By REBECCA SMITH  as reported in Wall Street Journal

Slack demand for electricity across the U.S. is leading to some of the sharpest reductions in power prices in recent years, offering a break for consumers and businesses who just a year ago were getting crunched by massive electricity bills.

On Friday, the nation’s largest wholesale power market serving parts of 13 states east of the Rockies is expected to report that electricity demand fell 4.4% in the first half of the year. That helped to push down spot market prices by 40% during the first half of this year.

[Electricity Prices Plummet]

Wholesale electricity — power furnished to utilities and other big energy users — cost an average of $40 a megawatt hour in the region, down from $66.40 a year earlier. The price declines in this market, which extends from Delaware to Michigan, come on top of a 2.7% drop in energy use in 2008 over 2007.

The falloff in demand represents a reversal of what has been one of the steadiest trends in business. For decades, the utility sector could rely on a gradual increase in electricity demand. In 45 of the past 58 years, year-over-year growth exceeded 2%. In fact, there only have been five years since 1950 in which electricity demand has dropped in absolute terms.

But this year is shaping up to have the sharpest falloff in more than half a century, and coming on top of declines in 2008, could be the first period of consecutive annual declines since at least 1950.

Dramatic price reductions don’t immediately mean lower power bills for all consumers. That’s because many customers pay prices based on long-term contracts. But lower prices will have a softening effect over time.

In California and Texas, a combination of cheap natural gas and lower industrial demand is putting pressure on prices.

In the Houston pricing zone, which has many power-gobbling refineries and chemical plants, the spot market price was $61.82 in June, versus $129.48 a megawatt hour a year earlier. Power demand in Texas is down 3.2% so far this year due to business contraction and reductions in employment which are causing many households to economize.

Just a year ago, many businesses and residential customers were reeling from electricity prices on the spot market that had spiked to historic highs, driven by high fuel prices and hot summer weather. Some businesses curtailed their operations because electricity and natural gas were too pricey.

[Electricity Prices Plummet]

But the flagging economy has resulted in a slump in demand that has jolted some energy markets. American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co., for example, both reported double-digit drops in industrial electricity use for the past quarter.

Meanwhile, natural gas, which strongly influences electricity prices, has fallen below $4 per million BTUs, or British thermal units. That’s down from $12 at last year’s peak.

For many businesses, the cost of electricity represents one of the few bright spots in a dismal economy. Andy Morgan, president of Pickard China Inc. in Antioch, Ill., which makes fine china, figures his electricity cost is down 30% to 40%.

Last year, when everything was spiking, he looked at different options — including negotiating a fixed-price contract for energy with a supplier. He says he held off and now he’s happy he did.

“We’ve definitely reaped savings,” says Mr. Morgan, adding that “especially in a down economy, you’ll take whatever you can get. That’s one of the few blessings during this storm.”

Slowdowns at major industrial companies such as Alcoa Inc. help account for the decline in electricity usage this year. The recession and drop in consumer demand for products that contain aluminum has caused the company to idle 20% of its smelting capacity world-wide this year.

In the U.S. the company has cut production at smelters, which are traditionally big energy users, in New York, Tennessee and Texas. Kevin Lowery, a company spokesman, said he did not believe that Alcoa has saved much money thus far because the company primarily purchases electricity through 25- to 35-year contracts.

Steel Dynamics Inc. is benefiting from lower pricing. The company operates five steel mills, with four purchasing electricity at spot market prices in Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia. The benefit, though, is smaller than it might be because the steelmaker is producing less steel this year.

“We’re producing fewer tons, but every ton we produce we seek to minimize the costs and electricity is one of those,” said Fred Warner, a company spokesman. Its mills are running at 50% capacity this year, down from 85% capacity last year.

Some wonder whether the deregulated markets of the Eastern U.S., Midwest, Texas and California will be especially hard hit if demand comes roaring back. That’s because utilities in these markets no longer are required to build new resources. It’s left up to the power generators to determine when the market conditions are ripe.

“There’s more supply than demand and prices are really low so it doesn’t make sense to build anything,” says John Shelk, president of the Electric Power Supply Association in Washington, D.C., a group that represents power generators.

Many electricity markets throughout the country have implemented demand reduction programs that give consumers a further incentive to reduce power use. The 13-state PJM Interconnection market has been one of the most aggressive — and has seen one of the steepest price drops.

A new report from the region’s official market monitor found a strong correlation between falling prices and an increase in demand-reduction programs. In the PJM market, energy users can collect money through an auction process for pledging to cut energy use in future periods.

In May, PJM conducted an auction to ensure it will have the resources it believes it will need in 2012-13. About 6% of the winning bids came from those who pledged to cut energy use by a total of 8,000 megawatts in that future period.

Our Perspective:

For those companies faced ith rising utility prices over the past 4 years, there is finally relief in the deregulated market. Prices have fallen due to the decrease in demand.

If you look at you electric bill over the past 12 months you will see that your price to compare for electric supply was most likely over .12 cents per kWh. Current market rates will allow you to lock you supply price in the dregulated market somewhere in the .10+ cent per kWh area. This could provide a 11/2 to 2 cents per kwh savings over the next year or two.

Our clients are finding substantial savings which fall to the bottomline.

Would you like to know more? Give us a call 856-857-1230 or email george@hbsadvantage.com . Contact us for a free evaluation You will be surprised by the savings it will provide.

—Timothy Aeppel, Sharon Terlep and Kris Maher contributed to this article.

Real-Time Pricing: Now is the Time. From the September 2009 issue of Building Operating Management magazine. The facililities management resource.

Our Perspective:

Below you will find a great article providing the savings opportunity in the deregulated gas and electric market.

It is true we are finding substantial savings for our clients. Energy Prices are the lowest they have been in the last 3 to 4 years. Our clients are saving from 10% upto 25% over what they paid over the last 12 months on gas and electric supply cost.

Based on annual usage, we have seen small clients saving a couple of thousand dollars over the next year, to our larger clients saving from $90,000 upto $300,000 over the next year. 

What would be the potential savings for your company?

All you have to do is ask. There are no fees involved, the savings fall to the bottom line.

Should you like to know more about the utility savings available for your company call 856-857-1230 or send an email to george@hbsadvantage.com

Enjoy the article, click on the link provided below.

via Sagging Energy Rates Creates An Opportunity for Power Purchasers.

by Jerry James Stone, San Francisco, CA on 09.10.09

Science & Technology

Google’s developing new solar tech that will drop the cost from 18 cents a kW-h to just under 5. At least, it’s hoping to.

Just like everybody else, Google’s disappointed by the industry’s lack of innovation so they’ve decided just to do it themselves. At least that’s what Google’s Bill Weihl said today at the Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit hosted by Reuter’s right here in San Francisco.

Not too surprising. Google builds its own servers since commercial servers are too expensive. The company makes cheap janky ones and just lets its homegrown software handle the outages.

Google engineers have primarily been focused on solar thermal technology. Weihl hopes they can cut the cost of making heliostats by at least a factor of two, but “ideally a factor of three or four.”

“We’ve been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on,” said Weihl.

The search engine giant started investing in renewable energy back in 2007. Along with solar thermal tech, the company is also interested in gas turbines that could run on solar power rather than natural gas–a name change might be in order.

Whatever the technology turns out to be, their main interest is the cost. They want to create a renewable energy that has a lower price point than coal. In doing so, they have invested about $50 million in the industry so far.

“Typically what we’re seeing is $2.50 to $4 a watt (for) capital cost,” Weihl said. “So a 250 megawatt installation would be $600 million to a $1 billion. It’s a lot of money.”

Google hopes to showcase the technology within a few months. It must first sustain accelerated testing to show its resistance to decades of harsh desert conditions.

One thing’s for sure…I look forward to seeing what they’ll come up with.

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.

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

CHRIS KAHN | June 29, 2009 03:27 PM EST | AP

NEW YORK — The government will help companies build powerful solar farms in the desert Southwest by pre-qualifying huge swaths of federal land for development.

The Department of Interior said Monday it will designate 670,000 acres of federal land in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as study areas for utility-scale solar projects.

The land will be divided into 24 tracts called Solar Energy Study areas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department will work with states on environmental studies and permitting to speed solar development in those areas.

Our Perspective:

This is good news. Finally, the government is stepping forward and acknowledging the opportunities provided by alternative energy development.

I hope this is only the beginning!

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

By JAD MOUAWAD
Published: July 5, 2009

The extreme volatility that has gripped oil markets for the last 18 months has shown no signs of slowing down, with oil prices more than doubling since the beginning of the year despite an exceptionally weak economy.

The instability of oil and gas prices is puzzling government officials and policy analysts, who fear it could jeopardize a global recovery. It is also hobbling businesses and consumers, who are already facing the effects of a stinging recession, as they try in vain to guess where prices will be a year from now — or even next month.

A wild run on the oil markets has occurred in the last 12 months. Last summer, prices surged to a record high above $145 a barrel, driving up gasoline prices to well over $4 a gallon. As the global economy faltered, oil tumbled to $33 a barrel in December. But oil has risen 55 percent since the beginning of the year, to $70 a barrel, pushing gas prices up again to $2.60 a gallon, according to AAA, the automobile club.

“To call this extreme volatility might be an understatement,” said Laura Wright, the chief financial officer at Southwest Airlines, a company that has sought to insure itself against volatile prices by buying long-term oil contracts. “Over the past 15 to 18 months, this has been unprecedented. I don’t think it can be easily rationalized.”

Volatility in the oil markets in the last year has reached levels not recorded since the energy shocks of the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to Costanza Jacazio, an energy analyst at Barclays Capital in New York.

At the close of last week’s trading, oil futures fell $2.58, to $66.73 a barrel, after rising above $72 a barrel last month.

These gyrations have rippled across the economy. The automakers General Motors and Chrysler have been forced into bankruptcy as customers shun their gas guzzlers. Airlines are on pace for another year of deep losses because of rising jet fuel costs.

And households, already crimped by falling home prices, mounting job losses and credit pressures, are once more forced to monitor their discretionary spending as energy prices rise.

While the movements in the oil markets have been similar to swings in most asset classes, including stocks and other commodities, the recent rise in oil prices is reprising the debate from last year over the role of investors — or speculators — in the commodity markets.

Government officials around the world have become concerned about a possible replay of last year’s surge. Energy officials from the European Union and OPEC, meeting in Vienna last month, said that “the speculation issue had not been resolved yet and that the 2008 bubble could be repeated” without more oversight.

Many factors that pushed oil prices up last year have returned. Supply fears are creeping back into the market, with a new round of violence in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta crimping production. And there are increasing fears that the political instability in Iran could spill over onto the oil market, potentially hampering the country’s exports.

The OPEC cartel has also been remarkably successful in reining in production in recent months to keep prices from falling. Even as prices recovered, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have been unwilling to open their taps.

Top officials said that OPEC’s goal was to achieve $75 a barrel oil by the end of the year, a target that has been endorsed by Saudi Arabia, the group’s kingpin.

“Neither the organization, nor its key members, has any real interest in halting the rise in oil prices,” said a report by the Center for Global Energy Studies, a consulting group in

London founded by Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, a former Saudi oil minister.

But unlike most of 2007, when the economy was still not in recession and demand for commodities was strong, the world today is mired in its worst slump in over half a century. The World Bank warned the recession would be deeper than previously thought and said any recovery next year would be subdued.

The International Energy Agency held out the prospect that energy demand was unlikely to recover before 2014. Yet the indicators that would traditionally signal lower prices — like high oil inventories or OPEC’s large spare production capacity — do not seem to hold much weight today, analysts said.

“Crude oil prices appear to have been divorced from the underlying fundamentals of weak demand, ample supply and high inventories,” Deutsche Bank analysts said in a recent report.

Investors are betting that the worst of the economic slump may be coming to an end, and are bidding up what they perceive will become scare resources once demand kicks back again, analysts said. This uncertainty is making it difficult for companies to plan ahead, they said.

“People do not like that kind of volatility, they want to know what their costs are going to be,” said Bernard Baumohl, the chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group.

For the global airline industry, the latest price surge is certain to translate into more losses this year, according to the industry’s trade group, I.A.T.A. Airlines are expected to post losses of $9 billion this year, following last year’s losses of $10.4 billion. “Airlines have not yet felt the full impact of this oil price rise,” according to I.A.T.A.’s latest report.

At Southwest Airlines, for example, fuel accounts for about a third of the company’s costs, according to Ms. Wright, the chief financial officer. The experience of the past year, she said, “has convinced us we cannot afford to not be hedged.”

The company has currently hedged part of its fuel use for the second half of the year at $71 a barrel, and for 2010 at $77 a barrel. Hedging acts as an insurance policy if prices rise above these levels.

But last year, Southwest reported two consecutive quarters of losses, as prices spiked and collapsed — all within a few months. “Prices were falling faster than we could de-hedge,” Ms. Wright said.

To survive the slump, many airlines have cut routes and raised both fares and fees, like charging for luggage, while some of the industry’s top players have merged. For example, Delta Air Lines bought Northwest Airlines last year, and in Europe, Lufthansa of Germany bought Austrian Airlines and Air France-KLM acquired Alitalia of Italy.

Likewise, automobile showrooms emptied out as gasoline prices rose, forcing General Motors and Chrysler to cut production sharply as they wade through bankruptcy. Meanwhile, they are under pressure from Washington to improve their fuel ratings.

“Do not believe for an instant that sport utilities are making a comeback,” George Pipas, Ford’s chief sales analyst, told reporters last week.

But to Jeroen van der Veer, who retired as chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell last week, prices are increasingly dictated by long-term assessments of supply and demand, rather than current market fundamentals. He advised taking a long-term view of the market.

“Oil has never been very stable,” Mr. van der Veer said. “If you look at history, you have to expect more volatility.”

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

Just Do It

July 2, 2009

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: June 30, 2009
There is much in the House cap-and-trade energy bill that just passed that I absolutely hate. It is too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others. A simple, straightforward carbon tax would have made much more sense than this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is pathetic that we couldn’t do better. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It’s a mess. I detest it.

Skip to next paragraph

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

Now let’s get it passed in the Senate and make it law.

Why? Because, for all its flaws, this bill is the first comprehensive attempt by America to mitigate climate change by putting a price on carbon emissions. Rejecting this bill would have been read in the world as America voting against the reality and urgency of climate change and would have undermined clean energy initiatives everywhere.

More important, my gut tells me that if the U.S. government puts a price on carbon, even a weak one, it will usher in a new mind-set among consumers, investors, farmers, innovators and entrepreneurs that in time will make a big difference — much like the first warnings that cigarettes could cause cancer. The morning after that warning no one ever looked at smoking the same again.

Ditto if this bill passes. Henceforth, every investment decision made in America — about how homes are built, products manufactured or electricity generated — will look for the least-cost low-carbon option. And weaving carbon emissions into every business decision will drive innovation and deployment of clean technologies to a whole new level and make energy efficiency much more affordable. That ain’t beanbag.

Now that the bill is heading for the Senate, though, we must, ideally, try to improve it, but, at a minimum, guard against diluting it any further. To do that we need the help of the three parties most responsible for how weak the bill already is: the Republican Party, President Barack Obama and We the People.

This bill is not weak because its framers, Representatives Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, wanted it this way. “They had to make the compromises they did,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, “because almost every House Republican voted against the bill and did nothing to try to improve it. So to get it passed, they needed every coal-state Democrat, and that meant they had to water it down to bring them on board.”

What are Republicans thinking? It is not as if they put forward a different strategy, like a carbon tax. Does the G.O.P. want to be the party of sex scandals and polluters or does it want to be a partner in helping America dominate the next great global industry: E.T. — energy technology? How could Republicans become so anti-environment, just when the country is going green?

Historically speaking, “Republicans can claim as much credit for America’s environmental leadership as Democrats,” noted Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. “The two greatest environmental presidents in American history were Teddy Roosevelt, who created our national park system, and Richard Nixon, whose administration gave us the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.” George Bush Sr. signed the 1993 Rio Treaty, to preserve biodiversity.

Yes, this bill’s goal of reducing U.S. carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 is nowhere near what science tells us we need to mitigate climate change. But it also contains significant provisions to prevent new buildings from becoming energy hogs, to make our appliances the most energy efficient in the world and to help preserve forests in places like the Amazon.

We need Republicans who believe in fiscal conservatism and conservation joining this legislation in the Senate. We want a bill that transforms the whole country not one that just threads a political needle. I hope they start listening to green Republicans like Dick Lugar, George Shultz and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I also hope we will hear more from President Obama. Something feels very calculating in how he has approached this bill, as if he doesn’t quite want to get his hands dirty, as if he is ready to twist arms in private, but not so much that if the bill goes down he will get tarnished. That is no way to fight this war. He is going to have to mobilize the whole country to pressure the Senate — by educating Americans, with speech after speech, about the opportunities and necessities of a serious climate/energy bill. If he is not ready to risk failure by going all out, failure will be the most likely result.

And then there is We the People. Attention all young Americans: your climate future is being decided right now in the cloakrooms of the Capitol, where the coal lobby holds huge sway. You want to make a difference? Then get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon. That will get the Senate’s attention. Play hardball or don’t play at all.

Our Perspective:

Finally the Congress is recognizing there is an issue with emissions. For years, many have denied there is any correlation between emissions and climate change.

Leave it to the politicians to throw pork into an important issue.

Why would they recognize an issue, claim it and take responsibility for fixing it. They do not want to be held accountable for they have to run for reelection.

We can’t afford to push the rock any further.

Our ignorance has caused this problem.

But now that we acknowledge there is a problem, our arrogance can not let it continue.

We are only here for a short time. 

Everyday is a gift.

It is our responsibility to hand it over to the next generation, a world; that is in better condition than what we received.

This bill is flawed and we have to make our voices heard.

Have them pull the pork and make a real statement.

We can choose to lead by example! Just do it!

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

Written by H. Josef Hebert   AP 6/17/09

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would require greater use of renewable energy, make it easier to build power lines and allow oil and gas drilling near the Florida coastline advanced Wednesday in the Senate.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill by a 15-8 bipartisan vote. But both Democrats and Republicans expressed concerns about the bill and hoped to make major changes when it reaches the Senate floor, probably in the fall.

The measure’s primary thrust is to expand the use of renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal sources as well as deal with growing worries about the inadequacies of the nation’s high-voltage power grid.

But the bill also would remove the last congressional barrier to offshore oil and gas development, lifting a ban on drilling across a vast area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that Congress put off limits three years ago. Drilling would be allowed within 45 miles of most of Florida’s coast and as close as 10 miles off the state’s Panhandle area.

The Senate bill for the first time would establish a national requirement for utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, a contentious issue that is likely to attract heated debate.

Twenty-eight states currently have some renewable energy requirement for utilities, but supporters of the measure argue a national mandate is needed to spur such energy development.

The legislation also would give much wider authority to federal regulators over the nation’s electricity grid.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would be given authority to approve the siting of high voltage power lines if states fail to act and would be given additional powers over cyber security on the grid.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he hopes to take up energy legislation after the August recess, although it’s uncertain whether it will be merged with separate legislation addressing climate change. The House is working on a climate bill that includes many of the same energy issues addressed by the Senate bill.

While the bill was approved by a safe margin in the committee its prospects in the full Senate are anything but certain. Several senators called it too weak in its support of renewable energy development, while others said it ignored nuclear energy and greater domestic oil and gas production.

“None of us got all we wanted,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the committee’s chairman, who was forced to agree to a variety of compromises to give the bill a chance of advancing. Nevertheless, he said the bill would help shift to cleaner, more secure sources of energy.

Bingaman and many of the panel’s other Democrats had wanted at least a 20 percent renewable energy requirement. The bill requires 15 percent renewable use by 2021, but also would allow utilities to avoid a fourth of that mandate by showing improvements in efficiency. Renewable energy use could be cut further for utilities that increase their use of nuclear energy either from a new reactor or increased reactor output.

“This is an extraordinary weak bill,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

But Sanders voted to advance the bill, as did Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Both senators said they hoped the bill will be strengthened.

“I suspect their definition of strengthening might be somewhat different,” quipped Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., whose own support of the bill came despite strong opposition to the federal renewable energy requirements on utilities.

Sanders wants the renewable energy requirement to be much higher, at 25 percent. Corker said the bill needs more to promote nuclear energy and domestic oil and gas production.

“We simply must do more to increase our domestic (oil and gas) production and use of nuclear energy,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the committee’s ranking Republican. Still, she voted for the bill which includes a commitment to increase loan guarantees for a natural gas pipeline in her state from $18 billion to $30 billion.

The bill also calls for establishing a new office to steer grants and loan guarantees to clean energy projects, including nuclear and those using technology to capture carbon dioxide; creating an oil products reserve to be used if there are supply problems; and creating federal standards for efficiency standards for new building.

The Chamber of Commerce said the bill shows progress toward crafting a comprehensive energy policy, but some environmentalists said it falls short of shifting the country away from fossil fuels. With its new offshore drilling, support for coal and nuclear energy “this bill fails to live up to the vision of a clean energy future,” complained Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth.

H. JOSEF HEBERT | June 6, 2009 10:30 PM EST | AP

WASHINGTON — Thomas Alva Edison, meet the Internet. More than a century after Edison invented a reliable light bulb, the nation’s electricity distribution system, an aging spider web of power lines, is poised to move into the digital age.

The “smart grid” has become the buzz of the electric power industry, at the White House and among members of Congress. President Barack Obama says it’s essential to boost development of wind and solar power, get people to use less energy and to tackle climate change.

What smart grid visionaries see coming are home thermostats and appliances that adjust automatically depending on the cost of power; where a water heater may get juice from a neighbor’s rooftop solar panel; and where on a scorching hot day a plug-in hybrid electric car charges one minute and the next sends electricity back to the grid to help head off a brownout

It is where utilities get instant feedback on a transformer outage, shift easily among energy sources, integrating wind and solar energy with electricity from coal-burning power plants, and go into homes and businesses to automatically adjust power use based on prearranged agreements.

“It’s the marriage of information technology and automation technology with the existing electricity network. This is the energy Internet,” said Bob Gilligan, vice president for transmission at GE Energy, which is aggressively pursuing smart grid development. “There are going to be applications 10 years from now that you and I have no idea that we’re going to want or need or think are essential to our lives.”

Hundreds of technology companies and almost every major electric utility company see smart grid as the future. That interest got a boost with the availability of $4.5 billion in federal economic recovery money for smart grid technology.

But smart grid won’t be cheap; cost estimates run as high as $75 billion. Who’s going to pay the bill? Will consumers get the payback they are promised? Might “smart meters” be too intrusive? Could an end-to-end computerization of the grid increase the risk of cyberattacks?

Today’s grid is seen by many as little different from one envisioned by Edison 127 years ago.

The hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines that crisscross the country have been compared to a river flowing down a hill: an inefficient one-way movement of electrons from power plant to consumer. There is little way to provide any feedback of information to the power company running the system or those buying the electricity.

“The heart of a smart grid is to make the grid more flexible, to more easily control the flow of electrons, and make it more efficient and reliable,” said Greg Scheu, head of the power production division at ABB North America, a leading grid technology provider.

“The meter is only the beginning,” said Alex Huang, director of a grid technology center at North Carolina State University. He said that instead of power flowing from a small number of power plants, the smart grid can usher in a system of distributed energy so electricity “will flow from homes and businesses into the grid, neighborhoods will use local power and not just power flowing from a single source.”

There are glimpses of what the future grid might look like.

On the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, the chancellor’s home has been turned into a smart grid showhouse as part of a citywide $100 million demonstration project spearheaded by Xcel Energy. The home has a laptop-controlled electricity management system that integrates a rooftop solar panel with grid-supplied power and tracks energy use as well as equipment to charge a plug-in hybrid electric car.

Florida Power & Light is planning to provide smart meters covering 1 million homes and businesses in the Miami area over the next two years in a $200 million project. Smart meters are being distributed by utilities from California to Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula.

“We’ve got about 70 (smart grid) pilots all over the country right now,” said Mike Oldak, an expert on smart grid at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned power companies.

Center Point Energy, which serves 2.2 million customers in the metropolitan Houston area, expects to spend $1 billion over the next five years on smart grid. Residential customers are seeing an additional $3.24 a month on their electric bills, but Center Point says that should be more than offset by energy savings.

An Energy Department study projects energy savings of 5 percent to 15 percent from smart grid.

“This pays for itself through efficiency and demand reduction and if you don’t look at it from that perspective you won’t get your money back,” said Thomas Standish, group president for regulated operations at Center Power Energy.

The cost and payback have some state regulators worried.

“We need to demonstrate to folks that there’s a benefit here before we ask them to pay for this stuff,” says Frederick Butler, chairman of New Jersey’s utility commission and president of NARUC, the national group that represents these state agencies.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said the current grid stands in the way of increasing the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar that “will need a system that can dispatch power here, there and everywhere on a very quick basis.”

But Chu and others also worry about security. “If you want to create mischief one very good way to create a great deal of mischief is to actually bring down a smart grid system. This system has to be incredibly secure.”

And there is the issue of intrusion.

“Is the average consumer willing to pay the upfront costs of a new system and then respond appropriately to price signals? Or will people view a utility’s ability to reach inside a home to turn down a thermostat as Orwellian?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said at a recent hearing on smart grid.