Monthly Archives: March 2012

Strong Standards Are Needed To Protect Human Health From Harmful Air Pollution Emitted From Oil And Gas Activities

Update: Please note that the EPA is now due to finalize the national emission standards for oil and gas activities by Tuesday, April 17.

On April 3, 2012 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is due to finalize national emission standards to limit some of the harmful air pollutants discharged from a variety of oil and gas activities.   As Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has noted in past blogs, leaks, venting and flaring of natural gas from oil and gas activities contribute to ground-level ozone (“smog”) and toxic air pollution.  As proposed, EPA’s standards would reduce volatile organic compounds that contribute to smog by 25% and hazardous air pollutants by 30%, through the implementation of proven and highly cost-effective practices and technologies. 

Emissions from Oil and Gas Activities Linked to Unhealthy Levels of Ozone “Smog” Pollution

Extensive oil and gas development in parts of rural Wyoming and Utah, where little other industrial activity occurs, has led to dangerous ozone levels, higher than those recorded in some of the most heavily polluted cities. Last year, families in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin suffered over forty days in which ozone concentrations exceeded the current health standard.  In Utah’s Uintah basin, residents experienced twice this number of unhealthy ozone days, with one monitor located in Ouray recording forty exceedances alone.

In 2009 then Governor of Wyoming Dave Freudenthal requested EPA designate counties within the Upper Green River Basin as out of attainment with the current ozone health standard explaining the link between natural gas emissions and the serious ozone problems: 

“The State of Wyoming is also challenged by the need to reduce emissions from the natural gas industry which has not traditionally been regulated for ozone nonattainment problems….Therefore, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) has already identified the sources that require controls such as drill rigs, pneumatic pumps, dehydration units and small heaters.”

EPA  in turn concluded “[t]he [Wyoming] AQD’s analysis provided with its recommendation shows that elevated ozone at the Boulder monitor is primarily due to local emissions from oil and gas development activities: drilling, production, storage, transport and treating of oil and natural gas.”

In Colorado and Texas, smog-forming emissions from the oil and gas industry have exceeded other major sources of pollution such as vehicles.   In 2008, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concluded that the smog-forming emissions from oil and gas operations exceeded vehicle emissions for the entire state.  Similarly, a 2009 study found that summertime emissions of smog-forming pollutants from oil and gas sources in the Barnett Shale were roughly comparable to emissions from all of the motor vehicles in the Dallas Fort-Worth area.

Oil and Gas Activities Emit Benzene-A Known Carcinogen-and other Air Toxics

Venting, flaring and equipment leaks also emit hazardous air pollutants or air toxics, including hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde and benzene into the environment.  Elevated levels of benzene have been detected near gas production sites in Texas and Colorado. In 2010 the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) measured acute concentrations of benzene that exceeded the state’s health-based risk levels at two exploration and production sites in the Barnett Shale in Texas. Research based on air samples taken from oil and gas sites in the Piceance Basin in Colorado in 2008 determined that emissions from well completions, dehydration units, and condensate tanks posed an elevated cancer risk to nearby residents. Similarly, atmospheric measurements collected by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded that “oil and gas operations in the DJB (Denver-Julesburg Basin) could be the largest source of C6H6 (benzene) in Weld County.”

As oil and gas development continues to expand across the country, strong, national clean air standards are essential to protect public health.  EPA’s standards, which build on clean air measures already in place in states with extensive oil and gas activities, such as Colorado and Wyoming, are an important first step in strengthening clean air protections for human health and the environment.

Posted in Climate, Natural Gas, Washington, DC / Read 1 Response

Approved sale of Four Corners power plant shows California regulations are working

Today, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the sale of Southern California Edison’s (SCE) partial interest in the Four Corners coal-fired power plant to the Arizona Public Services Company.

This sale is another indication that California’s landmark climate and energy laws—including: AB 32, which puts a price on carbon; SB 1368, its electricity performance standard; and SB 2, its 33% renewable portfolio standard—are working to encourage state utilities to find ways to move toward cleaner energy sources, cut pollution, protect ratepayers, and maintain reliability.

According to long-term resource plans and investment initiatives, SCE intends to replace the 800 MW of power that was generated near the Four Corners landmark in northwest New Mexico with lower-carbon resources such as natural gas, renewable energy, and energy efficiency – all of which can create in-state jobs and economic activity.

Once the transaction is final, California will have dedicated contracts from four major coal-fired plants:

  1. Navajo (Arizona);
  2. Reid Gardner (Nevada);
  3. San Juan (New Mexico), and;
  4. Intermountain (Utah).

Of course, adherence to the California Environmental Quality Act and other applicable state and federal environmental standards must be observed in connection with investments or authorizations related to the sale of an emissions-generating source. Such provisions are necessary to ensure that documented emissions reductions are real and achieve the environmental benefits desired.

When this ownership transfer is complete, SCE’s contribution to California’s coal shadow will drop by approximately 5 million tons of CO2 annually, an amount greater than the largest in-state source of greenhouse gas pollution. (EDF first highlighted California’s coal shadow, which is the impact of coal-produced power sold into the state, in a 2005 report.)

EDF looks forward to working with the CPUC and California utilities as environmental regulations are used to reduce our state’s future coal shadow.

*Legal disclaimer: Nothing in this post is intended to comment on or provide findings or conclusions related to future or pending evaluations of compliance with federal or state law.

Posted in General / Comments are closed

National Clean Air Standards For The Oil And Gas Industry Provide A Trifecta

By: Peter Zalzal, EDF Staff Attorney, Climate & Air

Rigorous National Clean Air Standards for the Oil and Gas Industry are Needed to Protect the Health of Americans and our Communities

On April 3rd, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is due to finalize critically important standards to reduce harmful air pollution from oil and gas activities.  These standards are a trifecta: they protect human health and the environment, reduce waste of an important domestic energy source and save industry money through sales of recovered natural gas product.  For too long the industry has operated under insufficient, outdated standards that fail to protect Americans from the dangerous air pollution produced by oil and gas activities.

EPA’s proposed emission standards, which require companies to implement more efficient practices and technologies, will provide much-needed protections for human health and the environment and prevent extensive waste of a domestic energy resource.  In fact, these proposed measures will save approximately 180 billion cubic feet of natural gas, comparable to the amount of gas needed to provide heat to 2.7 million American homes for a year.    

Oil and gas facilities contribute to high levels of toxic air contaminants, ground-level ozone (“smog”) and methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  Ground-level ozone has been linked to serious respiratory illnesses, including asthma in children and premature death.  High levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, have been detected at locations in Texas and Colorado. 

Major public health groups including the American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, the American Public Health Association, Trust for America’s Health and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America have urged EPA to finalize rigorous emission standards.

States with Strong Clean Air Standards Have Had Strong Growth in Oil and Gas Activities

Colorado and Wyoming have long carried out clean air protections similar to those now proposed by EPA.  Environmental Defense Fund evaluated key oil and gas economic indicators — operational rotary rig counts, producing natural gas wells and natural gas gross withdrawals — in Wyoming and Colorado and compared those with overall national data as well as data for other key oil and gas producing states. 

Between 2000 and 2009, both Wyoming and Colorado had the highest annual growth rates for gross withdrawals and the highest average annual growth in producing gas wells as compared to other major gas-producing states with less protective clean air standards on the books.  In short, both Wyoming and Colorado have had strong growth in oil and gas activity while important clean air standards have been in place.

Posted in Climate, Natural Gas / Tagged , | Read 1 Response

Energy Innovation Series Feature #2: Fuel Cell Technology From Bloom Energy

Throughout 2012, EDF’s Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Bloom Energy’s fuel cell technology.

California-based Bloom Energy is developing a different approach to power generation that has already had a profound impact on the way electricity is produced around the world.

Bloom Energy’s technology relies on fuel cells, which use an electrochemical process in which oxygen and fuel (natural gas or biogas) react to produce small amounts of electricity.  When these fuel cells are stacked upon each other and arranged into large modules called Bloom Energy Servers™ or “Boxes,” they produce up to 200 kW of on-site power.  This is enough power to meet the baseload needs of the average office building or 160 average homes.

Furthermore, this approach has the potential to reduce customers’ CO2 emissions by “40%-100% compared to the U.S. grid (depending on their fuel choice) and virtually eliminate all SOx, NOx, and other harmful smog forming particulate emissions.”  It also enables the possibility of affordable on-site, user-owned power generation that is as constant and reliable as a utility and   provides an attractive economic payback for customers.

This kind of technology is a win-win economically and environmentally; one from which all sectors stand to benefit.  The Bloom Energy Server also makes the micro-generation concept feasible.  Imagine subdivisions, apartment complexes or neighborhoods with their own carbon-free (if powered by renewables), mini power plants.

Source: Bloom Energy

Founded in 2001, Bloom Energy sold its first Bloom Box to Google and can trace its roots to the NASA Mars space program.  In the last few years, the company has lined up an impressive list of name-brand customers, including eBay, Walmart, Coca-Cola and FedEx and is rumored, according to GigaOm and others, to be “the supplier behind Apple’s planned massive 5 megawatt (MW) fuel cell farm to be built at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina.”  If built, this would be the nation’s biggest non-utility fuel cell installation.

In the U.S., much of the attention the Bloom Box has generated has focused on these large corporate customers.  But the on-site generation concept could make its biggest impact in developing nations like India and China, where small communities and villages don’t have an electric infrastructure and new energy sources are in high demand. 

The Bloom Box also has the potential to address problems here at home, with reliability concerns facing electric grids throughout the country. In Texas, where the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) struggles with how to add new capacity to meet growing peak demands and reduce water dependency at the same time, the Bloom Box offers an approach that can provide power at well below the peak prices paid for electricity during last year’s record drought.

To learn more about this topic, please view this post by Nobile Profit.

Update: eBay announced on June 21, 2012, that it will be using Bloom Energy fuel cell technology to construct a large-scale project at its data center in Utah. The proposed 30 fuel cells (the largest non-utility fuel cell installation) will run on biogas and will make their data center independent of the electricity grid.

Posted in Energy Innovation, General / Read 3 Responses

Western region can gain million-plus jobs, grow GDP by $142 billion by accelerating move to clean economy

Speeding the development of clean energy in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia can generate more than one million jobs and $142 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020, according to a report released Tuesday.

It is the latest study showing that environmental policies can deliver broad economic benefits across industry sectors and to entire regions.

The report is a forward-looking assessment of how the West Coast mega-region can combine efforts to gain powerful competitive advantages. Among the key findings:

  • By 2020, the region’s clean economy could grow by more than 200% through the adoption of strategic policy measures, which represents up to $95.5 billion in new GDP contributions.
  • It is critical to put a price on carbon and use market-based approaches to drive innovation and investments that create long-term, sustainable employment.
  • The sectors with the highest job growth potential are: energy efficiency and green buildings; environmental protection and resource management; and clean transportation.

The West Coast Clean Economy Report was authored by GLOBE Advisors and The Center for Climate Strategies and released at the GLOBE 2012 Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Posted in General / Comments are closed

Financing Energy Efficiency Upgrades In Commercial Properties

An Update

Last September, I wrote about some of the barriers that commercial building owners face when they want to finance energy efficiency upgrades for their properties.  The post also discussed an innovative new strategy called an Energy Services Agreement (ESA) that removes several of these barriers.  Since that time, several of the companies mentioned in that post have continued to innovate and make great progress.  I thought it would be useful to provide an update on some of their key accomplishments.

Transcend Equity

Yesterday, Transcend Equity (Transcend) announced that they are being acquired by SCIenergy, a leading energy management solutions company.  This acquisition should provide Transcend with access to additional technology, customers, capital and marketing resources.  EDF is excited to see what the combined company can accomplish.

Transcend recently made a commitment to fund $100 million of energy efficiency (EE) projects as part of the Better Buildings Challenge and broke ground on an ESA transaction in New York City.  Transcend is partnered with Mitsui to provide equity capital for their projects.

Abundant Power

Abundant Power is a diversified EE finance firm that works on a variety of products including Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), On-Bill Finance and revolving loan funds in addition to the ESA structure.  Recently, they have helped Alabama establish a $60 million revolving loan fund and Washington, DC establish a commercial PACE program that could finance up to $250 million of EE upgrades.  Abundant Power has also committed $100 million of financing as part of the Better Buildings Challenge.

Green Campus Partners

Green Campus Partners (GCP) has arranged over $350 million in EE financings for public sector properties and completed two ESA transactions in 2011 for private universities.  GCP committed to Better Buildings Challenge $100 million of EE financings in 2011 and another $200 million in 2012.  The firm exceeded its target in 2011 and expects to do the same in 2012.

GCP has also worked with EDF on the Clean Heat NYC campaign and recently signed a major development agreement with St. Barnabas Hospital to finance their conversion away from dirty heating oil.

Groom Energy

Groom is a Boston based EE project developer that offers ESA-style financings for customers.  To date they have been most active in the commercial and industrial space.  Groom is also a thought leader in the Enterprise Smart Grid which uses advanced technology to monitor and reduce energy usage behind the meter.  This morning, Groom published a comprehensive report on the topic.

Metrus Energy

Metrus Energy (Metrus) has had a very productive start to 2012 including a recent high-profile ESA project selection and a pipeline of advanced stage projects that totals $50 million. Metrus has broadened the geographic diversity of its pipeline which now spreads across the commercial, industrial and institutional markets, with active projects under development in the financial institutions, media and entertainment, telecommunications, hospital, higher education and non-profit sectors. Metrus is on-pace to exceed its $75 million investment commitment under the Better Buildings Challenge program. On the project implementation front, Metrus is actively advancing its existing ESA program with BAE systems with the addition of several multi-million dollar projects at new BAE sites. BAE Systems is a global company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defense, security and aerospace systems.  Metrus has also expanded its base of Energy Services Companies (ESCOs), contractors and energy utility channels by adding 25 new partners.             

Carbon Lighthouse

Since launch in 2010, Carbon Lighthouse (CL) has completed projects at 70+ office towers, schools, community centers and industrial facilities in California and Oregon. CL achieves its mission by combining energy efficiency, retro-commissioning, demand response, solar and competition for pollution permits into one simple package for customers.  CL primarily provides projects on a deferred compensation basis similar to an ESA, and can also provide customers with third party direct ESAs or utility On-Bill Finance and Repayment programs.


EDF has worked with each of these five firms and we are encouraged by their energy, focus and innovation.  Each firm has a somewhat different business strategy and mix of products, but the EE market should be large enough to support a variety of business models.  We look forward to continuing to work with these firms and others as this critical market grows in the coming years.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, On-bill repayment / Tagged | Read 1 Response