in 2005, required all fuel sold in the United States for transportation to contain a specified minimum volume of fuel produced from renewable sources.
Then the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set minimums that must increase over time for four different categories of biofuels .
The requirements have distorted the market, Drevna said.
“The dialogue should be to repeal the renewable targets and let the market decide,” Drevna said. “The renewable fuel is difficult to comprehend when you are in the business and see the impacts it has.”
Refiners oppose requirements to blend more renewables into
Cindy Zimmerman – May 21st, 2013
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced proposed Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) amendments and clarifications, which include new pathway determinations for advanced biofuels such as isobutanol and ethanol from crop residues.
The EPA proposal also includes “various changes to the E15 misfueling mitigation regulations (E15 MMR) which are minor technical corrections and amendments to sections dealing with labeling, E15 surveys, product transfer documents, and prohibited acts” as well as changes to the survey requirements associated with the ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) program.
EPA is proposing to allow renewable diesel, renewable naphtha, and renewable electricity (used in electric vehicles) produced from landll biogas to generate cellulosic or advanced biofuel RINs. Renewable compressed natural gas (CNG)/liquified natural gas (LNG) produced from landfill biogas are also proposed to generate cellulosic RINs. EPA is also proposing to allow butanol that meets the 50% GHG emission reduction threshold to qualify as advanced biofuel. The rulemaking also proposes a clarication regarding the definition of crop residue to include corn kernel ber and proposes an approach to determining the volume of cellulosic renewable identication numbers (RINs) produced from various cellulosic feedstocks. Further, this proposal discusses and seeks comment on the potential to allow for commingling of compliant products at the retail facility level as long as the environmental performance of the commingled fuels would not be detrimental. The action also addresses “nameplate capacity” issues for certain production facilities that do not claim exemption from the 20% GHG reduction threshold. Several other amendments to the RFS program are included.
“This proposed rulemaking package is essentially a collection of ‘housekeeping amendments’ that will address several odds and
Ben Goad - 05/21/13 05:31 PM ET
The oil and gas industry’s leading trade association accused the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday of skirting federal law by cutting short public consideration of new regulations meant to curb air pollution.
By limiting the comment period for the rule to just 23 days, the EPA is would be violating the Clean Air Act – in the name of clean air, the American Petroleum Institute (API) charged.
“EPA is cramming through unnecessary new regulations for gasoline that could drive up costs without providing significant environmental benefits,” said Bob Greco, director of API downstream group Director Bob Greco. “By limiting public comments, EPA is trying to skirt public participation and transparency in the rulemaking process.”
A proposed rule intended to cut pollution from automobiles by lowering sulfur content in fuel waspublished Tuesday in the Federal Register, nearly two months the EPA detailed the measure.
Interested parties and members of the public have until June 13 to weigh in on the 1572-page proposal. Firstannounced on March 29, the proposed rule endeavors to reduce smog, soot and toxic pollution. Refiners would be forced to lower sulfur content of gasoline by more than 60 percent to 10 parts per million by 2017.
More than 158 million Americans currently experience unhealthy levels of air pollution linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, according to the agency.
While automakers have backed the rule, the API strongly opposes them and contends the regulations would lead to higher gas prices for consumers.
“There is an onslaught of federal regulations coming out of the EPA that could put upward pressure on gasoline price,” Greco asserted.
The EPA maintains the rule would increase pump prices by less than a penny per gallon.
Zack Colman - 05/21/13 02:07 PM ET
An Energy Department official hinted Tuesday that approval of more natural gas exports could be coming in the next few months.
DOE signed off on a project last week allowing natural-gas exports to nations lacking a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. Such deals face more scrutiny than those to FTA countries, as federal law requires them to be in the public interest.
DOE Acting Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy Chris Smith noted that it took 60 days to green-light the project following the evaluation of public comments on a DOE-commissioned study on the economic impact of natural-gas exports.
“One would observe that the performance of the department in this case was … it took us a period of two months to go to close of comments to evaluation of all those comments and then Friday we approved it,” Smith said during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee forum on natural-gas exports.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s top Republican, pressed Smith further on his statement.
“So presumably a 60-day process is what we would consider to be reasonable — or doable, let’s put it that way,” she said.
Smith said DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, who was sworn in Tuesday, would best be able to answer that, but noted, “I would just make the observation that the department’s performance in this case has been from the close of the comment period to issuing the order has been about two months.”
Smith declined to speak with reporters following his comments — though Murkowski offered her thoughts on what Smith said.
“The takeaway from Mr. Smith’s comments was that the department has done the preliminary work that took all the time and that they can actually get on a schedule now. And when pressed, he seemed to think that 60 days — two months — was not an unmanageable target,” she told reporters...
Zack Colman - 05/21/13 03:00 PM ET
The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a House bill that would expedite construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
“Because H.R. 3 seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by removing the Presidential Permitting requirement for the Keystone XL pipeline project, if presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill,” the White House said in a statement of administrative policy.
The House is due to consider — and likely pass — H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, on Wednesday.
The bill would remove a requirement that Keystone builder TransCanada Corp. receive a cross-border permit from the White House to complete its northern leg, which enters Canada.
The proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline is under federal review. The White House said Tuesday that the GOP-backed House bill “conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures regarding the authority” of various federal agencies.
Additionally, the White House said the bill is “unnecessary” because the State Department is “working diligently” to complete its Keystone assessment. The administration said the legislation would handcuff State from thoroughly evaluating the project’s security and environmental implications.
The bill’s supporters, which include Republicans; centrist Democrats; business groups and some unions, say the bill is necessary to take the Keystone decision out of President Obama’s hands.
They say Obama has dragged his feet on the project, saying the president is blocking immediate construction jobs and inhibiting U.S. energy security.
Democrats and green groups, however, have questioned job claims by the pipeline’s proponents. They also say much of the crude Keystone would transport is destined for export...
Obama opposes GOP bill on Keystone XL oil pipeline
Posted on May 21, 2013 at 3:57 pm by Associated Press in Keystone XL
Crewmen work a site for TransCanada's Keystone XL project in Wood County, Texas. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle)
WASHINGTON — The White House says President Barack Obama opposes a House bill that would speed approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.
The White House said Tuesday that the bill “seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes” by removing a requirement for a presidential permit. The legislation also says no new environmental studies are needed.
House Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure the long-delayed pipeline is built. The project, which first was proposed in 2008, would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Opponents say the pipeline would carry “dirty oil” that could trigger global warming, while supporters say it would create jobs and bolster North American energy resources.
A House vote is expected Wednesday.
Richard Caperton, Guest Blogger and Adam James, Guest Blogger on May 21, 2013 at 11:06 am
The Production Tax Credit — the key federal incentive for wind power — is a success story. Since the PTC was first enacted in 1992, the cost of wind power has fallen 90 percent, 75,000 people now work in the wind industry, and wind power is booming.
Yet, some people still think the PTC should be eliminated. Most interestingly, Exelon — the large Midwestern utility and power plant operator — has made ending the PTC its number one lobbying priority, claiming that the credit distorts markets. This would be scary. Fortunately, it’s not true.
The truth is that Exelon hopes to slow or halt expansion of wind power projects that can affect the bottom line of their nuclear power plants in the Midwest, and to achieve that objective they’re blaming wind and the PTC for market phenomena like negative pricing that are almost always caused by inflexible generation technology and transmission constraints.
This post will summarize Exelon’s position on the PTC, show where it falls short, and then point out that Exelon is more concerned about competition from wind power, in general, than the Production Tax Credit.
Why does Exelon say the PTC is distortionary?
Exelon’s argument hinges on two fundamental ideas. First, that the PTC causes negative prices; and second, that negative prices are bad for wholesale electricity markets.
Digging into this argument requires a little knowledge of how power markets work. In much of the country — including where Exelon’s nuclear plants are located — power is sold in competitive markets, at a “clearing price” set by an auction process. In general, the clearing price is set by the most expensive marginal resource needed to meet demand at a given time. This price is then given to all the generators providing electricity at that time.
May 21, 2013 Zachary Shahan
Eos Energy Storage has released its second big announcement of the month, a funding boost that includes funding from NRG Energy, a major US energy company.
I just featured a long post on Eos Energy Storage less than a month ago, followed soon after by a post on its first pilot project (with Con Edison). Click that first one above for all kinds of details on the company’s energy storage technology. The essentials, however, are simply that Eos Energy Storage has developed a grid storage solution that is much cheaper than what has been on the market up until now. Of course, it has just launched its first pilot project, so we have to wait until it actually gets to market, but according to the company, that should be in 2014.
The Eos Aurora battery is projected to cost $1,000/kW or $160/kWh. The cycle life is 10,000 full cycles (30 year life). And the storage system has a 75% round-trip eﬃciency. As such, the LCOE is very competitive. (Click to enlarge.)
In the press release sent out late yesterday, Eos announced that it had raised $15 million Series B financing “with participation from a syndicate of 21 strategic and financial investors.” One very notable investor this round is NRG Energy. As the release notes, NRG Energy has “the nation’s largest independent power generation portfolio of fossil fuel, nuclear, solar and wind facilities.” Despite having its hands in some not so clean sources, it has been heavily focused on diversifying into clean energy and potentially disruptive technology solutions. This is the first time NRG has invested in an energy storage company.
“Eos’s technology is of strategic interest to NRG as we seek to enhance the value of our generation assets and evaluate novel energy storage business opportunities,” said Denise Wilson, NRG Executive Vice President and President, New Businesses. “We have confidence in
Zack Colman - 05/21/13 12:50 PM ET
The United States needs to move on natural-gas exports to take advantage of global demand as the number of international competitors grows by the day, experts told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Panelists warned during a forum convened by the Senate panel that the U.S. faces a "narrowing" window of opportunity to reap the economic benefit of exports.
“If we wait too long … we will lose the jobs,” said Octavio Simoes, senior vice president of Sempra International and president of Sempra LNG (liquefied natural gas), in a refrain heard often Tuesday.
The discussion on natural-gas exports comes after the Energy Department (DOE) last week green-lighted a second controversial project allowing exports to nations lacking a free-trade agreement with the U.S.
Those projects, of which 19 are pending, require more scrutiny from the DOE than deals to nations that have a free-trade pact with America.
Under federal law, the DOE must determine such proposals are in the public interest under federal law. That means exports must not significantly raise domestic energy prices or lower U.S. stockpiles too drastically.
The applications are the subject of Capitol Hill debate regarding the future of the sudden glut in domestic natural gas supplies.
Republicans, industry and some Democrats contend the benefits of shipping natural gas abroad — adding jobs, reducing the trade deficit and helping allies in need of energy — outweigh domestic price jumps, which analysts expect to be modest.
“We simply cannot afford to needlessly drag our feet on exports, or we’re going to let real economic development opportunities, and the chance to provide our allies access to an abundant, affordable and clean source of energy, slip through our fingers,” committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska
Shell CEO says it’s too early to speculate about oil-price probe
May 21, 2013 at 6:49 am by Bloomberg
Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) Chief Executive Officer Peter Voser said it’s too early to speculate about the European oil-price fixing probe and the company is committed to the “highest standard of corporate behavior.”
Shell, BP Plc (BP/) and Statoil ASA (STL) are targets of a European Commission inquiry into whether prices of crude, refined oil products and biofuels were manipulated, potentially harming consumers. Platts, a price assessor owned by McGraw Hill Financial Inc. (MHFI), was also questioned as the probe was announced last week.
“Since the investigation has just commenced it would be inappropriate to speculate about the outcome,” Voser told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in The Hague today. Shell is committed “to achieve the highest standard of corporate behavior.”
The commission is trying to determine whether oil companies colluded to distort prices in the $3.4 trillion global crude market and in markets for fuel products. The probe has highlighted that some energy markets lack the transparency of stocks and bonds.
“It’s important to bear in mind at this stage it’s just an investigation into facts and evidence and no adverse finding has been made,” Voser said today. “All Shell companies have fully cooperated with the EU investigation and will continue to do so going forward.”
Platts’s North Sea Dated Brent benchmark sets the price of half the world’s crude, from Canada to Australia. Its kerosene assessments are used by the airline industry, where fuel accounts for about a third of operating costs. In the biofuels markets, the company assesses the price of ethanol and biodiesel as well as ethyl tert-butyl ether, an additive that’s used in gasoline production.
Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter
ClimateWire: Friday, May 17, 2013
Wall Street is betting a half-billion dollars that consumer demand will continue rising for rooftop solar panels that allow home and business owners to generate their own on-site power and possibly even sell a few unused kilowatt-hours back to their neighbors.
In the largest financing agreement of its type to date, Goldman Sachs said yesterday it would provide more than $500 million in lease financing to help build thousands of distributed solar projects under a partnership with SolarCity of San Mateo, Calif.
SolarCity is the nation's largest full-service provider of residential rooftop solar systems, with tens of thousands of panels installed in 14 states, mostly on the East and West coasts as well as Colorado and Texas.
The firm, listed among the nation's most innovative companies in 2012 by Fast Company magazine, has been riding a wave of rising consumer interest in renewable energy and on-site power generation while also reaping the benefit of technology improvements and falling costs for solar equipment.
With the new influx of cash from Goldman Sachs, SolarCity should be able to widen its market by helping more home and business owners install solar panels with no upfront costs. The arrangement will also help make solar power available to a variety of other users, including schools, churches, municipalities and nonprofits, the company said in a statement.
One key to SolarCity's success is its use of third-party financing, which allows home or business owners to install solar panels on their property at no cost under a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) with the developer. SolarCity owns the equipment and sells power to the property owner at a competitive rate, offsetting his or her normal utility bill.
Financing a 'low-carbon energy future'
Excess power not directly consumed by the host home or business is routed back to
05/20/2013 by Kari Lydersen
Support in the Illinois legislature is slowly growing for a proposal that backers say will save ratepayers millions while freeing up state renewable energy funds currently sitting unspent.
But the proposed bill faces an uphill political battle because of opposition from ComEd’s parent company Exelon, whose nuclear fleet could face competition and depressed power prices with more wind power on the market.
Illinois energy experts have for months been calling for reforms to the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The massive shift away from utilities to community aggregation and alternative electricity suppliers has exacerbated a quirk in the law that now means customers are paying millions of dollars into a fund for renewable energy that is languishing untapped.
Meanwhile, the state risks failing to meet mandatory benchmarks in the RPS; and even the renewable power that is being bought for Illinois customers is largely through short-term contracts for renewable energy credits that could come from wind farms in Texas or other states.
How the current law works
The Illinois utilities Ameren and ComEd and the alternative suppliers that now serve the majority of Illinois customers all channel a small fraction of customer payments toward renewable energy. These funds go into separate “buckets,” as energy experts describe it.
The Illinois Power Agency decides where ComEd and Ameren get their power and how they meet their obligations under the RPS, including through buying renewable credits.
Alternative suppliers purchase renewable energy credits and also pay into an Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) fund to meet their RPS mandates. The fund currently has $15 million and is expected to mushroom to as much as $130 million in the next 18 months.
However, according to the language of existing law, that money
ExxonMobil’s Excellent Algae Biofuel Adventure…Or Not
May 20, 2013
EPA to publish draft low-sulfur gas rule
By Ben Goad - 05/20/13 10:26 AM ET
A proposed rule intended to cut pollution from automobiles is to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, nearly two months after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailed the draft regulations.
Interested parties and members of the public have until June 13 to weigh in on the1572-page proposal to require lower sulfur content in fuel.
Firstannounced on March 29, the contentious proposal endeavors to reduce smog, soot and toxic pollution. Refiners would be forced to lower sulfur content of gasoline by more than 60 percent to 10 parts per million by 2017.
The requirements spelled out in the so-called “Tier 3” gasoline standards are intended to improve the performance of catalytic converters.
“Few other national strategies exist that would deliver the same magnitude of multi-pollutant reductions projected to result from the proposed Tier 3 standards,” the EPA contends in its proposal.
More than 158 million Americans currently experience unhealthy levels of air pollution linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, according to the agency.
Motor vehicles are seen as an important source of the pollution.
“More than 50 million people live, work, or go to school in close proximity to high-traffic roadways, and the average American spends more than one hour traveling along roads each day,” the EPA reasons.
While automakers have backed the rule, the powerful American Petroleum Industry opposes them, warning the regulations would lead to higher gas prices for consumers.
The EPA maintains the rule would increase pump prices by less than a penny per gallon.
This story was published at 10:26 a.m. and updated at 12:08 p.m. to correct the date the rule was initially proposed.
May 20, 2013 at 7:07 am by Bloomberg
Enron Corp.’s 2001 collapse revealed the extent of its manipulation of spot gas prices. Twelve years later, European Union regulators may discover energy traders never learned the lessons of the scandal.
BP Plc (BP/), Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and Platts were visited by EU inspectors last week over allegations they “colluded in reporting distorted prices” to manipulate the published prices of oil and biofuel products, the European Commission in Brussels said after the raids.
Shell, London-based BP and Statoil ASA (STL), three of Europe’s biggest oil explorers, are under investigation for potential manipulation of prices in the $3.4 trillion-a-year global crude market. The involvement of McGraw Hill Financial Inc. (MHFI)’s Platts, which publishes pricing data, hearkens back to other pricing scandals including Enron, and more recently, Libor.
“We’re making exactly the same mistakes we did with Enron, just with a different commodity,” Robert McCullough, an energy consultant, said by telephone from Portland, Oregon. “The same manipulation we saw in electricity and gas pricing is what we’re seeing in oil.”
The Enron scandal started in 2001 as traders used trading strategies called “Fat Boy” and “Get Shorty” to create phantom congestion in the California energy markets. Electricity prices rose 10-fold on average and California consumers endured days of rolling blackouts.
Large-volume, rapid-fire trades between Enron and a Reliant Energy Inc. unit’s gas trader through an Enron-run electronic platform triggered price moves that all traders could see without knowing the cause, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found in a 2003 report. The transactions made through EnronOnline influenced daily price indexes used in physical gas contracts and for settling financial derivatives such as swaps.
...refinery inputs averaged about 15.3 million barrels per
day during the week ending May 10, 2013, 73 thousand barrels per day
above the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 88.0 percent
of their operable capacity last week. Gasoline production increased
May 20, 2013 at 6:48 am by Bloomberg
The average price for regular gasoline at U.S. pumps rose 11.19 cents a gallon in the past two weeks to $3.6566 a gallon, according to Lundberg Survey Inc.
The survey covers the period ended May 17 and is based on information obtained at about 2,500 filling stations by the Camarillo, California-based company.
The average, which reached a year-to-date peak of $3.795 in the period ended Feb. 22, is 12.67 cents below the year-earlier price of $3.7833 a gallon.
The recent increase is “one of the exceptions to the rule that most likely crude oil will be the mover and shaker for change in the direction of gasoline prices at retail,” Trilby Lundberg, president of Lundberg Survey, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It was driven by infrastructure problems downstream at the refinery level.”
Wholesale price increases related to refinery issues haven’t been passed fully along to consumers, and some retailers’ profit margins have been squeezed, Lundberg said. Drivers in the U.S. West and Midwest have been among the most affected by higher prices so far, she said. U.S. prices may rise 4 cents to 7 cents in coming days, Lundberg said, and increases may pause before the Memorial Day holiday next week.
Gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 8.15 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $2.0969 a gallon in the two weeks ended May 17. It was the highest settlement since April 9.
U.S. gasoline stockpiles rose 2.59 million barrels in the week ended May 10 to 217.7 million, the first increase in five weeks, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department.
West Texas Intermediate oil on the Nymex rose 41 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $96.02 a barrel in the two weeks to May 17. Prices have advanced 11 percent since April 17, when they reached $86.68, the lowest settlement of the year.
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