Monthly Archives: April 2013

Proprety Assessed Clean Energy act- PACE

The Arkansas legislative session is winding down and there is not a lot to crow about environmentally speaking. One bright spot however is the passage of Act 1074 which will provide a novel method to finance energy efficiency projects in Arkansas. The bills leading to enactment were sponsored by Senator Johnson (D) Little Rock and Representative Leding (D) Fayetteville.

Assuming Arkansas is like the rest of the United States, about half of all the energy and three quarters of the electrical energy used goes into buildings. Acts, ordinances, etc. which lead to energy efficiency in buildings can go a long way to save energy, lower costs, and lessen the use of fossil fuels which drive global warming.  Act 1074, called the Property Assessed Clean Energy act or PACE is a bond financed program that allows a person or business to finance energy efficiency projects through inclusion of costs in a property tax assessment.

The act enables government such as cities, counties or combinations thereof to form Energy Improvement Districts which can sell bonds to finance projects. A property owner identifies a project that will save energy or water or create clean renewable energy. The improvement district then gives the property owner money to finance the project. The property owner repays the district through a property assessment tax over a defined period of time. Because the improvement is to the property, it stays with the property so if the original owner sells before the end of the assessment, the new owner continues to pay off the project.

A number of energy efficiency projects come to mind: Increased insulation, more efficient window windows with low-E glass, solar hot water systems, projects which reduce water consumption, more efficient heating and cooling systems such as ground source heat pumps.Projects which actually produce clean energy are also funded: Photo voltaic panels, micro hydro projects, wind turbines and biomass energy are all included.

Here is an example of how it could work. A homeowner with an older house decides to insulate the walls and attic, and replace the windows. The total cost of the project is 10,000 dollars. She goes the Energy Improvement district and receives 100 per cent financing. The cost is repaid over twenty years through a property tax assessment. Generally the savings in utility costs will cover or even exceed the annual fee. If she sells her home before twenty years the buyer assumes the assessment, just as they assume the energy savings from the energy improvement.

PACE benefits the local community by creating a cleaner, greener environment. Local businesses that supply the equipment will see increased sales. Installers will have more work and create jobs for skilled tradesmen and unskilled labor alike.

The best way to save money and the environment comes through energy efficiency. Reduced use of electricity means lower costs but also less burning of coal and natural gas. This is a win, win, win situation. This act will save the property owners money, create business opportunities and jobs for the community, clean the air, and cool the planet. As we approach Earth Day remember: Think globally, act locally.

Mayflower Oilspill and its Connection to the Keystone XL Pipeline

The ruptured pipeline and the expanding environmental disaster in Mayflower, Arkansas has a back story that began in Athabasca, Alberta. First the local story. To date Exxon has removed about a half a million gallons of a crude oil/water mixture from the area. News photos show that not only has the oil fouled numerous homes in the area but also run into nearby wooded areas and Lake Conway. Several families were evacuated, and clean-up of the affected neighborhood may take months or more.



If that was all to the story it would be bad enough, but the source of the crude oil adds a much larger degree of environmental degradation in Canada and a greater risk of degradation here in the United States. The oil flowing through (or out of) the pipeline in Mayflower began as a tarry substance known as bitumen. The stuff could only be described as a relative of crude oil. It is thick as cold molasses and is commingled with sand in vast beds in Northeastern Alberta, Canada.

Production of crude oil from the sands begins with a huge strip mining operation. The gunk is excavated and then trucked to processing facilities where it is heated with steam to lower the viscosity so it can be separated from the sand and clay. It is still too viscous to send through a pipeline so the bitumen is chemically processed with hydrogen.

The total process from strip mining, steam heating, and hydrogenation requires a large amount of energy and local environmental degradation , making this source of crude oil costly and inefficient. In fact this whole process would be near impossible were it not for a source of natural gas to provide energy for the processing. It makes one wonder why we just don’t buy the natural gas, instead of the oil resulting from the process?

The processed crude oil then makes its way through a network of pipes including the Exxon pipeline in Mayflower, to refineries in the midwest and gulf coast region. A measure of just how inefficient the production and shipment of the oil can be seen in a calculation called the EROEI, or the energy returned on energy invested. The higher the ratio the more efficient the process. For the tar sands the ratio is less than three to one.

The production of fossil fuels as an energy source is absolutely and completely dependent on the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI). If it takes more energy to obtain a fossil fuel than the fossil fuel delivers on use, then it is not an energy source. It is a waste of energy.

Consider the EROEI of some other fuel sources. In the earlier decades of the 20th century, the EROEI for crude oil in the U.S. was close to 100:1, that is to say one barrel of oil invested in exploration/production produced about 100 barrels of oil. Conventional crude oil today has an EROEI of about 20:1. Compare this to the EROEI for tar sands at less than 3:1.

Paraphrasing a late-night infomercial, BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Lower EROEIs mean greater amounts of greenhouse gases emitted for useful energy produced. Fuels such as natural gas have relatively low greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional crude oil, which has less than coal. The low EROEI means that bitumen processing and use makes it as bad as coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, a lot of water is required to process the tar sands. Roughly 5-10 barrels of potable water are converted to oil fouled waste for each barrel of oil produced. Although there are tar sands in Utah and thereabouts, the resource may never be extracted due to the lack of process water.

The tar sands of Alberta is the raison d’etre for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which will be ten times the size of the ruptured pipeline in Mayflower. We really don’t need the additional pipeline capacity, it causes environmental degradation where it is extracted, and has the potential for more damage due to spills such as is occurring here, and its use will greatly contribute to global warming.

High Voltage Direct Current Power Transmission

Wind generated electricity is about the cheapest and certainly the fastest growing source of energy in the United States, maybe the world. Currently there is an excess of wind power to our west but few consumers in the area. The capacity to move the clean sustainable wind generated electricity from the plains where it is abundant to other areas where the people are limits it utilization.

Both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Plains and Eastern Clean Line have held meetings in Arkansas and Oklahoma to introduce the public to a proposed 750 mile electric transmission line which may be constructed over the next few years. This power line will move wind generated electricity from the plains to southeastern states. Of the several proposed corridors, all pass through Pope county somewhere between just north of Russellville to north of Dover. The transmission line terminates at Memphis. Wherever possible they will follow established rights-of-way to minimize disturbance to land owners.

The transmission line was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last year to move electric power from the plains- Northwest Texas, Northwest Oklahoma, and Southwest Kansas to consumers in the southeastern United States, basically the Tennessee Valley Authority.

One interesting feature of this power line is the employment of direct current transmission. One usually thinks of direct current (DC) as the type of electricity utilized in devices with batteries such as cell phones or flashlights. On the other hand alternating current (AC) is the stuff of home wiring. Virtually all transmission lines in the country are AC, but technological advances now make DC line transmission more cost effective. High voltage power moved over three hundred miles is now better done with direct current.

The high voltage direct current (HVDC) line which when complete can move 3.5 Gigawatts electric at 500 kilovolts. To put this in perspective this is enough transmission capacity to deliver the energy equivalent of about four nuclear reactors or enough electricity to power over one million homes. Little to none of this power will be “dropped off” in Arkansas for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is we don’t need it, at least right now. The other is the expense to step down and transform the HVDC to lower voltage AC so that it is compatible with our grid.

The transmission line is all about the future of electricity in the United States. A big issue of our energy future is the need to convert to cleaner sustainable energy sources but transmission and storage are impediments.

Midwestern wind power is a big part of our energy future. Theoretically electricity generated from wind farms from the Canadian border to Texas could power the whole country. It won’t because there is wind elsewhere such as the coastal areas, and of course there are other sustainable energy sources. The point is we have an abundance of clean energy potential. The future is bright and will be lit with wind, solar and other types of sustainable energy.