NOTABLE: The new Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the world’s highest rail track, climbing the Tanggula Pass to an elevation of 16,640 feet on its 2,525 miles of service from Beijing to Lhasa, Tibet. Due to the destination altitude, the cars include special UV filtering glass and a unique oxygen enriching system.
Long Island Sound Health 2010
It’s New England, the end of the ice age, a massive glacial sheet receding. Over the next 10,000 years, a 110-mile long lake forms behind plains of moraine. Then 8,000 years ago, ocean waters rise, and top the Eastern earth berm separating Lake Connecticut and the ocean. Long Island Sound is born!
A sound is a large sea or ocean inlet, larger than a bay, deeper than a bite, and wider than a fjord. Long Island Sound is 113 miles long, with 600 miles of coastline, 21 miles across at its widest point. The Sound holds 18 trillion gallons of water, most of it at depths of less than 60 feet. Eight million people live in its watershed. Twelve rivers including the mighty Connecticut feed into the Sound.
Crossing the Sound is accomplished by two submarine power cables, and well-worn ferry lines. For years, bridges and even a tunnel have been proposed. The last bridge built that spans the Sound, the Throgs Neck, was built in the early 1960s in the Narrows near New York City. An LNG terminal has been proposed, and vociferously opposed. This region, like yours, is important for many; the focus of non-profit, watch-dog Soundkeeper.
By law, the Sound’s health is regularly measured. The Long Island Sound Study was authorized and mandated by the U.S. Congress in 1985. It was and continues to be a collaborative effort of the U.S. EPA and the States of Connecticut and New York to restore and protect the Sound. “Hundreds of years of development compromise the Sound’s ability to fully function as a natural resource.” Sound Health 2010 is produced as a tabloid to reach the public, ending with channels for citizen involvement at home and around the Sound.
Hypoxia levels and frequencies: A condition in which oxygen levels in water get so low that fish and other wildlife cannot be supported. Excess nutrients, nitrogen from power plants and vehicles, fertilizer runoff, and wastewater treatment plants’ effluents, are causes. Harmful algal blooms with “saxi-toxins” have closed shellfish beds.
Hypoxia usually happens in summer. The maximum hypoxia area in the past 15 years was 195 square miles, nine Manhattans. There were 101 square miles in 2010. Parts of the Sound suffer from another hydrologic condition: A pycnocline is a sharp density gradient that restricts oxygen-rich surface waters from mixing with less-oxygenated bottom waters.
Good news: Since 1987, the amount of toxins being released into the Sound has dropped by 91.5%. The EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory tracks 650 chemicals. PCB levels have declined. Despite this progress, bio-magnification harms finfish, birds, and other animals that call the Sound their home, as well as humans. Pathogens from run-off cause beach and fishing closures.
The Sound has three basins whose conditions vary. The Western Watershed is most stressed. It includes parts of New York City and is marked by weak currents, a muddy bottom, and shallow waters. The Central Watershed is widest by far, and a transition zone. The Eastern Basin benefits from undeveloped land, and flushing through the relatively deep “race” to Block Island Sound.
There is contamination including coastal and floatable debris, the latter being a nuisance for boaters. All harms wildlife. The N.Y.C. Department of Environmental Protection supports clean-up campaigns (collecting 1,600 cubic yards this past year) and deploys a large vessel which collects debris in open waters around the City. In addition, the American Littoral Society and Save the Sound organized cleanups, averaging 396 pounds of garbage per mile of coast.
Sound Health 2010 paints a picture of gains and pain. Good news, but much to be done. There are invertebrates, some with exoskeletons. Long-finned squid are common. Lobster counts down; oyster yields up; finfish tracked by the Sound Trawl Survey. Of the 50 – 70 species it tracks, the harvest has remained flat for twenty years. The biomass fish index includes scup (porgies), flounder, striped bass, and bluefish.
More than 400 species of coastal birds call the Sound home, their habitat continually pressed. The Sound Study has been focused on protecting Piping Plovers, and tracking Colonial Water birds, Least Terns. Progress is linked to protecting critical habitats such as beaches and dunes, cliffs and bluffs, island forests, freshwater wetlands, intertidal zones, and migratory corridors. Good minds are at work; the mission for this shared resource is huge and commendable.
California's Cap and Trade
California is the first state in the nation to implement a cap and trade program. A California Air Resources Board unanimous vote on October 11, 2011 put a price on heat trapping emissions, allowing dirtiest plants an opportunity to pay for their pollution ($18 per ton has been posted; $3 more than the EU price) while rewarding efficient behavior. After the vote, and multi-year controversy, Chair Mary Nichols said, “We’ve done something important.”
California’s cap and trade is going into gear with reporting requirements in 2012 and “enforceable compliance obligations” in 2013. The requirements will cover approximately 600 facilities and 350 owners. By 2015, 85% of the State’s emissions will be “captured” under cap and trade with the inclusion of transportation-related emissions.
Emission caps were established by averaging emissions data for industries for the past three years. Companies will initially be allowed to emit up to 90% of that value. For two years thereafter, there will be 2% reductions in overall allowances. Then for the next five years, there will be 3% annual reductions to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
The California system – per AB 32 Scoping Plan – builds on the European Trading System which involves 27 EU nations plus Lichtenstein and Norway. In the EU and despite American protests, the European Trading System is being expanded to cover all airline arrivals and departures.
Database of the Largest Greenhouse Gas Emitters
This January, the U.S. EPA launched a new interactive tool. Anyone can now visit the EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data Tool for Large Facilities, click on his or her state and zip code, and get the emissions releases of the nation’s largest polluters of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxides.
The database can be found on the EPA website . It contains 2010 data for 6,700 facilities across nine major industries. Data on the website are provided by companies that produce more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.
Power plants overwhelm the data: Of the 100 facilities that emit more than seven million metric tons, 96 are power plants.
Georgia Power is the owner and operator of the nation’s top three emitters of greenhouse gases. Plant Scherer in Juliette, Georgia is number one. The plant emitted 22.8 million tons of CO2 in 2010. It also released 178,000 CO2e in nitrous oxide and methane emissions. Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen and the James H. Miller Jr. Power Plant hold the next two spots.
Coal-fired power plants in New Mexico, for example, produce the most GHGs in the state. The highest producer was the Four Corners Power Plant which released 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane.
Even natural gas plants are high CO2 producers: Florida Power & Light's new natural gas-fired power plant, the West County Energy Center, produced more GHGs than any other business in Palm Beach County in 2010, releasing 5.6 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Solar Seasonal Thermal Storage
The Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada has received a number of awards as the world’s first community to use a new “solar seasonable storage” concept. Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, calls it Canada’s greenest community, maybe the world’s greenest!
Guided by SAIC consultants, Drake Landing’s developers found that Borehole Thermal Energy Storage (BTES) made economic sense. Using large solar thermal collectors, 800 flat plate collectors, BTES harvests solar heat in summer and stores it underground. This heat is tapped in winter to provide 90% of the community’s requirement. Each of the 52 homes also has a personal solar collector designed to provide 50% of domestic hot water needs.
The below-grade system is basically a large, underground heat exchanger. At Drake Landing, there are 144, 6.25 inch, 114 foot deep bore holes to inject solar heated water into the tubes , the heat transferred to the surrounding rock and soil. The bore holes are seven and a half feet on center. Four circuits are arranged from the center to maximize stratification. The outer edge, over a hundred feet in diameter, is insulated by sand and polyethylene sheet. SAIC expects that it will take three years to charge the field.
EVs: Roadside Assistance and Apps
AAA has deployed its first six roadside assistance trucks with EV charging capabilities. The Auto Club will provide 10 – 15 minutes of charge time to members with electric vehicles and depleted batteries, enough to get them to a nearby charging station. AAA offers both Level 2 (240 volts AC) and Level 3 (up to 500 volts DC).
Meanwhile, the free DriveLightly app for iPhones maps alternative fuel sites near you. Android’s FuelLog app helps you tally costs and determine efficiency, in MPG, maintenance, etc.
This is the Green Building Market
It’s exploding! The global footprint for LEED-certified buildings topped 8 billion square feet. There are now nearly 170,000 LEED certified green building professionals. In 2009, USGBC introduced its suite of certifications, the LEED Associate and five specialty credentials. Now LEED is introducing LEED Fellows, the worlds most distinguished green building professionals.
High Performance Buildings magazine reports that “Today, one-third of all non-residential projects are green, a $55 billion market.” It also reports that the market is expected to nearly triple in the next five years to a $120 – 140 billion market for new construction, plus $14 billion for renovations.
The installation at Brookhaven National Laboratory is huge: the biggest solar energy project in New York, a $298 million built by BP and financed by Metlife, secured with a 20-year power purchase agreement with the Long Island Power Authority. The plant’s 164,312 panels on 200 acres have a 32 MW capacity.
Now the shock. BP is leaving the solar business.
BP was an early entrant with a 40-year run. It now claims that its solar unit is unprofitable and is dismantling its 1,600 worker business unit. It is reportedly selling its ownership positions in some 158 MW of plants in the U.S., Britain, Spain, and Germany. BP’s move is an anomaly in a rapidly growing renewable energy market It is a departure; a contradiction to its self-proclaimed name; aren’t renewables a “well-recognized megatrend?” BP is planning on maintaining its ownership share in Tata, an Indian solar manufacturing group.
Big Renewable News
Global renewable energy investments were $195 billion in 2010, expected to double to $395 billion in 2020.
Big players: Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings is buying a $2 billion solar development in California, and 49% of a $1.8 billion solar project in Arizona. Google now has invested $915 million in its clean energy fund.
NRG is building a $1.6 billion solar plant between Los Angeles and San Francisco, nearly a million solar panels. The California Valley Solar Ranch will supply 250 MW of power thanks to a number of financial incentives including a 3.5% interest rate on Treasury loan, half the market rate. Its risk, according to its NRG CEO David Crane, is minimal: Quoted in Barron’s, he said, “I have never seen anything that I have had to do in my 20 years in the power industry that involved less risk than these projects.” NRG got $5.2 billion in federal loan guarantees for this and four other projects. Between a lucrative guaranteed payment contract with the utility and tax benefits, the entire cost of the plant is secured.
The “Walmart of Renewable Power.” That’s NextEra, formerly Florida Power and Light. Originally formed in 1925, it now operates in 28 states and three Canadian provinces. NextEra spent $34 billion from 2002 to 2010, and is still growing. It is the largest American wind power owner operator with 8,000 MW, and second in total generating capacity with 42,588 MW. Its generation is 54% gas, 26% nuclear, and 12% wind. It also has coal, oil, and hydro plants, with 0.2% of its mix solar.
Germany installed 7,500 MW of solar capacity in 2011. During the same time frame, the United States installed 1,700 MW. Germany installed nearly twice the U.S. total in the final month of the year, 3,000 MW, as the market there responded to posted 15% decreases in FIT prices. Germany preeminence in solar has resulted in lower system costs, with $2.80 per watt posted in the third quarter of 2011 while the same systems cost $5.20 a watt in the United States. Experts explain that the FiT model has transformed the solar market for investors.