Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Second Hundred Lorson Energy Years

We said at the very first of these energetic blogs that the Lorson entry into the energy field as a business started in October of 1908. The original company (parent to a number of offspring) is still in business – Submetering electricity in New York City.

In the second month of our second century we thought it might be interesting – and illuminating – (no pun)- to hear again the speech given by Thomas Edison on October 3, 1908 at the opening of the New York Electrical Show. Perhaps it is no accident that the start of the Lorson Energy Enterprises started in that same month and same year.

Edison’s words:

“Ladies and Gentlemen:
“Those of us who began our life labors at the operative speed fifty years ago have been permitted to see and assist in the whole modern industrial development of electricity. Since the remarkable experiments of Morse in 1844 and the unsuccessful efforts of Fields in 1858, there have come with incredible rapidity one electrical art after another so that in practically every respect civilization has been revolutionized.

“It is still too early to stand outside these events and pronounce final judgment on their lasting value. But, we may surely entertain the belief that the last half of the nineteenth century was as distinct in its electrical inventions and the results as the first half was in relation to speed.

“When I look around at the resources of the electrical field today, I feel that I would be glad to begin again my work as an electrician and inventor. And we bumpkins can only urge upon successors, the younger followers of Franklin and Calvin, to realize the measure of their opportunities and to rise to the height of their responsibilities in this day of electricity.”
As with so many of this inventions and discoveries, these words are as applicable today as they were when our corporate founder first heard them.

Oh, we said “hear again.” Well, as further testament to the genius of Edison, we can still hear him deliver this speech because he recorded it on an Edison Gold Moulded cylinder for use at the time and for posterity.

And so we go forward with the lessons of the past burned clearly in our collective memory and see with the help of Edison’s visions the essential truths that must be explained and delivered to a people only partly informed about the need for truly clean energy and its careful use for the protection of humanity.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Supreme Court Helps EPA Join the Movement

Permit us to reverse the order of an old quotation thus:

“The wheels of justice grind exceeding fine, but they grind slow.”

Sometimes exceeding slow, as in the decision of the United States Supreme Court in a decision that took 10 years to reach puberty.

The story starts in 1999 when a group of environmental and clean-energy organizations filed a rulemaking petition asking the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, primarily CO2, from new motor vehicles, citing the Clean Air Act.

The EPA after public discussion got around to denying the petition in 2003. They took four years to decide to do nothing!

The petitioner organizations plus a few states and local governments took the EPA’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. which, in a 2-1 decision, denied the petition for review.
Fortunately the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the importance of the case and granted a petition for certiorari thereby, according to the New York Law Journal, “setting the stage for the nation’s first authoritative ruling on global warming under the Clean Air Act.”

To the satisfaction of environmentalists world over the Court found in favor of the petitioners and that EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and further that EPA’s “denial of the petition to do so was arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the law.”

This decision was rendered in April 2007. The date of this writing is April. 2009. Experts said at the time of the decision that EPA had plenty of remaining “wiggle room” and that strict enforcement of motor vehicle clean emissions was clearly going to be “downstream.”

Doesn’t it make one wonder back to the time when Big Autos – GM-Ford-Chrysler all decided not to compete with the Japanese small cars because the cost to retool would have created lasting damage to the industry?

Well, big auto makers – how are Toshiba and Yamaha and Nissan and Mitsubishi doing? Have they needed big money bailouts from their government?

One must conclude, to be honest, that EPA is in no hurry to force Big American Autos to clean up their act – So it’s up to the president to push FERC to push EPA-

Once Again – Let’s Go Mr. President

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Little Water, Big Energy

Big Government in the Way

When one hears the word Hydropower it’s natural to visualize a huge structure like the Hoover Dam or waterfalls like ones at Niagara, New York and Canada. No question these are impressive and provide literally tons of power.

But let’s take a look at some items that are a lot smaller but with the potential of providing literally More Tons of Power. They’re also hydropower. And they’re right in your back yard.
Actually the major hydroelectric dams, larger than 30 MW (that’s 30,000 kilowatts) make up only about eight (8%) percent of the total hydro power plants in the U.S. That’s according to the Hydroelectric Power Resources Database.

So where are the other 83%? They are low or small hydro power, from under 1 MW to 30 MW. And it’s in the small unit area that progress is stymied due to (1) a general public misunderstanding of the dynamics of hydropower and (2) government over-handling of the process by which permission to build and operate plants is given.

INL (Idaho Lab’s Water Energy Program) released a study in 2006 that showed 130,000 stream reaches around the continent suitable for projects between 10 kilowatts (KW) and 30 MW. INL estimated that even considering technological and environmental limitations, these projects could increase U.S. hydropower generation by more than 50% - How much coal and oil would that replace? Perhaps 15-20%.

Community Hydro of Plainfield, VT is encouraging developers to use the techniques of submerging weirs (small dams) to raise river water levels to create energy or to excavate power channels that divert water through a power house and back into the moving body of water.
Lori Barg, CEO of Community Hydro says that “obtaining federal and state permits for these projects can add $2,000 PER KILOWATT for a small hydro system, a figure that she calls ‘a project killer.’”

In Connecticut, Congressman Christopher Murphy has found it necessary to introduce legislation to congress to allow a Connecticut town to operate several dams that would provide power to approximately 2,000 homes – because a company that had the original license did not proceed with the project in the time required.

Further, according to Barg “Obtaining the necessary permits is such a deterrent. It’s important to have regulations, but I find myself going through 12 different agencies just to get a project off the ground. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not allowing Vermont (and all other states) to develop it’s abundant hydro resources.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Protecting the Real Grid

The real “grid” in the United States – the interconnection of the various sources of electricity with the ultimate consumer – is in reality a number of grids connecting thirteen groups of utilities in the United States with five area groups in Canada.

All of these energy sources are divided into three major groups: The Eastern Interconnect (EI), the Western Interconnect (WI) and the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
The WI is comprised of the eleven western states as a single group plus 2 western Canadian Provinces.

The EI is made up of the 37 “eastern” states divided into eleven individual groups of three or four states each and 5 Canadian “eastern” Provinces.

ERCOT covers approximately 70% of the state of Texas.

All of these energy production operations are connected to transmission systems (and ISOs) that deliver power from points of generation to end user. Contrary to popular belief however, there is no direct line from, say New York to California: a kilowatt-hour sent on that path would have to pass through at least five American groups or three Canadian groups to get to the WI where California is located.

There are a number of transmission companies that provide the pathways for power delivery. According to industry experts, each transmission company manages its own systems, and has its own tools for management. Individually they are vulnerable and each one could potentially impact its upstream or downstream neighbors (see 1965 and 2003 “Blackouts”) but there is no single system that could be hacked in order to shut down all the grids at once. To do that, hackers would have to hit a number of systems at the same time.

As we pointed out in our previous blog, “The Nitty Gritty of the Grid” the many North American blackouts of the past 20 years have needed no help from hackers. But we do know that the government, and the Supreme Court, are taking strong action to better control and cleanse the entire use of energy in the United States.

Oh, and let’s not forget where hacking was invented. We have highly detailed charts of the Chinese, Russian, Korea – and the rest of the worlds – grid systems with their interconnections and distributions.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Nitty-Gritty of the Grid

There are times when news reports can scare the living daylights out of you. Like the recent one that says that Chinese and Russian hackers have invaded the US electricity grid and are ready to shut it down in the event of a war.

Well, first of all, there is no single American grid worthy of the name! It has been the continuing concern of energy experts that rules put into effect with the start of deregulation have ignored the physics of the grid.

Former utility executive, John A. Casazza and many other experts have stated that the key error in the new rules was to view electricity as a commodity rather than as an essential service.

Commodities can be shipped from point A through point B to point C, but power shifts affect the entire single machine system (the “national grid”). As a result, increased long-distance trading of electric power would create dangerous levels of congestion on transmission lines where controllers did not expect them and could not deal with them.”

This gets worse when independent producers go on line from random locations determined by economics rather than physics.

CHEER UP: guess what we have? The grid connections in CHINA: the interconnections both AC and DC between the Northeast, North China, East China, Central China, South China and Tibet. We know the sizes, voltages, frequency and interconnections. Hello!

And furthermore, we have analyzed the impact of the electricity grid connection between, - are you ready?- JAPAN and KOREA – on the potential energy network in Northeast Asia (where China is already active).

Returning to our own backyard, it would not be incorrect to say that we haven’t needed hackers to shut down major portions of our “grid.”

In addition to the “big blackouts” of 2003 and 1965, in 1974 a million Canadians lost power; 1977 the famous NYC blackout; 1989 a geomagnetic storm caused Hydro-Quebec to leave 6 million people in the dark for 9 hours; 1991, a powerful windstorm caused power failure affecting 1 million customers from Iowa to Ontario; 1995 A hurricane called Opal killed 59 people and shut down power to 2 million customers across eastern and southern North America; 1996, the Western Intertie (grid) buckled under high summer heat and the resulting cascading power failure hit nine western states and parts of Mexico – 4 million customers without power.

There were many more:
1996 -2 more: Washington, Idaho power out up to 2 weeks
1998-3: California, Central US 4 Million
2000-1; 12 months of regular failures California
2003-3: including the Big One-50 Million
2004: 5 Million, Florida
2005-6; 1.3 Million FL, ½ Million St Louis, Long Island NY
2006-6; Ontario, Delaware, Quebec, Buffalo, Southern Louisiana
2007-5: Missouri, Texas to Atlantic Canada, NYC, ½ Long Island NY Oklahoma to Nebraska over 1 Million
2008-8: California, Quebec, Calgary, Miami, Hurricane Ike 7.5 Million TX to NY
2009-2 : so far – Kentucky, Toronto Hydro


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More of the Clean Water Story

Dam, Dam, Dam...

We have been saying that hydropower can replace much if not all of the fossil fuel consumption in the United States. That’s a pretty tall order and we better have some hard facts to back up that statement.

First of all we must concede that we’re going to need help –from Canada. And that’s going to involve some real diplomacy and statesmanship on both sides of the border. Accordingly our plans must include at least some success in negotiations with the Canadians.

Second, the fossil fuels: these range from the low carbon:hydrogen materials like methane, to natural gas, to heating oil, and liquid petroleum up to materials that are almost pure carbon such as anthracite coal and its brethren. It’s the coal we are after and the removal of its carbon footprint. We can go after the others later.

Now, the revised statistics (in Gigawatts) that apply are as follows:

USA Canada
Total Energy Capacity 982.8 123.8
Total Hydro Capacity 120.0 75.4
Potential Additional Hydro 150.0 234.0

Total Possible Hydro US/Can. 270.0/309.4
Total Coal Capacity 313.2/16.2

While these statistics change from time to time the fact is that between existing and development of the potential hydropower production there would be enough hydro-generated electricity to replace the use of coal in both countries.

At what cost? As we have said, hydropower results from falling water or flowing water (rivers, tidal). Where falling water already exists, as in waterfalls, harnessing the power is much less expensive than building dams.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant cost to build today is $9.9 Billion

The cost to build a coal-fired plant today (not yet clean) is $2 Billion

The cost to build a natural gas-fired plant is slightly less than coal

In 1931 it cost $50 million to build the Hoover Dam – Today’s cost: $690 million!

And no carbon waste to bury, no dust, no nuclear waste to bury – and the cost of fuel is $ZERO!

And they all have to travel through the grid – next stop!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cap and Trade?……Duck and Cover!

They’ve done it again! The fossil boys have once again secured the wool firmly over the eyes of America – Democrat, Republican, Independent and NoParty.

Can’t you just see it? Mr. Oil saying to Mr. Coal, “We got’ em again!” And Mr. Natural Gas saying to Mr. Coal, “We even got Obama and McCain, can you believe it?”

Of course they’re happy. They were given a lease on life by being allowed to buy (as in purchase) the right to continue to pollute and the money they contribute is supposed to go to providing cleaner energy. And there are some reasons why playing a game that won’t show results until 2015 is playing right into their hands. Whose hands? Come on!

Well, what exactly is this Cap and Trade?

It is a process in which the government (EPA) sets certain standards that must be met by certain deadlines. In the case of Greenhouse Gasses (GHG) there are limits that must be met this year, in 2012 and progressive reductions over the years.

The amount of pollution that is released into the atmosphere is measured in billions of tons of carbon dioxide (or equivalent heat-trapping gasses). The cap is a limit on the amount of such release nationally.

As the limits decrease the theory is that pollution will decrease also – dramatically.
Only there is an escape clause that slows down the process – it’s called Trading.

Permits or “allowances” (we call them indulgences) are distributed or auctioned to the polluting offenders in quantities of one allowance per ton of carbon dioxide (or equivalent). The total of allowances, or permits, must be equal to the cap and a polluter can only emit as much carbon as it has allowances for.

The trading comes when a polluter can reduce its carbon output below the then current cap. It may sell (auction) the permits it doesn’t need to other polluters who can’t make the cap. Most recently allowances went at the price of $3.51 per ton in 2009 and a price of $3.05 a ton for a 2012 allowance. The funds produce in this way are supposed to be used for energy efficiency and clean air projects.

Rocket science is not required to see that this is getting to clean air the hard way. And never to 100%.

As one attorney put it, “Companies should have to abide by laws which limit the pollution or shut down. Any company which is producing enough products to cause that pollution is financially able to upgrade their equipment to control what they spill out into the air.”


We have been pleading, begging, shouting even hawking the fact that hydropower is the one true answer to clean energy. With HYDRO there is NO POLLUTION. Even the water used to make electricity can be used again.

The Technology is there. The water is there – and is self-replenishing. The feasibility is there. All that is needed is the will!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Energy Provider of Last Resort

There’s an ominous sounding phrase. Actually it is a guarantee that no matter where or from whom you are purchasing energy you will be assured of delivery – as long as you pay your bill.
The deregulation of electricity followed that of the airlines (1978), telecommunications (1996) and natural gas (1992) as actions that were purported to be ways to reduce the costs of travel, telephone and energy.

As in all new industries, new electric marketing firms sprang up all around the country. Some were subsidiaries of electric utilities. Others were created by individuals or companies with little or no experience in the business of buying and selling of electricity.

The new laws and regulations made it possible for consumers at the retail level to buy their electricity from marketers offering lower rates than those available from the local regulated public utility.

The result was a considerable amount of confusion, especially in areas where the rates from the new marketers tended to increase to levels above those of the local utility and the consumer found that there were penalties for switching back to the utility. This was not universal but occurred often enough to become a matter to be considered by the various regulatory agencies involved.

However, the worst case scenario was when the new marketer (“supplier”) became insolvent or for any other reason could not continue to supply electricity to its customers. What protection was there for the homeowner and businessman whose need for electricity was almost as essential as that for air and water?

Lawmen to the rescue: In all the states, laws or regulations were enacted to protect the consumer against just such situations. The category of Provider Of Last Resort was established and mandated to assume the continued and uninterrupted supply of electricity to any consumer whose supplier failed for any reason to deliver power.

In some states, such as New York, the POLR is the local public utility in each area. In others, specific firms were identified and authorized by the state public utility commission to be available on instant notice as local POLRs. But in all cases the consumer is protected by federal and local laws against loss of electric service due to the failure of a supplier.

While the number of failing suppliers has decreased the POLR has rescued many consumers in the years of deregulation. And the protection remains and will continue.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

From Shining Sea to Land

Facing a global threat of a shortage of clean - drinkable - water, we are looking at where we are in the United States, and where the best ways to go might be.

We reported last time that the United States consumes, on average, some 345 billion gallons of fresh water every day. At the same time the US average daily precipitation is 4.2 trillion gallons. So what’s the problem?

Well, to begin with, water supply and sanitation in the United States face water scarcity (locally), pollution, investment problems, concerns about the cost of water for the poorest and changes in climate.

Rainfall in both variability and intensity is expected, as a result of climate change, to produce more severe droughts and, ironically, more flooding which in turn could cause serious problems for the water supply and most serious consequences for pollution from combined sewer overflowing.

Actually, the US receives enough annual rain/snowfall to cover the entire continental US to a depth of 30 inches of water. This amount is called the United States Water Budget. Of the 30 inches, 21 inches return to the atmosphere by evaporation or by a process called transpiration whereby water passes through trees and grass from roots through to the air. (Example: one tree transpires 50 gallons of water per day).

The eastern half of the country receives quite a bit more rain/snow than the west. This is due in part to the annual rainfall differences between the various states. And this process presents some interesting situations:

The most severe droughts occur in parts of Texas, California, Florida and, to a lesser degree, Georgia. So can it be a coincidence or a happy gift of nature that these drought tendency areas are also on the shores of oceans? Those same oceans that cover 70% of the earth?

In any event, it is no accident that within the next 10 years many coastal areas in the three states mentioned above will be making desalination of seawater a serious portion of their water supply. And further, the technique of membrane technology will be used in steadily increasing measure for groundwater and recycled water treatment as well as use by industries to remove impurities and potentially toxic contaminants in their effluent and for the production of ultra pure water.

And the story of using inactive warships as desalination plants here and anywhere else in the world will be the subject of another blog. Also conservation – more power to the people.