Friday, March 28, 2008

Re: the Twenty-Something Arms Contractor Scandal

If there is any justice, I'll get to see Andy Samberg do an impression of 22 year-old AEY President Efraim Diveroli in a recreation of his congressional testimony on why, as the New York Times put it:
With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, [...] has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. [Link]

Is Wind Energy Getting FERC'd On Powerlines?

Judged exclusively by reporting from UPI and elsewhere this February, it had seemed like the recent attempts by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure affordable electricity prices and resolve discrimination in regional power markets would be a good thing for the wind industry. But, as Jeff Beattie of The Energy Daily reports, the American Wind Energy Association is reversing their initially happy assessment of the new FERC rules:

[W]ind developers—whose projects are awaiting interconnection in large numbers—say the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did not go far enough and that major cost allocation issues must be more forcefully addressed before the so-called “interconnection queuing” problems will be fixed.
The order, approved Thursday at a FERC monthly meeting, stops well short of ordering regional transmission organizations (RTO) or independent system operators (ISO) to take any specific steps to revise the interconnection queue processes.
[...] In a written statement, Rob Gramlich, policy director for the American Wind Energy Association, said FERC needs to encourage RTOs and ISOs to conduct cost allocation studies to spread new interconnection costs more broadly among market participants. The current system unfairly saddles the new generator with large and unpredictable costs, slowing development of wind and other renewable power projects, he said.
“The underlying cause [of interconnection backlog] remains unaddressed—the rules of the road still require the next car on the entrance ramp to pay for the whole highway,” Gramlich said.
Some of the problem seems to be that as little as a quarter of all power generation projects submitted to grid operators end up being built, and that the ISOs and RTOs lack the staff to perform the requisite "system impact studies" to determine how new plants could effect their grids. The FERC's main recommendation so far has been a “first-ready, first served” policy by which RTOs and ISOs could shuffle interconnection queues after evaluating which projects were likely to succeed. With only sketchy details on how grid managers might make these judgments, the FERC seems to be offering an open window for graft and corruption. The policy also sounds designed to preferentially treat firms with excess capital to throw into initial design phases, which I'm willing to bet are predominantly of the monied and well-entrenched coal and natty gas variety.

[Link to The The Energy Daily article. Subscription required.]

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 03, 2008

Carbon Dioxide: Let's Put It Under Stuff!

With nearly carbon-negative alternatives, like GreenFuel's Emissions-to-Biofuels technology, it's slightly painful to see well-meaning scientists and organizations like Bruce Yardley and the Natural Resources Defense Council still arguing in favor of "carbon capture and storage (CCS)," a process by which carbon dioxide is "caught" from coal- or natural gas-fired power plants and then "stored" in (wait for it...) caves.

Since Yousif Kharaka's study (.pdf file) for the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that leaking CO2 from CCS could acidify surrounding water, leach metals, and endanger both wildlife and public health—all before escaping back into the atmosphere anyway—there really isn't too much to recommend this new research. From Discover:
[A] British geologist’s study suggests sandstone could rapidly absorb [CO2] potentially providing a safe, leakproof reservoir. Last year, Bruce Yardley, a professor at the University of Leeds in England, was monitoring oil extraction at a BP oil field in the North Sea. To speed the oil’s flow to the surface, seawater had been pumped to the bottom of the wells. When Yardley analyzed a sample of the injected water, he found it rich in silica. That signaled that the water and minerals in the surrounding sandstone had reached a chemical equilibrium with the injected seawater far more quickly than anticipated—in two years rather than a century.

Past studies had shown that when carbon dioxide is injected into sandstone, it dissolves common carbonates in the rock, changing the chemistry of sitting water and making a carbonic acid that eats holes in the rock. This can lead to CO2 leakage. Based on the speed of the silicates’ reaction with seawater, Yardley believes that when CO2 is injected into high-silicate minerals like feldspar, it too will quickly react, making clays and carbonates that clog the pores of the rock and trap the gas.
This, incidentally, is basically a radically less energy-intensive version of mineral storage techniques, which is good. However, you don't get biofuels out of it, so WGAF?

[Link to the Discover magazine article; Related a neat MSNBC video of MIT's Isaac Berzin who came up with GreenFuel's method for making both ethanol and biodiesel from CO2-fed algae]

Labels: , , ,