What we’re reading this week

CityLab:  Say Hello to the First New U.S. Nuclear Plant in Almost 20 Years
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 2 reactor just got approval to operate. What does this mean for the future of American nuclear energy?

Greenwire:  Clean Power Plan: It’s showtime for legal and Hill battles
We get a sense of the expected legal and Congressional challenges with the rule finally published.

RTOInsider:  Group Proposes to Buy Pepco’s DC Assets, Form Publicly Owned Utility
A newly formed advocacy group on Friday filed its intent to acquire the district assets of Pepco Holdings Inc. and transform it into a not-for-profit utility that it said will generate about $1 billion in savings over the next 20 years.

FuelFix:  EQT suspends natural gas drilling in parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia
But, don’t despair, because EQT also has high hopes for what Utica could mean for the region…

What we’re reading this week

NPR StateImpact:  PA, WV, OH team up on shale gas related manufacturing and chemical development
An exciting local development:  After years of competing against each other, the governor’s of the three states announced a unique three-year cooperation agreement at the Tri-State Shale Summit in Morgantown, West Virginia last week.  More on that to come.

Electric Light & Power:  Pilgrim nuclear power plant to close within 4 years
Yet another nuclear power plant is on track to close down.  Entergy cites both market forces and regulatory pressures as making the plant no longer competitive. And on a related note…

GreenTech Media:  Sweeping Retirement of Nuclear Power Could Make Obama’s Climate Plan ‘Impossible’
Nuclear power makes up 19% of all electricity in the United States, and no new plants have come online since 1996.  Now, market forces like those referenced above are causing some companies to close those that are left.  This article discusses a new report that talks about what that would mean for the recently finalized U.S. carbon reduction targets.

National Geographic: This Power Plant Set Out to Prove Coal Can Be Clean. Did It Work?
Canada’s Boundary Dam is getting promising results on carbon capture, but its success is not a guarantee for similar projects. But it is a demonstration of a retrofit of an existing plant that is having some promising results for future applications.

A busy week of environmental regulations

The past two weeks have been one of the busiest periods of time in recent memory for movement on sweeping environmental regulations. Since these will impact every sector of the economy and every person in the nation, a summary is in order:

Pennsylvania DEP continues its series of 14 listening sessions on how it should craft the state plan to comply with the EPA Clean Power Plan.  Most testimony followed the expected path with the usual suspects delivering the usual lines.

However, in Greensburg,  The Green County Messenger reports the offerings were more personal with Thelma Szarell, superintendent of the West Greene School District, saying, “Recently, we consolidated our elementary schools and built a new West Greene Elementary center, after years of wrestling with the issues of need, cost, and safety. It is not the Taj Mahal, but it is an updated facility that meets the needs of our students and community.This endeavor would not have been possible without adequate tax dollars,” she said. “Our school district has been supported by the coal industry. Local taxpayers would be burdened with higher taxes without the contribution from the mining industry to offset the cost.”

Pittsburgh was one of three locations for EPA to host a public hearing on the proposed methane rules for the oil and gas industry. The proposed rules are part of a plan that would reduce the industry’s pollution by up to 45 percent by requiring improved leak detection in most infrastructure components and targets reductions at compressor stations. API, an industry trade group, credits the industry with reducing emissions through the use of new technologies and practices, and calls the new rules, “another layer of burdensome requirements could actually slow down industry progress to reduce methane emissions.”

Complete details on the rule can be found in the Federal Registry.

On Wednesday, EPA has finalized revisions to effluent limitations guidelines and standards, and set the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater discharges from steam electric power plants. The rule has been surrounded by legal uncertainties, and POWER reports the challenges will continue – “I think that industry will likely argue that EPA’s record does not support some of the technology determinations, such as chemical precipitation and biological treatment for FGD wastewater and dry handling/closed-loop handling for bottom ash, and that EPA’s cost estimates are not properly supported (that is, the significantly underestimated the costs of these controls).”

The final prepublished 311 page rule is available from EPA’s website.

In another first, EPA released final rules for oil refinery emissions that will require fenceline monitoring and additional controls on various flaring activities. The U.S. has 142 refineries and EPA estimates 6.1 million people live within three miles of these facilities.  Facilities will have until 2018 to comply.

On Thursday,  after much anticipation, EPA tightened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), from a previous standard of 75 ppb. EPA was expected to adopt a standard between 65-70 ppb. The Wall Street Journal does a good job summarizing the claims by environmentalists the standard isn’t stringent enough, while industry claims the standard goes too far and will adversely impact the nation’s economy.

What we’re reading this week

The Atlantic: Why the Saudis Are Going Solar

You would probably not expect the second largest oil producer in the world to also be trying to replace 20% of its electricity consumption with solar power, but that is what Saudi Arabia is aiming to do by 2032.   In this case, the reason is a high opportunity cost of burning oil at home when they could be selling it to others.   It’s a fascinating look at how global markets coupled with domestic consumer behavior drives changing energy economics.

Electric Light & Power:  In New England, transmission upgrades soften impact of plant retirements

Building new or upgrading transmission lines has been talked about a lot lately as a primary way to increase reliability, reduce price sensitivity, and facilitate better integration of renewable and intermittent generation on the electric grid, though not without a considerable price tag.  Here is the latest example.

Pennsylvania Business Daily:  NRG partnership positions Pittsburgh for global energy infrastructure leadership

Just days before NRG announced it was restructuring, the city of Pittsburgh signed what appears to be a pretty historic agreement with NRG to “provide guidance” on its district energy operations — potentially to lead to expansion down the road.

What we’re reading this week

PowerSource: West Penn pledges to end frequent power interruptions; tree work a big part of the plan. 

The PUC expects power outages to occur, but what happens when a utility is deemed to have more frequent and longer lasting outages than is expected? A plan is developed that includes everything from installing new modern switches to good old-fashioned tree trimming.

Clean Technica: The Great Lakes Wind Atlas could help boost region’s wind energy development.

For the first time, high-definition meteorological data for the Great Lakes region has been compiled by a group of researchers. The work, published in the journal, Remote Sensing of the Environment aims to be a tool for advancing wind-energy development in the region.

Engineering Materials: The testing and analysis  of wind turbine blades.

While computers are conducting materials modeling undreamed of just twenty years ago, structural testing of 80 meter long turbine blades still undergo physical tests in massive facilities.

The Washington Post: Solar energy is poised for yet another record year

A new report shows that 6.2 gigawatts of solar power was installed last year and projects that number to rise to 7.7 gigawatts this year as large utility scale projects come online.

StateImpact Pennsylvania: False positive results of radioactivity suspected in Greene County stream

A 2014 test at Ten Mile Creek by DEP showed levels of radium 60 times higher than federal drinking water standards. However, new research by a team of scientists at West Virginia University found radium levels to be below the standards. The use of an inappropriate test method by DEP may be to blame for the disparity in test results, not impacted water.