By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

For millions of New Jersey residents, solar power is coming soon to their neighborhoods – even to the utility poles in their backyards.

In a move both bold and expensive, state regulators yesterday approved a plan for Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the state’s largest utility, to install solar panels on 200,000 utility poles in its service territory.

The project will make New Jersey the nation’s second-most solar-fueled state, according to the state Board of Public Utilities, trailing only California.

PSE&G will spend $515 million to install 80 megawatts of solar power through the end of 2013, doubling the state’s solar capacity. Half the new production will be derived from individual solar modules mounted on about a quarter of PSE&G’s 900,000 utility poles.

The other 40 megawatts of production will be generated by centralized solar arrays, including one at PSE&G’s Cox’s Corner Switching Station in Evesham Township, Burlington County.

The 80-megawatt PSE&G project amounts to a tenth of the nation’s current total grid-connected photovoltaic capacity, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

“We think it’s a good program to get solar started in the state,” said Stefanie Brand, director of the N.J. Division of Rate Counsel, the state’s consumer advocate. Her office supported PSE&G’s proposal, which she said had a “very minor impact” on rates – adding about 10 cents per month for a residential customer in the first year, a 0.13 percent increase.

But the PSE&G project still amounts to only about 4.4 percent of the ambitious goal the state has set for power generated from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Unlike most solar projects, which supply individual customers with electricity, the PSE&G plan has attracted attention because its panels will feed directly into the electrical grid. PSE&G is calling the project “Solar 4 All” to drive home the point that all customers will benefit from solar, not just those who can afford to mount the heavily subsidized panels on their rooftops.

“This will give impetus for other projects to move forward,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which also supported the plan.

The environmental group says the project reinforces its argument that clean energy can benefit the local economy.

A New Jersey company, Petra Solar Inc., of South Plainfield, will provide the utility-pole modules under a $200 million contract, its first large commercial project. The three-year-old company plans to add 100 employees, more than tripling its current workforce, said Shihab Kuran, Petra’s chief executive officer.

Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., the regulated utility’s parent, said the solar project would also demonstrate the effectiveness of distributed-power schemes that use electricity generated from multiple sources inside the existing distribution system, reducing the dependence on distant power generators that require expensive transmission systems.

“One of the things I think will be essential for renewables in the future is that we can demonstrate that they make economic sense being built where there are people to use the electricity,” he said.

“This fantasy that some people still subscribe to, that we can build all renewable sources of energy in these places where the wind and sun are abundant . . . is just not economically efficient.”

PSE&G said the utility expected to receive federal tax credits and income from selling state renewable-energy credits, which will reduce the cost of the project. The total cost of the panels is about $6.44 for each watt produced, expensive by conventional power standards, but less than solar projects in the past.

In Camden and in Secaucus yesterday, PSE&G work crews installed several of the utility-pole solar systems.

Individually, the panels are unimpressive: Each one measures about 21/2 by 5 feet and produces about 200 watts. The output of 200,000 panels is 40 megawatts, enough to power 40,000 homes.

Petra’s technology combines a conventional crystalline silicon photovoltaic panel with a microinverter, which converts the direct-current electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating current that is distributed on the grid.

Each unit also incorporates wireless “smart-grid” communications devices so that the utility can monitor the output remotely.

Kuran, Petra’s chief executive, said that each unit was designed to be installed and wired into the grid in less than 30 minutes.

“The reduction in costs comes from the simplicity in installation and design,” he said. The units will be assembled at Petra’s New Jersey factory and delivered, ready for installation by PSE&G crews. The hardware is about 10 percent more expensive than conventional rooftop systems, he said, but the total installed cost is about 10 percent to 20 percent less than rooftop models.

Kuran said the company would buy its photovoltaic cells from several vendors. Petra’s chief supplier is Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., one of the world’s largest producers of solar panels. Suntech and Petra announced an alliance last month to produce the utility-grade systems.

Suntech is a Chinese company whose shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It announced in May that it was scouting U.S. locations to open manufacturing facilities to produce solar panels, and Suntech’s promise to open domestic manufacturing facilities was a critical reason Petra agreed to the alliance, Kuran said.

If successful, the PSE&G contract is likely to generate more business for the closely held Petra.

Petra is in talks with other utilities about installing its proprietary technology, said David Lincoln, managing director of Element Partners L.L.C., a Radnor clean-technology private-equity firm that provided Petra with an initial investment of $14 million in 2007. He is on Petra’s board of directors.

“This is really a major breakthrough, getting consumer validation of the technology,” Lincoln said.

Our Perspective:

This is a major step taken to validate the use of solar energy as an alternative energy resource. Should you like to know more on how to incorporate this solution for your business, contact us.

You may email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-217-5111. We can outline the opportunity, the investment along with the ROI.

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Written by Arthur Delaney

Unemployment rates climbed in all U.S. metropolitan areas from last June to this June, the government announced on Wednesday. Some of the jumps were dramatic. And the unemployment rate in 18 areas now surpasses 15 percent. Most of the hardest hit metro areas are in California and Michigan.

Of the 49 metropolitan areas with a population of over 1 million, the Detroit area once again claims the sad prize of highest unemployment, with a rate of 17.1 percent, up from 14.9 percent in May and an 8.1 percent point increase year over year. The Riverside-San Bernardino area came in second, with a rate of 13.7 percent, followed by the Charlotte area at 12.4 percent.

The large area with the lowest unemployment rate in June was Oklahoma City, at 6 percent. Second-lowest was the greater Washington D.C. area, at 6.6 percent.

El Centro, Calif., again recorded the highest unemployment rate of all metro areas, with 27.5 percent out of work.

The Huffington Post has been profiling regular folks dealing with the recession. Click here to see some of their stories.

Here’s a map from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows the damage. Areas in dark gray surpassed the national rate of 9.7 percent while areas in light gray were 9.7 or below in June.

Click here for a PDF of the Labor Department’s report.

King Coal

July 28, 2009

Written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr

Over the past decade, nearly one hundred coal burning power plants have died in the proposal stage trumped by the legitimate objections of local communities fearful of a dirty deadly fuel that is neither cheap nor clean. Ozone and particulates from coal plants kill tens of thousands of Americans each year and cause widespread illnesses and disease. Acid rain emissions have destroyed the forests over the length of the Appalachian and sterilized one in five Adirondack lakes. Neurotoxic mercury raining from these plants has contaminated fish in every state–including every waterway in nineteen states–and poisons over a million American women and children annually. Coal industry strip mines have already destroyed 500 mountains in Appalachia, buried 2,000 miles of rivers and streams and will soon have flattened an area the size of Delaware. Finally, coal, which supplies 46% of our electric power, is the most important source of America’s greenhouse gases.

Beating our deadly and expensive coal addiction will be lucrative. America’s cornucopia of renewable energy resources and the recent maturation of solar, geothermal and wind technologies will allow us to meet most of our future energy needs with clean, cheap, abundant renewables. Bright Source, a solar thermal provider, has just signed contracts to provide California with 2.6 gigawatts of power annually from desert mirror farms. Construction costs are about the same per gigawatt as a coal plant and half the cost of a nuke plant. Once built, the energy is free forever. In contrast, once you build a coal plant, your biggest costs–fuel extraction and transportation and the harm from emissions–are just the beginning.

In the short term, a revolution in natural gas production over the past two years, has left America awash in natural gas and has made it possible to eliminate most of our dependence on deadly, destructive coal practically overnight–and without the expense of building new power plants.

How? Well it’s pretty easy. Around 900 of America’s coal plants–78% of the total–are small (generating less than half a gigawatt), antiquated, and horrendously inefficient. Their average age is 45 years, with many limping past 75. These ancient plants burn 20% more coal per megawatt hour than modern large coal units and are 60-75% less fuel efficient than high-efficiency gas plants. These small units account for less than 42% of the actual capacity for coal fired power but almost one half the total emission of the entire energy sector! The costs of operation, maintenance, capital improvements and repair costs of these antiquated worm-eaten facilities, if properly assessed, would make them far more expensive to run than natural gas plants. However, energy sector pricing structures make it possible for many plant operators to pass those costs to the public and make choices based on fuel costs, which in the case of coal, appears deceptively cheap because of massive subsidies.

Mothballing or throttling back these plants would mean huge cost savings to the public and eliminate the need for more than 350 million tons of coal, including all 30 million tons harvested through mountain top removal. Their closure would reduce U.S. mercury emissions by 20-25%, dramatically cut deadly particulate matter and the pollutants that cause acid rain, and slash America’s CO2 from power plants by 20%–an amount greater than the entire reduction mandated in the first years of the pending Climate Change Legislation–at a fraction of the cost.

These decrepit generators can be eliminated very quickly–in many instances literally overnight by substituting power from America’s existing and underutilized natural gas generation, which is abundant, cleaner and more affordable and accessible today than dirty coal.

Since 2007, the discovery of vast supplies of deep shale gas in the United States, along with advanced extraction methods, have created stable supply and predictably low prices for most of the next century. Of the 1,000 gigawatts of generating capacity currently required to meet national energy demand, 336 are coal fired, many of which are utilized far more heavily than for cleaner gas generation units. Surprisingly, America actually has more gas generation capacity–450 gigawatts–than coal. But most of the costs for coal-fired units are ignored in deciding when to operate these units. Public regulators traditionally require utilities to dispatch coal first. For that reason, high efficiency gas generators, which can replace a large percentage of U.S. coal, are used only 36% of the time. By simply changing the dispatch rule nationally, we could quickly reduce power generated by existing coal-fired plants and achieve massive emissions reductions. The new rule would change the order in which gas and coal fired plants are utilized by requiring that whenever coal and gas plants are competing head-to-head, the gas generation must be dispatched first.

To quickly gain further economic and environmental advantages, the larger, newer coal plants that remain in operation should be required to co-fire with natural gas. Many of these plants are already connected to gas pipelines and can easily be adapted to burn gas as 15 to 20% of their fuel. Experience shows using gas to partially fuel these plants dramatically reduces forced outages and maintenance costs and can be the most cost effective way to reduce CO2 emissions. This change can immediately achieve an additional 10 to 20% reduction in coal use and immediately reduce dangerous coal emissions.

Natural gas comes with its own set of environmental caveats. It is a carbon-based fuel and is extraction from shale, the most significant new source, if not managed carefully, can cause serious water, land use, and wildlife impacts, especially in the hands of irresponsible producers and lax regulators. But those impacts are dwarfed by the disastrous holocaust of coal and can be mitigated by careful regulation.

The giant advantage of a quick conversion from coal to gas is the quickest route for jumpstarting our economy and saving our planet.

By JASON DePARLE
Published: July 23, 2009

WASHINGTON — Years of state and federal neglect have hobbled the nation’s unemployment system just as a brutal recession has doubled the number of jobless Americans seeking aid.

In a program that values timeliness above all else, decisions involving more than a million applicants have been slowed, and hundreds of thousands of needy people have waited months for checks.

And with benefit funds at dangerous lows even before the recession began, states are taking on billions in debt, increasing the pressure to raise taxes or cut aid, just as either would inflict maximum pain.

Sixteen states, with exhausted funds, are now paying benefits with borrowed cash, and their number could double by the year’s end.

Call centers and Web sites have been overwhelmed, leaving frustrated workers sometimes fighting for days to file an application.

While the strained program still makes more than 80 percent of initial payments within three weeks — slightly below the standard set under federal law — cases that require individual review are especially prone to delay. Thirty-eight states are failing to make those decisions within the federal deadline.

For workers who survive a paycheck at a time, even a week’s delay can mean a missed rent payment or foregone meals.

Kenneth Kottwitz, a laid-off cabinet maker in Phoenix, waited three months for his benefits to arrive. He exhausted his savings, lost his apartment and moved to a homeless shelter.

Luis Coronel, a janitor at a San Francisco hotel, got $6,000 in back benefits after winning an appeal. But in the six months he spent waiting, there were times when he and his pregnant wife could not afford to eat.

“I was terrified my wife and daughter would have to live on the street,” Mr. Coronel said.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said: “Obviously, some of our states were in a pickle. The system wasn’t prepared to deal with the enormity of the calls coming in.”

The program’s problems, though well known, were brushed aside when unemployment was low.

“The unemployment insurance system before the recession was as vulnerable as New Orleans was before Katrina,” said Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, who is chairman of a House panel with authority over the program.

Now the number of unemployed Americans has doubled since 2007 to 15 million and the program is more than tripling in size. About 9.5 million people are collecting benefits, up from about 2.5 million two years ago. Spending is expected to reach nearly $100 billion this year, about triple what it was two years ago.

Given how suddenly the workload has increased, some analysts say the delays might have been even worse.

“Payments are later than they should be, and later than they used to be, but states have been overwhelmed,” said Rich Hobbie, director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, which represents the program’s administrators. “Considering the significant problems in the program, unemployment is responding well.”

The recovery act passed in February provided states an additional $500 million for administration. It also suspended interest payments through 2011 for states paying benefits with federal loans.

Unemployment insurance began as a New Deal effort with dual goals: to sustain idled workers and stimulate weak economies. States finance benefits by taxing employers, typically building surpluses in good times to cover payments in bad.

In 2007, the average state paid about $290 a week and aided 37 percent of the unemployed.

As downturns over the last 20 years proved infrequent and mild, states cut taxes, and the federal government, which pays administrative costs, reduced its support by about 25 percent. The states’ performance sagged.

In a recent report to the Department of Labor, Ohio said its computer problems “kept the system performance at a snail’s pace.” Louisiana said its call center was staffed with “temporary workers, with little knowledge” of unemployment insurance.

North Carolina said a wave of retirements had left it “unable to maintain pace or volume of work.” Virginia wrote “performance continued to be very stagnant” and called the odds of improvement “bleak.”

By 2007, 11 states were paying benefits so slowly they violated multiple federal rules, up from just two at the start of the decade.

While most eligibility reviews can be done by computer, about a quarter require a caseworker — to ensure, say, the applicant was laid off, rather than quit.

In the last year, states processed just 61 percent of these cases within three weeks — well below the federal requirement of 80 percent. More than a half-million cases, 6 percent, took more than eight weeks, and 350,000 took more than 10 weeks.

The Safety Net

Work-Based RewardsWith millions of jobs lost and major industries on the ropes, America’s array of government aid — including unemployment insurance, food stamps and cash welfare — is being tested as never before. This series examines how the safety net is holding up under the worst economic crisis in decades.

Multimedia

Of the 12.8 million eligibility reviews that have occurred during the recession, 4.6 million took more than three weeks. That is 2.1 million more than federal rules allow.

Appeals take even longer, with 28 states violating timeliness rules, many of them severely.

Perhaps no state is as troubled as California, which has not met timeliness standards for nine years. As in most other states, its 30-year-old computer runs on Cobol, a language so obsolete the state must summon retirees to make changes.

Yet a major overhaul in California has been delayed for five years, with $66 million in federal funds still waiting to be spent. In part, the shelved project was meant to upgrade the call centers, which were “completely swamped” last winter, a legislative analyst wrote, with “desperate unemployed Californians dialing and redialing for hours.”

Deborah Bronow, who runs the state’s unemployment insurance program, said, “The systems were antiquated to begin with,” and “we were unprepared.”

In April, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, saying the failure to efficiently process checks posed “extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.”

California has not met federal standards for adequate reserves since 1990. Still, it cut taxes and raised benefits in the last decade. It is now paying benefits with federal loans, with its debt projected to reach nearly $18 billion next year.

Among those hurt by delays was Mr. Coronel, the San Francisco janitor who lost his hotel job in January. With the phone lines jammed, it took him two days to file an application and a month to learn it had been denied.

Then the waiting really began, as Mr. Coronel filed an appeal and heard nothing for three months. Luckless as he applied for new jobs, he borrowed to pay the rent, then moved in with his mother, and joined his pregnant wife in skipping meals.

“The worst day was when my daughter was born,” he said. “I had no clothes for her, and no car seat.”

While federal rules require states to decide 60 percent of appeals cases within a month, in recent years, California has met that deadline for just 5 percent. A report by the state auditor last year found the appeals board rife with nepotism and mismanagement.

Mr. Coronel won the appeal, but is soothing a marriage strained by a six-month wait. “It’s extremely stressful when you don’t know how you’re going to support your family,” he said.

Nationally, the program is the worst financial shape since the early 1980s, when back-to-back recessions left more than half the states borrowing from the federal government. Tax increases and benefit restraints gradually rebuilt the funds, then states changed course and pushed taxes well below historical levels.

From 1960 to 1990, the tax rate averaged about 1.1 percent of overall payroll. Over the last decade, it fell to 0.65 percent. That represents a tax cut of 40 percent.

Measured against a decade’s payroll, that saved employers $165 billion. But by 2007, when the recession began, the average state had just six months of recession-level benefits in reserve, half the recommended sum.

“The attitude became, ‘We don’t need a firehouse — we can buy hoses when the fire starts,’ ” said Wayne Vroman of the Urban Institute, a Washington research group.

Some analysts defend the tax cuts, saying they helped both employers and workers, by spurring the economy and creating jobs.

“Lower tax rates make it easier to attract business,” said Doug Holmes, president of UWC, a group that advocates on behalf of employers. “We don’t want to spend a whole lot of time beating ourselves up because we didn’t raise taxes enough. Nobody anticipated a recession this size.”

A big reason the reserves fell, Mr. Holmes said, is that the jobless now spend more time on the rolls — 15 weeks in recent years, up from 13 weeks several decades ago. Each extra week costs the program about $3 billion a year. The solution, he said, is stronger job placement provisions.

But others see an irresponsible past that now promises future pain.

“Workers who had nothing to do with the funds becoming insolvent are going to be asked to pay for that with benefit cuts,” said Andrew Stettner, an analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a workers’ rights group. “That’s the worst thing states can do — it takes money straight out of the economy.”

Among those who say timely benefits are essential is Mr. Kottwitz, the Arizona cabinet maker, who lost his job just before Christmas. He filed a claim and promptly received a debit card, with no money on it. It took him weeks to reach a program clerk, who told him to keep waiting.

“They said, ‘We’re behind — be patient,’ ” he said.

With little savings, no family nearby, and a ninth-grade education, Mr. Kottwitz, 42, had limited options. He got $100 a month in food stamps, collected cans and applied for jobs. When his landlord put him out, he moved to a shelter so overcrowded he spent his first few nights on the ground.

“I felt like I was the scum of the earth,” Mr. Kottwitz said.

In March, the shelter referred him to Ellen Katz, a lawyer at the William E. Morris Institute for Justice, an advocacy group, who secured his benefits. By the time the money arrived, Mr. Kottwitz had lost nearly 40 pounds. His first stop was an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Now back in an apartment, he said he was sharing his story in the hope that someone might read it and offer him a job.

“You think that someone would have seen this coming and been more prepared,” he said.

 

Joel Page for The New York Times

Turbine blades bound for a wind farm on Kibby Mountain, Me. The technology has changed, but energy turf wars are familiar.

By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: July 13, 2009

WASHINGTON — While most lawmakers accept that more renewable energy is needed on the nation’s grid, the debate over the giant climate-change and energy bill now before Congress is exposing a fundamental rift. For many players, the energy not only has to be clean and free of carbon-dioxide emissions, it also has to be generated nearby.

The division has set off a fight between Eastern and Midwestern politicians and grid officials over parts of the bill dealing with transmission lines and solar and wind energy. Many officials, including President Obama, say that the grid is antiquated and that thousands of miles of new power lines are needed to allow construction of wind farms and solar fields in the most promising spots. Many of the best wind sites are in the Midwest, far from the electric load in populous East Coast cities.

An influential coalition of East Coast governors and power companies fears that building wind and solar sites in the Midwest would cause their region to miss out on jobs and other economic benefits. The coalition is therefore trying to block a mandate for transcontinental lines.

They want the wind farms built in rural New England and offshore from Massachusetts to Delaware, and for now it appears that they may get a chance to do that. They are campaigning to keep a provision out of the legislation that would mandate a huge super-high-voltage grid, with the cost spread among millions of electric customers.

“While we support the development of wind resources for the United States wherever they exist,” the governors warned in a May 4 letter to House and Senate leaders, “this ratepayer-funded revenue guarantee for land-based wind and other generation resources in the Great Plains would have significant, negative consequences for our region.”

Dan W. Reicher, an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration who now leads energy initiatives at Google, said the debate exposed a conundrum. “The areas with the most attractive renewable energy resources often don’t overlap with the places where the push for job creation is strongest,” Mr. Reicher said.

For example, a wind machine in North Dakota would produce more energy than the same machine in some Eastern states — but energy projects tend to get built in places where they are most wanted.

The East Coast advocates may have won a crucial first round. When the House passed its sweeping energy and climate-change bill on June 26, it included a provision that lets the federal government overrule state objections to new power lines — but only west of the Rockies. Western states would be unlikely to oppose the new power lines in any case: the region has long been accustomed to huge generation projects built at a great distance from load centers.

But the bill would not give the federal government a mandate to overrule the Eastern states on transmission lines. The issue will be on the table again as the Senate takes up the bill in the next few weeks.

A two-year effort by transmission authorities in the eastern half of the country to draw up plans for a strong grid collapsed after grid officials in New York and New England pulled out, saying that the plans were too centered on moving Midwestern energy eastward.

In an interview, Ian A. Bowles, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said he questioned “whether or not we need national transmission legislation at all.”

Mr. Bowles suggested that all Congress needed to do was impose a cap on carbon-dioxide emissions and mandate a national renewable energy quota. Then the market could determine whether resources should be in distant spots with long transmission lines or places closer to load centers, he said.

The debate echoes others in past years about whether to build conventional power plants locally or build stronger connections to distant conventional plants.

The governors’ concern, said James B. Robb, a senior vice president of Northeast Utilities, was not only the optimal cost and use of the electricity but also “any fringes that come along with it — the local tax base, local employment, all those kinds of things.”

For years, some planners have talked about a grid powerful enough to allow for “postage-stamp rates,” transmission charges that are small and independent of distance, so that power will be produced wherever it is most economical, even if that is half a continent away from where it is needed. But for local economic reasons some people resisted that idea, even in the days before tapping wind on the plains and sun in the desert became a national goal.

And a weak grid helps some electric companies. Local generators have often been able to charge more by being in the right place at the right time, with no competition because the long-distance lines are already fully loaded, experts say.

“When you have a constrained transmission system and you seek to unconstrain it,” said Mary Ellen Paravalos, the vice president for transmission at National Grid, a New York and New England company, some local parties stand to lose. This is true “even if the wider societal benefit is net positive,” Ms. Paravalos said.

Complicating the debate, many proposed power lines that could carry renewable energy to market could also end up carrying coal-fired power. An improved national grid would end the situation that prevails at many hours in the East today, when coal plants that can produce power cheaply sit idle while cleaner natural gas plants are running full tilt, able to sell their more expensive power because grid traffic is so bad that the coal power cannot reach the market.

That configuration costs consumers money but also reduces emissions of the carbon-dioxide emissions that cause climate change. So contrary to expectations, one effect of a stronger grid, although ardently sought by supporters of renewable energy, could be to push costs down but nudge coal-fired emissions up.

But the basic conflict remains distant energy versus local energy.

“Some states dealing with this issue see it not only as an environmental and least-cost-supply question but also as a potential economic development tool,” said Branko Terzic, a former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates some power lines.

Mr. Terzic added, “Those three goals are not always concurrent and could be in conflict.”

Says New Jersey leading the way

 

WASHINGTON, DC – Testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Committee in Washington today, Governor Jon S. Corzine told the panel the U.S. is on the verge of a “green revolution.” 

 “This revolution will require a new way of thinking about our energy supply, energy demand and our impacts on the global environment,” Governor Corzine said. “It will require the creation of new jobs across virtually every sector of our economy.  From financial institutions that are investing in the next innovation in solar energy technology, to the construction firms that will be modernizing our aging energy infrastructure, to the scientists at Rutgers University who are developing ways to convert algae into a renewable energy fuel. Skill and ingenuity of many kinds will be needed. “

 The Governor said serious challenges must met with serious solutions.  If not met, these challenges will compromise the reliability of the energy supply, burden homes and businesses with spiraling energy prices and threaten the global environment.

 “I am proud to say that New Jersey is at the forefront of leading this green revolution, and meeting the challenges that threaten our economic and environmental security,” added the Governor.  “Through efforts such as our Energy Master Plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and our efforts under our Global Warming Response Act, we have fashioned responsible, comprehensive and aggressive strategies.”

  New Jersey has set aggressive targets by:

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020
  • reducing energy consumption 20% by 2020.
  • reducing peak demand for electricity by 5,700 megawatts by 2020.
  • having 30% of  the state’s electricity supply come from renewable energy by 2020

 New Jersey has one of the most aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards in the country that requires electricity suppliers to purchase a specified percentage of their electricity from renewable energy each year.  In addition, New Jersey participates in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is the first mandatory carbon cap and trade program in the nation. 

 Additionally, the State has set aggressive targets for both solar energy and offshore wind development.  In fact, New Jersey is home to more solar energy installations than every other state in the country, except California. New Jersey also is on its way to sitting the first offshore windmills off the Atlantic Coast. 

 “Aggressive actions that states like New Jersey are taking are only the beginning,” the Governor said. “However, if we do not have technology innovation, we will not be able to meet the environmental challenges of the future.”

Our Perspective:

New Jersey is definitely at the forefront of this movement. They are 2nd, only to California, on providing incentives to help underwrite the investment and reducing the ROI.

Would you like to know more? Call 856-857-1230 or email george@hbsadvantage.com.

We specialize in providing the financial structure that will make bring this investment online.

Come join the Green Revolution!  It all starts with you!!

Written by Rob Perks

Visit NRDCs Switchboard Blog


The clean energy economy is upon us — but will the U.S. heed the call?

That’s the gist of today’s Washington Post story with this stark headline: Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy.

 

Excerpt:

President Obama has often described his push to fund “clean” energy technology as key to America’s drive for international competitiveness as well as a way to combat climate change.

“There’s no longer a question about whether the jobs and the industries of the 21st century will be centered around clean, renewable energy,” he said on June 25. “The only question is: Which country will create these jobs and these industries? And I want that answer to be the United States of America.”

But the leaders of India, South Korea, China and Japan may have different answers. Those Asian nations are pouring money into renewable energy industries, funding research and development and setting ambitious targets for renewable energy use. These plans could outpace the programs in Obama’s economic stimulus package or in the House climate bill sponsored by  Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and  Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

In due time fossil fuels will be gone — no one can dispute that.  So why is it that so many people — including an alarmingly high number of those serving in Congress — would rather waste time and energy denying the clear and present danger of climate change and resisting the solutions promised by a clean energy future?

[UPDATE: This just in…A new Harvard study finds that wind energy potential is considerably higher than previous estimates by both wind industry groups and government agencies.]

In my mind I can see a television commercial with just an hour glass on screen and this narration:

“Oil is running out.”

“Coal is running out.”

“Whether we like it or not, fossil fuels are going the way of the dinosaurs.”

“But we know that the wind and the sun will never run out.  And we can generate power from these natural, safe and limitless sources.”

“It’s time to move beyond the dirty energy of the past and embrace reliable clean power for the 21st century.”

“As a nation, we need to do this…before time runs out.”

Let’s all remember that America is a nation built on the foundation of freedom, independence and self-sufficiency — and those values must be at the heart of our strategy for energy policy.  We shouldn’t be losing ground in the world economy, buidling up massive trade deficits to pay for foreign oil.  It’s time we commit ourselves as a nation to develop clean, safe energy from the sun, wind and other natural sources that will create millions of jobs and rebuild our manufacturing base.

It just so happens that the best way to bring jobs and prosperity back to this country is also the way to end our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and protect the Earth we leave our children.  Let’s get back to building things again, starting with wind turbines, solar panels, and energy-efficient products that say ‘Made in America.’  After all, we have led every technological revolution of the last two centuries — electricity, railroads, the telephone, automobiles, the television, computers — and there’s no reason we can’t lead this one.

I have to question the logic (and patriotism!) of those politicians who would do the bidding of polluting industries — Big Oil, Big Coal, Nukes — when those dirty and unsafe technologies offer only short-term energy generation benefits at an extremely high cost to our heath, air and water, and climate.  The sun, the wind, and the geothermal energy at the core of the Earth provide a limitless supply of clean energy — our scientists can harness them and our workers can build them.  Our leaders should harness — not hamper — the greatest source of power we have in this country: American ingenuity.

The fact is, we already have wind and solar technologies that can dramatically cut our reliance on dirty coal plants that create most of the pollution that is poisoning our lungs and damaging our atmosphere.  What we need now are leaders who can build on this progress by partnering with business to develop and deploy innovative energy technologies that will recharge our economy and create jobs. 

As Thomas Friedman wrote in his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded”:  “[T]he ability to develop clean power and energy efficient technologies is going to become the defining measure of a country’s economic standing, environmental health, energy security, and national security over the next 50 years.”

The story in the Washington Post today is yet another wake-up call.  We shouldn’t need countries in Asia or Europe or South America to show us how to compete in the emerging markets for efficient appliances and alternative fuels.  We need leaders with vision and courage who will invest in technological breakthroughs that will once and for all end our reliance on oil and spur manufacturing jobs that can’t be outsourced.  That way, America can start exporting clean energy instead of jobs.

As a nation, we have a choice to make.  Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between clean, new energy sources and economic prosperity.  The choice is between accepting the status quo by holding tight to the dirty energy of the past or boldy embarking on the path to safe, reliable clean energy — an investment which promises both immediate and long-term gains. 

At this important juncture in our history, what choice will our elected leaders make?  It’s up to each and every one of us to help them make the right decision.

This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Funky Fuels

Alternative energy sources—from algae to cow manure—that are really out there.

By Christopher Flavelle

 

  • Cassava

 

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has looked at cassava, a potatolike crop grown across the developing world, as a possible feedstock for biofuel. Also known as tapioca and yucca, cassava is drought-resistant and needs less fertilizer than other crops, making it cheaper than corn.

Estimated production cost: $1.40 to $2.40/gallon.

Prospects: Moderate. Growing cassava for fuel could drive up food prices, either directly or by diverting land away from other crops. But developing countries may be eager to support a homegrown energy source.

 

  • Algae

 

Because it grows quickly, has a high oil content, and needs only sunlight and water, algae looks promising as a source of both ethanol and biodiesel. It also serves as a filter for dirty water and as a carbon sink. Ideally, an algae farm could be located downstream from a large-scale farm or factory, where it can clean the water of pesticides, carbon, and heavy metals.

Estimated production cost: $1 to $2/gallon.

Prospects: Good. Algae is cheap and easy to grow.

 

  • Beetle-infested timber

 

Thanks to the mountain pine beetle, some 500 million cubic meters of British Columbia’s lodgepole pine forest have been turned into a hole-riddled tinderbox. The province’s Lignol Energy Corp. is developing technology to turn the beetle-infested timber into ethanol. The job’s made easier by the insects’ own handiwork, which leaves the trees easier to break down.

 

Estimated cost: $1.50/gallon

Prospects: Moderate. Using trees for fuel will always risk pushback from environmentalists.

 

  • Cow manure

In 2004, the Central Vermont Public Service launched the Cow Power program, which pays dairy farmers to produce fuel in the form of methane, made from cow manure through a process called anaerobic digestion. There are 135 anaerobic digesters operating in the United States, according to the EPA. Those digesters produce enough energy to power some 25,000 homes.

 

Estimated production cost: Varied.

Prospects: Excellent. Anaerobic digesters are already widespread in Europe.

  •  Chicken fat

Oklahoma-based Syntroleum Corp. converts chicken fat into synthetic fuel, using a process it calls hydro-processing. The company says the fuel produced from chicken fat is chemically identical to regular, petroleum-based fuels.

 

Estimated production cost: Less than $2.40/gallon.

Prospects: Good. Barring an explosion in vegetarianism, otherwise-useless chicken fat will continue to be scraped off the floor of America’s industrial-size rendering plants for the foreseeable future.

 

  • Garbage

The ultimate alternative fuel source will need to boast some combination of worthlessness and abundance. The waste-to-ethanol process uses garbage that can’t be recycled or composted, like plastics and construction-wood waste, and turns it first into a gas and then a liquid. The final product is meant to be chemically identical to ethanol made from corn.

 

Estimated production cost: Too soon to tell.

Prospects: Excellent. If the technology promised by these plants works, expect to see a lot more of them.

Our Perspective:

Biofuels are paving the way to future energy independence. To date Ethanol has been the one product that everyone is aware of. It is made from corn. Below is an overview of other viable options that can be integral in developing future energy alternative fuels.

Let us know your thoughts?

Thursday July 16, 2009

In just a few short years, the Garden State has become the Sunshine State

BY JOE TYRRELL
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

As Congress wrestles with national energy policies and gubernatorial candidates tout their plans here, New Jersey officials say the state deserves credit as a leader in promoting solar power.

In just a few years of coordinated efforts, New Jersey has gone from a non-factor to number two among the states in solar installations connected to the power grid. While far behind California, New Jersey currently generates about twice as many solar kilowatt hours as number three Colorado.

While applauding the gains, many in the industry also say the state, like the nation, has fallen well short of performance goals. New Jersey rose to the top of solar charts in a period when there was little competition from other states.

Now, as the federal government begins to pay attention to renewable energy, New Jersey is in the midst of a challenging transition away from an easy to understand program, which gave rebates to install solar power cells.

The new program shifts the focus away from consumers to utility companies and investors by creating a marketplace for renewable energy credits. The concept has its supporters, though many are more hopeful than confident.

Still, at a time when solar businesses believe the technology is on the verge of a belated boom in the United States, recent New Jersey statistics wowed some attendees at a recent industry conference in Philadelphia.

“Making this even more remarkable is that in 2001 New Jersey had only six” solar cell installations connected to the power grid, compared to more than 4,000 today, wrote Bob Haavind of Photovoltaics World.

His report can be viewed here.

During the session, the state’s top regulator, Board of Public Utilities President Jeanne Fox, proclaimed that when it comes to government policy, New Jersey is “the best place to do solar in the country.”

Around the country, many in solar trade groups and businesses credit New Jersey for showing what a small, partly cloudy state can do to grab its place in the sun.

“Obviously what they have been doing has worked,” said Monique Hanis, director of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.

“What makes New Jersey stand out is the specific language in the state’s energy master plan, calling for the generation of 2.1 percent of its electricity to be coming from solar in 2021,” said Neal Lurie, director of marketing and communications for the American Solar Energy Society of Boulder, Colo.

Closer to home, though, reactions are more muted.

The rebate program “came out of advocacy” by solar power proponents, “it was not a BPU idea,” said Delores Phillips, the society’s Mid-Atlantic executive director.

Even with improving technology and rising costs for fossil fuels, the cost of solar power remains higher than those dirtier energy sources. Solar advocates maintain other forms of energy benefit directly and indirectly from government subsidies, such as state funds to decommission nuclear facilities, or cleanups of coal ash landfills.

New Jersey’s small spurt of solar power materialized during a BPU rebate program that turned out to be too popular for the board’s limited financial commitment. The initial surge in applications eventually bogged down as the release of funds slowed.

So the board decided on an innovative approach, creating financial instruments, solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs. The idea is that investors buy credits from solar producers, each pegged to 1 megawatt of power. The investors help producers expand, while reaping benefits from energy sales to utilities.

“We’re all looking to see how it’s going to make out,” Hanis said.

Compared to the rebates, grants or tax credits offered elsewhere, New Jersey’s approach is more ambitious but “still a little bit vague for some people,” she said.

“It’s not really tried and tested,” Phillips said, adding it requires two inter-related factors to success.

To be attractive to investors, SRECs need to be based on reliable values, meaning utilities must contract for long-term power purchases, she said. To serve those utilities, the investments must finance enough power to meet their requirements for more clean power, she said.

Judged on that basis, “New Jersey’s program is good, but only half as good as they said it was going to be,” said Edward O’Brien, a partner in McConnell Energy Solutions of Wilmington, De. Last year, instead of a projected 90 megawatts of solar power, the state was at 45, the result of continuing uncertainty over credit values, he said.

The theory is simple, O’Brien said. While not completely supplanting the mom-and-pop approach to solar panels, securitizing the solar marketplace should put it on the same funding as other major energy sources.

“Why are you out putting solar panels up on your house, which is hard to do, instead of buying five kilowatts worth of solar power from some producer?” O’Brien said.

In practice, though, the SREC system “has not been fully thought out,” he said.

Added to the current recession, investors are cautious because of America’s patchwork of energy policies and regulations, which vary from state to state, O’Brien said. States have not helped by altering programs, he said.

“Every state is different, and every state has a bait-and-switch,” O’Brien said.

Still, he is optimistic that New Jersey will regain its momentum, and others in the field view the problems as a hiccough in the growth of solar power.

In the short-run, “there could be a shake-out” during the transition from rebates, said Rick Brooke of Jersey Solar in Hopewell. But 25 years in the business and a number of false dawns, this opportunity looks golden.

As long as the state SREC market allows small systems to participate, people who installed solar panels on the roofs of their homes or businesses still have a chance to participate, Brooke said.

Moreover, people in the industry are expecting good things from the energy bill making its way through Congress. Nearby states have launched incentive programs, whether inspired by New Jersey or California, which has roughly two-thirds of the nation’s grid-connected solar systems, Brooke said.

“It’s a good time to be in the business,” he said. “The state is committed to it, they have goals. People are moving ahead with it. Before, the interest came and went, but now it’s here.”

Rebates and SRECs are not the only way to support the growth of solar power. This month, Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie each highlighted their support for renewable energy.

Democrat Corzine was able to announce the availability $20 million in federal grants for projects at public institutions in the state. Christie promised to create a new agency to promote clean energy technology and jobs, and would remove those functions from the BPU.

The Republican’s approach seemingly echoes Phillips’ complaints about the board’s “antiquated” procedures and primary purpose to regulate rates. But she said members of her association “were very underwhelmed by Chris Christie’s plan,” because it looks at the big picture and avoids the nitty-gritty.

While the Corzine Administration has set laudable goals for increasing clean energy, Phillips said most of the growth in solar power can be traced to his predecessor, former Gov. Jim McGreevey. There’s been “some stagnation” in state efforts since then, she said.

“Everybody likes to talk about clean energy job creation, but nobody explains how they’re going to do it,” she said.

Whether the New Jersey approach catches on remains uncertain. Around the nation, some communities are coming up with their own answers. Many solar advocates are looking beyond America to more successful programs abroad.

For more information on state incentives for renewable energy, visit njcleanenergy.com.

Our Perspective:

NJ has made great strides to join the alternative energy evolution. Not to say it is perfect, but for the first time people can see an acceleraed return on their investment that makes sense.

Rebates for systems under 5okw and the REC program has allowed funding to help underwrite these investments. Add the Federal incentives of a 30% tax credit and accelerated depreciation and the market is positioned to take off.

Would you like to know more? Contact us 856-857-1230 or email george@hbsadvantage.com.

We can provide an overview of your return on investment and help to develop the opportunity and make it become a reality.

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com

Written by John Porretto  July 14, 2009  AP

HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil Corp. said Tuesday it will make its first major investment in greenhouse-gas reducing biofuels in a $600 million partnership with biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. to develop transportation fuels from algae.

Despite record-breaking profits in recent years, the oil and gas giant has been criticized by environmental groups, members of Congress and even shareholders for not spending enough to explore alternative energy options.

One of the company’s requirements was finding a biofuel source that could be produced on a large scale. It says photosynthetic algae appears to be a viable, long-term candidate. If the alliance is successful, pumping algae-based gasoline at Exxon service stations is still several years away and will mean additional, multibillion-dollar investments for mass production.

“This is not going to be easy, and there are no guarantees of success,” Emil Jacobs, a vice president at Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering Co., said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But we’re combining Exxon Mobil’s technical and financial strength with a leader in bioscientific genomics.”

Jacobs said the project involves three critical steps: identifying algae strains that can produce suitable types of oil quickly and at low costs, determining the best way to grow the algae and developing systems to harvest enough for commercial purposes.

Besides the potential for large-scale production, algae has other benefits, Jacobs said. It can be grown using land and water unsuitable for other crop and food production; it consumes carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed for climate change; and it can produce an oil with molecular structures similar to the petroleum products _ gasoline, diesel, jet fuel _ Exxon already makes.

That means the Irving, Texas-based company will be able to convert the bio-oil into fuels at its own refineries and use existing pipelines and tanker trucks to get it to consumers.

The $600 million price tag includes $300 million for Exxon’s internal costs and $300 million or more to La Jolla, Calif.-based Synthetic Genomics _ if research and development milestones are successfully met.

“Even though this is a multiyear program, we both still consider it a very aggressive timetable, and it involves a lot of basic research,” said J. Craig Venter, founder and CEO of the privately held company. “As a result, you don’t know the answers until you’ve done these tests and experiments.”

Algae is considered a sustainable source for second-generation biofuels, which go beyond corn-based ethanol into nonfood sources such as switchgrass and wood chips.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said earlier this year it would scale back large investments in wind and solar in favor of next-generation biofuels. The European oil giant is working with Canadian company Iogen Corp. on a method to produce ethanol from wheat straw, and partnering with Germany-based Choren Industries to develop a synthetic biofuel from wood residue.

Another oil major, BP PLC, plans to team up with Verenium Corp. to build a $300 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Highlands County, Fla.

For Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, the biofuels investment is tiny compared with its spending to find new supplies of crude and natural gas.

CEO Rex Tillerson said earlier this year Exxon’s 2009 spending on capital and exploration projects is expected to reach $29 billion, up from the $26.1 billion it spent in 2008. The company said those levels are likely to remain in the $25 billion to $30 billion range through 2013.

Exxon Mobil shares rose 25 cents to $65.95 in trading Tuesday. They’ve traded in a range of $56.51 to $86.47 in the past year.