Monthly Archives: October 2012

Watch EDF’s New Video On The Triple Bottom Line Benefits Of Clean Energy

We launched a compelling video today that illustrates how clean energy is strengthening our economy, creating American jobs, allowing for energy independence and lessening our carbon footprint.

This video shows how clean energy is thriving and seeks to arm policymakers, entrepreneurs and clean energy advocates with success stories to back that statement up. The video features interviews with Helen Brauner, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Planning for Green Mountain Energy; Congressman Lloyd Doggett, U.S. Representative for Texas’ 25th Congressional District; and Stephen Frank, Electrical Engineer for Xtreme Power.

Like innovations in medicine and telecom, energy innovation shouldn’t be a political issue. But clean energy has suffered from some expensive negative attacks recently.  Not surprisingly, these attacks have mainly come from those who stand to profit from today’s fossil fuel industry – which receives 75 times more subsidies than clean energy sources.

Despite the fact that clean energy has become the “modern-day whipping boy,” it is indeed alive and thriving.  The clean energy sector now creates more jobs than the fossil fuel industry and, just last year, grew nearly twice as fast as the overall economy.

Earlier this year, EDF launched the Energy Innovation Series to promote the role innovation has played in the energy industry and highlight clean energy technologies and new business models that hold the promise of revolutionizing the way we create, transport, manage and use energy.  Throughout 2012, we have highlighted innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, among others.

See the video and learn more at

After you’ve watched the video, please click here to ask EDF Clean Energy Analyst Colin Meehan any questions you may have. Colin will answer you via Facebook tomorrow, October 23rd, from 4:30-5 pm Eastern Time.

Posted in General / Read 1 Response

EDF Pushes Colorado For Full Adoption, Stronger Enforcement Of EPA Oil And Gas Rules

Ten of the nation’s 100 largest natural gas fields are located in Colorado.  Three of the nation’s largest 100 oil fields are located here.  Overall, Colorado is host to over 45,000 oil and gas wells.

And yet, the agency here in Colorado responsible for inspecting oil and gas wells for compliance with air quality regulations employs a mere eight inspectors.  Yes, eight.

If we’re going to do it right in Colorado – developing energy resources in ways that protects communities, public health and the environment – the state is going to have to give agencies the resources they need to oversee industry operations.  No one should be forced to sacrifice clean air and a healthy community, and regulators can’t do their job with one hand tied behind their back.

Oil and gas operations emit a variety of air pollutants, including pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone or “smog,” toxic air pollutants, including known human carcinogens, and methane, a potent climate-disrupting pollutant.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency adopted ground-breaking rules to reduce harmful pollution from oil and natural gas production.  The New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) contain critical safeguards for human health and the environment that will help improve air quality in Colorado.

EDF applauded EPA’s adoption of the NSPS standards as an important first step to minimize the environmental impact of oil and gas production.  And now our attention is turning to the states that are deciding whether to adopt and implement the new federal standards as their own or to cede enforcement to the EPA.

Despite Colorado’s past leadership in adopting clean air measures for the oil and gas sector, the state is now foregoing an opportunity to reduce harmful emissions from oil and gas operations through full adoption of the NSPS.  The primary reason for the decision not to fully adopt the federal standards is the lack of state inspection and enforcement resources.

Today, the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) indefinitely delayed adoption of the new EPA clean air standards as they apply to certain aspects of gas well operations while additional information is gathered.  Moreover, the Commission voted to adopt standards that apply to other facets of production (e.g., compressing stations) “only to the extent that they already trigger the combination of existing reporting and permitting requirements in Colorado.”

This “partial adoption” approach approved by the AQCC will (1) unduly delay the clean air benefits that the NSPS rules can bring to Colorado and (2) create a confusing and inefficient dual-agency enforcement regime that likely will fail to bring regulatory certainty.

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division staff has indicated that the partial adoption approach is necessary given the sparse resources available for permitting, inspections and enforcement.  This concern is valid.  Even with new inspectors being brought on board, the Air Quality Control Division will only have eight employees to cover over 45,000 wells, for an astonishing inspector-to-well ratio of 1 to 5,625.  However, punting to the EPA for enforcement is not likely to improve the resource issue given that Region 8 employs fewer than five full-time oil and gas air inspectors for the entire six-state region.

Today, EDF and our allies implored the AQCC to fully adopt the NSPS standards for oil and gas operations and called on the Hickenlooper administration and the legislature to give state agencies the resources they need so they can provide effective oversight of the industry.

Oil and gas activity continues to grow at a breakneck pace in Colorado, and it is imperative that we take quick action to make sure it’s being done right.  Doing it right means not only putting strong standards in place, but also making sure our oversight agencies have the resources they need to ensure communities and our environment are protected.

To read the testimony we and our colleagues filed on this issue, click HERE.

Posted in Natural Gas / Tagged | Read 1 Response

Standing Or Elbow Room In The Energy Sector?

GridWeek 2012 convened earlier this month in Washington D.C., and as a first time attendee, I left breathless and hopeful – yet confused – by inexplicable lingering complacency.  Unbeknownst to me, by agreeing to be a panelist in two sessions, I was setting up a comparative experiment. For the first panel, I spoke on “New Utility Business Models” to a packed room of the glimmer-eyed new energy intelligentsia, which is what makes GridWeek so exciting. In the later days of the conference, about a dozen GridWeek participants interspersed amongst a room of mostly empty seats to hear my panel presentation on “Smart Grid’s Role in New Air Quality Standards.”      

It would seem that I, and the handful of attendees at the air quality panel, see the productive overlaps between air quality standards compliance, smart grid and new utility revenues.   There are several ways that smart grid provides a value proposition for utilities faced with increasingly stringent air quality regulations, most recently the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule. Here’s a short, but by no means comprehensive, list of both synergies and potential tensions:

  • Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS): Smart grid supports achieving higher and higher proportions of intermittent, non-dispatchable renewable electricity generation.   Achieving high levels of RPS will be expensive unless we can use new strategies to manage intermittency and power quality.  New pricing structures for utility services can provide incentives to invest on both sides of the meter, and open the door for historically hidden utility services (such as voltage regulation) to be priced and sold.  For incumbent utilities, there is an opportunity to identify and price network services that traditionally have been bundled into rates.
  • Electric Vehicles (EV):  EVs are an important new frontier for utilities, and like most frontiers, offer both promise and peril.  Overloaded distribution networks might keep the utility engineers up at night, while the emerging new customer class has utility shareholders thinking like venture capitalists.  Though still small in number, EVs are quickly driving utility planners and system operators toward a fork in the road. Do we provide safe reliable service to new and existing customers using expensive dirty methods of the past (i.e., more big power plants) or do we take a deep breath (of cleaner air) and trust in the power of the people by embracing distributed energy resources?  
  • Distributed Energy Resources (DER):  Rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and demand response, collectively known as distributed energy resources, unquestionably can provide the low cost, clean pathway towards both energy independence and a sustainable economy.  However, DER is harder to plan and dispatch, and it threatens the traditional utility business models of incumbent institutions.   In California, net energy metering policy has been an important ignition switch, fueled by the California Solar Roofs Initiative, but these successful policies need to evolve to achieve DER at larger scales.   Again, the key is precisely pricing the goods and services on both sides of the meter.  Utilities should be paid for power quality and storage services provided to owners of rooftop systems, while electricity from those rooftops should be priced fairly to provide incentive to invest.
  • Clean air standards:  Oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter, acidifying compounds and carcinogens, such as mercury, are the power sector’s long-time emissions concerns.  Across the nation, electricity generators must hold permits to pollute and tradable emissions allowances that must be acquired at nontrivial prices.   Starting in 2013, California electricity generation that emits global warming pollution will have an associated cost –carbon allowances in the state’s cap-and-trade program.  Already, polluters in Southern California must acquire emissions allowances for the RECLAIM program, and power plants nationwide must comply with the acid rain emissions allowance program established in the Federal Clean Air Act .  Similarly, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program puts a price on carbon emissions for nine northeastern states, and the Western Climate Initiative is endeavoring to do the same for West Coast states and Canadian provinces.  These programs use emissions allowances that are fungible and tradable, yet they represent real costs – and thus economic opportunity when avoided.  Pollution pricing is changing business models throughout North America.    But there is more to come.  For example, improved environmental performance enabled by smart grid technologies, such as increasing DER, presents new avenues to meet air quality requirements.  For the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other oversight agencies, the ability to measure, verify and enforce DER is key to granting compliance credit, and such capabilities are increasingly cost-effective with smart grid deployment. 
  • Consumer empowerment:  The mobile phone revolution is a prelude to what may be possible once consumers and producers begin to see true pricing in the energy marketplace.  While load-serving entities can find new revenues through services, consumers and entrepreneurs will be motivated by new ways to make a buck, or avoid spending bucks through unnecessary energy waste. 

The new smart grid business frontier has, in fact, many frontiers.  The California Public Utilities Commission conceived of an electricity ecosystem comprised of smart consumers, smart markets and smart utilities.  Utilities are trying to find their new niche within the ever changing food web, and all ears are perked for new opportunities.  That’s why only standing room was available in the business model panel session at Gridweek.

Meanwhile, in the air quality session of GridWeek, there was plenty of elbow room.EPA is considering flexible strategies for meeting new emissions standards for carcinogens.  Many utilities are operating in permit constrained areas that fail to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards.  Enlightened utilities are seeing demand-side strategies as increasingly viable with smart meter deployment, and a means to improve returns to shareholders.  Performance-based rate of return can be structured to both reduce sales of energy to customer and to improve utility earnings. 

Gridweek revealed to me that many are educating themselves about new business opportunities, but precious few have the connected the dots to air quality improvements.   If I could, I’d bet on the folks who attended both sessions.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Grid Modernization, Renewable Energy, Washington, DC / Read 1 Response

Latino Support Surges for the Environment

Wind turbine - renewable energy sourceCalifornia lawmakers take notice: Latino voters want a strong economy AND a clean environment, two things they believe are not mutually exclusive.

A new poll released by the California League of Conservation Voters finds that an overwhelming 90 percent of Latino voters believe that the state can “protect the environment and create jobs at the same time.”  This number mirrors national trends among Latino voters, including a recent national poll by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the Sierra Club, which found that 90 percent of surveyed voters believe that protecting land and water resources is “critical to the economy.” Read More »

Posted in California, Clean Energy, Climate, General, Renewable Energy, State / Comments are closed

Natural Gas: A Question Of Sustainability

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

Today there are around 45,000 shale gas wells operating in the United States – triple the number in 2005 – and as a result, people are rightfully concerned about the extent of the shale boom’s potential damage to the environment.

The issue became the focal point of discussion this month in “Can Natural Gas Be Sustainable?,” a five-person panel presentation at the second annual SXSW Eco conference in Austin. As part of the panel, we discussed how stronger standards and employing best practices could minimize impacts of increased natural gas production in the wake of growing public concern about the health and environmental impacts of drilling.

Attendees of SXSW Eco represented a broad swath of perspectives, ranging from those who were against any natural gas development to those who wanted to see much more natural gas development. One attendee even criticized the title of the panel, presenting the position that developing any non-renewable resource is inherently not sustainable.

As for the sustainability question, one thing is clear: the natural gas industry has a lot of opportunity for improvement, and there is mounting public pressure to address environmental concerns. Nearly 61 percent of Americans have negative views about the oil and gas industry – higher than any other industry (David Blackmon, from FTI Consulting, actually joked that this was an improvement!)

As part of the discussion, I spoke about the many environmental and health impacts associated with natural gas development. Construction and drilling equipment can degrade local air quality with smog-forming pollutants and air toxics (Example: activities at the Barnett Shale in Texas). I also spoke about the implications of faulty well construction as one of the major causes of natural gas leakage, and emphasized that while natural gas is touted as a low-carbon fuel source, leaks from the production, distribution, and use of natural gas could undermine the greenhouse gas advantage combusted natural gas has over coal.

EDF is working hard to address the key problem areas associated with natural gas development: exposure to toxic chemicals and waste products; faulty well construction and design; climate impacts from methane leakage; local and regional air pollution; and land use and community impacts. Our team is engaging with community, government and industry stakeholders to help identify ways to minimize both human health and environmental risk, including:

  • Comprehensive disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals
  • Modernization of rules for well construction and operation
  • Systems-based management of wastes and water
  • State and national standards for improving air quality and reducing climate impacts
  • Minimization of land use and community impacts from natural gas development

Fellow SXSW Panelists

Other speakers presented varying perspectives on natural gas issues. Chris Helman, Associate Editor of Forbes magazine, moderated the panel and emphasized the public interest on the topic, as well as the contribution of natural gas to the country’s energy portfolio.

George Peridas, a scientist from NRDC, prefaced his comments by saying, “We have a lot of work to do before we can call natural gas clean.” Peridas gave examples of numerous exemptions given the natural gas industry under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. As well, those tasked with enforcing the state natural gas regulations that currently exist lack the ability to go out, fully inspect and enforce those standards. The result, he said, was that “industry is a self-policing entity right now.”

Much of his policy work focuses on climate change and correspondingly, Peridas said that natural gas could help with climate change and air quality when compared to coal. “The key is that gas needs to displace dirtier fuels,” he said. “A bridge is not the right frame of mind, and we cannot afford to treat gas as an abundant resource. We need to address its impacts now.”

Some of the solutions Peridas proposed included: designation of “off-limits” areas that provide fresh water resources or wildlife/conservation value; stopping those leaks that waste methane and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions; development of a comprehensive guide for how to drill safely (e.g., proper cement jobs at well sites); repealing the outrageous exemptions at the federal level that industry currently enjoys; focusing on measures and policies that promote solutions (e.g., solar energy); and ensuring that communities have a say in whether drilling proceeds in their areas.

Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, a nun with Congregation Of The Sisters Of Charity Of The Incarnate Word, and community advocate for the Eagle Ford Shale, agreed strongly with co-panelist George Peridas and his push for more local regulations. She told the story of citizens in small, rural Texas towns being strongly impacted by the Eagle Ford shale, and even used the phrase “merciless exploitation” to describe her own such experience.

Sister Elizabeth asked the rhetorical question: “Are we counting our natural gas clean energy chickens before they hatch?” She then emphasized that society must consider all of the activities required to produce natural gas, including activities she has observed in the Eagle Ford Shale: trucks and heavy equipment; travel trailers for workers; transporting of sand and chemicals, fracking equipment, and toxic waste (produced during operations); construction of huge batteries and tanks; rigs operating 24 hours a day; loud compressor stations; damage to land requiring clean up; and more.

David Blackmon, managing director at FTI Consulting, represented industry’s point of view, which touts the “reality that over half of our electricity generating capacity is natural gas.” The demand for natural gas includes backing up intermittent supply from solar and wind power. He said that natural gas was one of the only power sources that could be “cycled up” in a matter of minutes and that coal made this process more expensive.

Blackmon said that the key to making natural gas sustainable was ensuring public trust; trust that it is being appropriately regulated at federal, state and local levels. “I absolutely agree that there are not enough inspectors in the Texas Railroad Commission to regulate it,” he said. “The good news is that most companies in the industry recognize the need for public trust and are working towards that.”

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas / Tagged , , | Read 2 Responses

New Study To Provide Important, Direct Measurement Data On Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production

While natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels when combusted, methane leakage from the production, transportation, and use of natural gas has the potential to undermine some or all of those benefits, depending on the leakage rate.  Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutant many times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal contributor to man-made climate change.

In other words, leaks during the production, distribution, and use of natural gas could undermine, and possibly even overwhelm, the greenhouse gas advantage combusted natural gas has over coal and spell major trouble for the climate.

Up to this point, direct measurement data on methane leakage rates has been limited and subject to wide interpretation and debate.  Some studies have estimated the leak rate to be as high as 7.9%, while others have estimated the leak rate to be as low as 1% for some aspects of the drilling process.  Methane leakage matters, and has clear implications on whether natural gas can be seen as a lower carbon energy source.  To help overcome some of the debate, EDF is working with leading academic researchers and industry leaders from across the natural gas sector to take direct measurements of leak rates to help better define the natural gas leak rate across the natural gas supply chain in the United States.

In partnership with the EDF and nine leading natural gas producers, today the University of Texas Austin (UT) announced the first part of this study, focused on emissions from natural gas production.  The study will help provide a clearer picture of methane leakage rates occurring at natural gas drilling sites around the country.  It is particularly relevant because drilling and completion processes have evolved rapidly in recent years – thanks to breakthroughs in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – and the knowledge about the methane leaked during this shift has not.

The main objective of this study on production emissions is to obtain scientifically rigorous data from multiple gas producing basins. The study will focus on quantifying emissions from well completions, gas well liquid unloading and well workovers, in addition to other more routine well-site fugitive emissions, the areas of the production process with the greatest leak rate uncertainties

The study is unique in that it brings multiple, key stakeholders to the table to make measurements of emissions at the well pad that will be shared when completed. If natural gas is to become an accepted part of an energy independence strategy, while supporting a clean energy future, it is critical to work together to quantify, and where ever possible lower, the existing methane leakage rate. Such an approach could yield enormous added environmental and health benefits from existing and future natural gas infrastructure.

A research team led by UT, including engineering and environmental testing firms URS and Aerodyne Research, is conducting the extensive field study. Project partners include EDF, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, BG Group plc, Chevron Inc., Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., Pioneer Natural Resources Company, Shell, Southwestern Energy, Talisman Energy, USA, and XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary.

For more information on ways to get sustained benefits from natural gas, EDF published a paper earlier this year titled, “Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure.”  Find more at

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas / Read 3 Responses