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World’s largest solar plant wins key approval

World’s largest solar plant wins key approval

Thu, Sep 16 2010

By Sarah McBride

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The world’s largest solar power plant cleared an important hurdle on Wednesday, laying the groundwork for a dramatic expansion in solar energy generation in the United States and around the world.

The proposed $6 billion-plus Blythe, California plant, originally proposed by Chevron Corp. and Solar Millennium AG, won clearance to build from the California Energy Commission.

The plant has a capacity of 1,000 megawatts. By comparison, for all of last year, the U.S. installed about 481 megawatts of solar energy, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. The largest solar plants to date are in the 200-350 megawatt range.

The Blythe plant essentially groups four 250-MW plants, with the first slated to start generating electricity in 2013. The total pricetag is estimated at north of $6 billion.

On Wednesday, Solar Millennium said it and Ferrostaal AG were the sole two co-developers, working through a U.S. joint venture, Solar Trust of America LLC. Chevron Corp. maintained it was still a co-developer through Chevron Energy Solutions.

The commission said it had received no word that Chevron had dropped out. Although Chevron is still listed as a developer on the commission’s website, it didn’t mention Chevron in its press release about the approval.

The developers have already struck an agreement with Southern California Edison, which has said it will purchase the full capacity of the first two plants.

The plant will make electricity by using mirrors to heat a fluid that generates steam, which expands through steam turbine generators. The technique is known as parabolic trough technology.

It is one of nine proposed California solar plants that federal and state regulators are trying to evaluate by the end of the year.

Solar plants that begin construction before December 31 qualify for a Treasury Department grant totaling 30 percent of a project’s cost, as part of last year’s economic stimulus package.

Building Blythe would create up to 1,004 construction jobs, a spokeswoman for Solar Millennium says. Unemployment in the area slated for the plant is above the state average of 12.35, commissioners said during a meeting Wednesday.

If all nine fast-tracked plants win approval and are constructed, they will create an additional 4,300 megawatts of solar power. But the bulk of the plants won’t start generating energy until 2013.

For Blythe, the developers still need final approval from the Bureau of Land Management for use of public lands. The BLM is scheduled to rule on the matter toward the end of next month.

To win the most favorable financing from outside investors, the developers must also secure a Department of Energy loan.

The DOE is currently evaluating the Blythe plant’s proposal, including its engineering and financial models.

Having the DOE approval “really lowers the risk to the eventual lender,” says Burt Chao, an analyst at Simmons & Co. “The government’s pretty thorough in vetting these projects.”

The DOE, which has a large backlog of applications, is reviewing them “as quickly and efficiently as possible,” says Julie Offner, a DOE loan-guarantee analyst.

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September 17, 2010 at 2:47 PM Leave a comment

Oil spill waste raises concerns in the gulf

Even though BP‘s busted well has stopped spewing oil, the disaster is still generating tons of soiled boom and other oily waste that federal and state laws allow to be buried at specially designated dumps, some near residential neighborhoods.

Officials in one Mississippi area, however, raised concerns about the magnitude and safety of the oil spill waste being buried nearby. On Thursday, Harrison County officials blocked it from being dumped in their community — potentially opening the door for others in the region to do the same.

County supervisors voted in June to stop BP from dumping waste at subcontractor Waste Management Inc.‘s Pecan Grove landfill in Pass Christian, Miss. When Waste Management balked, the county board commissioned independent testing of the waste and subpoenaed the company’s test results that reportedly showed it was not hazardous.

But rather than prolong the dispute, BP and Waste Management decided to stop dumping at Pecan Grove. The county, however, has continued with its waste testing and results are pending, said Tim Holleman, the county board’s attorney.

“Ultimately, I think people will raise the same issue elsewhere,” Holleman said.

A BP spokesman confirmed the agreement but defended the company’s waste management plan.

“This is industrial waste, and it’s suitable for industrial landfills,” said BP spokesman Mark Proegler. “If the localities have concerns about that, we’re certainly willing to talk with them.”

Spill waste is hauled from beaches and the ocean to more than 50 regional storage sites in all four gulf states, where it is packaged for shipment to recyclers, liquid waste processors and landfills. So far the spill has generated about 35,600 tons of solid waste.

In Louisiana, the formerly abandoned Grand Isle Shipyard has been transformed into a waste storage site, where about 150 workers pump oil from skimmer boats into storage tanks. More than 7.7 million gallons of oily liquid waste have been collected. At the docks, workers dump plastic bags of oily debris into dozens of dumpsters.

The sprawling operation is indicative of the cleanup industry that has grown out of the nation’s worst oil spill disaster. The now-capped well was spewing as many as 60,000 barrels of oil a day since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

“Typically with a spill you’d have a bell-shaped curve where you deploy the boom, recover it and go home,” said Joe Kramer, project manager with BP subcontractor Miller Environmental Services Inc. “It’s more of an ongoing operation here.”

Waste samples are tested at storage sites by BP subcontractors to ensure they are, by law, nonhazardous. Much oil industry waste is not considered hazardous under a 1980 exemption carved out of the federal law.

Oil waste can be dumped in industrial-graded landfills, which are more strictly monitored than municipal dumps but not as isolated or restricted as hazardous waste sites.

“These are the type of facilities you want this waste to go to,” said Sam Phillips, solid waste permits administrator for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. “If something goes wrong, there are things we can do to prevent it from getting into a drinking-water aquifer.”

Members of the Gulf Coast congressional delegation said they intended to hold BP accountable for the health and safety of communities where spill waste was dumped.

“Gulf Coast residents have a right to be concerned about the waste placed in their landfills, and BP and its agents should do everything they can to work with local officials to address these concerns,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) after a trip to spill-affected areas this month.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said tests by BP and her agency had shown that oil spill waste was not hazardous.

“The constituents of most of it are industrial waste, not hazardous, man-made chemicals, and it’s testing that way,” said Jackson, a chemical engineer by training. To reassure residents, Jackson ordered more EPA testing last month and required BP to release more information about waste testing, tracking and disposal.

But many gulf residents still worry.

“Anything that’s man-made can fail,” Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner, a Mississippi lawmaker, said of the landfills. “The rig shows us that.”

Source: LA Times

July 30, 2010 at 10:02 AM Leave a comment

Gulf spill lacks societal punch of Santa Barbara

WASHINGTON — In 1969, Sen. Gaylord Nelson was so moved after seeing the devastation of an oil spill off the California coast near Santa Barbara that he called for a national teach-in on the environment. The following year the resulting “Earth Day” kick-started the modern environmental movement and shaped the way Americans thought about their air, water and soil.

Forty years later, the magnitude of the Gulf oil spill far exceeds Santa Barbara’s spill of up to 100,000 barrels, but there hasn’t been a comparable societal transformation.

Last week, legislation imploded in the Senate to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, derailing environmentalists’ top goal, and no national consensus has emerged to move America off oil and other fossil fuels into clean energy. Even a new more modest Senate bill, aimed at boosting energy efficiency and preventing oil spills, faces an uncertain future.

Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat who had long championed the environment, laid out the idea of a teach-in during a speech in Seattle. He wrote the speech on napkins while flying there, recalls his daughter, Tia Nelson.

The senator’s call inspired the first Earth Day, with millions participating across the country, including 2,000 college campuses and 10,000 elementary and high schools. Congress adjourned so lawmakers could give speeches. In 1970, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act into law.

Worries about air pollution, the dangers of DDT and polluted rivers from industrial wastes played a part. But the Santa Barbara spill was the catalyst. It “triggered a social movement and helped to create a new politics, the politics of ecology,” mystery novelist Ross Macdonald once wrote.

In contrast, President Barack Obama last month used an Oval Office speech to push for clean energy, but Republicans accused him of trying exploit the Gulf tragedy for political gain. The president took it from both sides, as some liberal commentators faulted him for failing to specifically back a cap on carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming.

The Gulf spill is estimated between 94 million and 184 million gallons, far worse than Santa Barbara’s total. But the 10-day spill from a well blowout six miles offshore covered miles of California’s sandy beaches with a thick, oily sludge. Pictures of dead seals, dolphins and thousands of birds captured the nation’s attention.

“Santa Barbara’s psychological effect was huge, and it really got into the American mind in ways that clean air and clean water and other things had a hard time doing because they weren’t personified,” says Oliver A. Houck, who teaches environmental law at Tulane University in New Orleans. “So why hasn’t BP yet had the same transformative effect? When Santa Barbara came along it was a big deal. When BP comes along, there are so many big deals that it has a hard time competing for attention. That said, I think it’s got an enormous national play.”

The Santa Barbara spill featured its own version of Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP who angered people early on with comments such as “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean,” playing down the potential environmental impact.

In February 1969, Fred Hartley, the Canadian-born head of Union Oil Co., which owned the Santa Barbara well, told a Senate hearing in Washington:

“I am always tremendously impressed at the publicity that the death of birds receives vs. the loss of people in our country in this day and age.”

Noting there had been no loss of human lives from the Santa Barbara well blowout, Hartley added, “Relative to the number of deaths that have occurred in this fair city due to crime … it does seem that we should give this thing a little perspective.”

Hartley rejected calls to halt offshore drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, citing arguments similar to those employed by opponents of the Obama administration’s moratorium. Hartley said he told Ronald Reagan, California’s governor then, that it would be like “making a decision to shut down the whole university educational system because there is a riot in San Francisco.”

Lois Capps, now a Democratic congresswoman representing Santa Barbara, was a young stay-at-home mother in 1969 who would often take her two children to the beaches there.

“It shaped my views along with everyone in the region,” she says. “It was such a devastating event. The spill was much closer to the shore, so we felt its impact sooner and more directly than this long, drawn-out affair we’re having in the Gulf.”

Capps says there has been a strong reaction in Congress to the BP Gulf spill, with dozens of hearings and several pieces of legislation making their way through the House and Senate. But it’s too early to draw conclusions about a societal shift, she says.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Capps says. “I think these things build like a tidal wave.”

Gaylord Nelson’s speech calling for a teach-in came eight months after the January 1969 spill, and the resulting Earth Day didn’t take place until more than a year later — April 1970. And it was not until 1981 that Congress imposed a ban on offshore drilling along most of the nation’s coastal waters, an action widely attributed to the memories of the Santa Barbara spill a dozen years earlier. The moratorium endured for a quarter century, until Congress lifted it in 2008.

“I think we’re going to see a really significant response to what happened in the Gulf played out over time,” says Sarah Chasis, ocean initiative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I think it’s going to affect people’s consciousness, thinking, the way they approach issues for a long time.”

There are signs this is starting to happen. An Associated Press poll last month found that 72 percent of Americans rated the environment as extremely important or very important — up from 64 percent in May and 59 percent in April.

Actor Ted Danson, a board member for the international ocean conservation group Oceana, says the focus has until now been stopping the leak.

“I am hopeful. I think the time will come,” Danson says. “Oil is a very, very powerful lobby. And the basic feeling out in the world, and I think mostly created by people whose interests are in oil, is that alternative energy is a very sweet, kind, loving thought, but certainly its day has not come. We need oil.”

James “Bud” Bottoms, a Santa Barbara resident who co-founded “Get Oil Out” in 1969, says the Gulf spill reminded him of those days.

“The same thing happened here,” says Bottoms, now 82. “We stood there on our banks and saw our harbors and beaches black, about two or three inches of thick goo. We stood here and cried along our beach. We thought our lives were over here in Santa Barbara.”

Bottoms penned a children’s book in 1969 called “Davey and the GOM,” which wasn’t published until 2008. “GOM” stands for “Giant Oil Monster.”

It’s also the acronym the offshore drilling industry and government regulators use for something else: The Gulf of Mexico.

Source: MSNBC

July 30, 2010 at 9:55 AM Leave a comment

Good News for Gulf Fishermen

In response to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government closed off vast areas of the ocean to fishing operations. Much of the area was closed off as a precaution, even if it was minimally touched by the spreading oil, to avoid a public health disaster from contaminated seafood. The good news is that about one-third of that closed off area has just been reopened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the 26,388 square miles to be reopened, no oil has been observed for the past thirty days.

According to agreed-upon protocol, this decision was made after consulting with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Gulf states to determine public health concerns. The conclusion was that the water is sufficiently clean and the fish are safe to eat.

The US Coast Guard has been doing fly-overs for the past thirty days and have seen no traces of oil in the reopened area. Scientific models also show the trajectory of the existing oil contamination moving away from the area. Plus, NOAA has caught fish from the area and tested them. The results showed no sign of contamination.

“Today’s decision is good news for Gulf fishermen and American consumers,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “Following the best science for this re-opening provides important assurance to the American people that the seafood they buy is safe and protects the Gulf seafood brand and the many people who depend on it for their livelihoods.”

The reopened area is located southeast of the former Deepwater Horizon rig. It stretches north to south along the west Florida shelf in the Gulf. The closest it comes to the former rig location is 190 miles.

NOAA had originally banned fishing in as much as 37 percent of the entire Gulf of Mexico. With the recent reopening, there still remains 57,539 square miles of the Gulf still closed off. NOAA will continue to test the fish and have set up dockside tests for commercial catches from the reopened area to ensure quality. They will also continue to monitor the closed-off areas, and open them back up to fishermen as soon as they are deemed safe.

According to the EPA, the Gulf’s commercial fish and shellfish harvest is roughly 1.3 billion pounds and was worth approximately $661 million in 2008. The shrimp harvest alone is 188.8 million pounds, worth about $367 million per year. These totals have been significantly reduced due to the BP Deepwater Horizon rig disaster. The announcement is sure to be most welcome to the Gulf fishing industry as it struggles to get back onto its feet.

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July 30, 2010 at 9:47 AM Leave a comment

Oil-eating Whale or ‘white elephant’?

The fancifully named A Whale, a seagoing behemoth converted into what its owners are calling the world’s biggest oil skimmer, is being billed as a cleanup hitter in the effort to prevent millions of gallons of oil spewing from BP’s ruptured well from ever reaching shore.

TMT, the Taiwanese company that owns the massive ship, estimates that it can suck as much as 500,000 barrels of oily water a day through its “jaws” — six ports cut into each side near its bow — and remove much of the crude through a “decanting” process using internal separation tanks.

“In the final stage, the filtered water can be returned to the ocean while the heavy oil residue is transferred to tankers for storage and final disposition,” TMT says in promotional materials outlining what it calls “the best solution to the Gulf of Mexico spill crisis.”

It will float across the Gulf “like a lawnmower cutting the grass,” effectively doubling the skimming capability of the oil response effort, CEO Nobu Su told reporters last week in Norfolk, Va., during a stopover at which company officials revealed what they hope will be the A Whale’s new mission.

But before the 1,115-foot-long ship with the big blue whale on funnel has even undergone testing, some experts are questioning whether it can fulfill those lofty expectations.

“I don’t think the concept is that bad, but I don’t see how in this situation it’s going to be a significant player,” said Dennis Bryant, a former Coast Guard officer who worked on implementing regulations required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 before retiring and starting a maritime consulting business in Gainesville, Fla.

“In a case like the Exxon Valdez spill, where you had a lot of oil on the surface in a confined area, a vessel like this could have gone in and sucked up a whole lot,” he said. “But in the Gulf, where the oil is pretty well dispersed over a vast area, I don’t see how it’s going to make a large dent.”

For More click HERE

July 2, 2010 at 1:38 PM Leave a comment

BP’s new plan risks worsening oil spill

Reporting from Los Angeles and New Orleans — — BP’s plan to sever a leaking pipe as part of an effort to cap its runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico could increase flow by as much as 20%, and the oil giant has no remedy to stop up the well until August, Obama administration and company officials said Sunday.

The risky maneuver, part of an attempt to contain the gusher and divert the oil through a pipe to the surface, could begin Monday or Tuesday.

Administration and BP officials on Sunday sought to shift attention from last week’s failed attempt to choke the well by focusing on expectations that a new cap could divert much of the leaking oil from the fragile ecosystem of the gulf.

But behind those assurances was the frank admission that the disaster response has fallen back to containment and surface cleanup, not closure, until a relief well reaches the gushing well bore in August and enables engineers to install cement plugs.

“We’re now going to move into a situation where they’re going to attempt to control the oil that’s coming out, move it to a vessel, take it onshore,” White House energy advisor Carol Browner told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Obviously that’s not the preferred scenario. We always knew that the relief well was the permanent way to close this.… Now we move to the third option, which is to contain it.”

Browner and BP Managing Director Bob Dudley said a tighter fit and use of warm fluids could prevent a repeat of the first containment effort, which was clogged when methane hydrates congealed inside a containment dome, blocking the flow to the surface and making the dome buoyant.

“If it’s a snug fit, then there could be very, very little oil. If they’re not able to get as snug a fit, then there could be more,” Browner said of the new cap. “We’re going to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Dudley, in his round of appearances on Sunday’s talk shows, expressed greater confidence in the new cap.

“We feel like the percentages are better that we’ll be able to contain the oil,” he told Fox News. “The question is how much of the oil will we be able to contain and the objective is to try to collect the majority through this vessel.”

At the administration’s insistence, Browner said, BP is drilling a second relief well in case the first fails to reach the well. The drilling could have the same challenges that the blown-out well faced — loose formations that caused a loss of drilling fluid, and at least one case of a pipe segment getting stuck, along with expensive instruments inside it, that had to be abandoned, according to BP documents.

In BP’s new effort, robots would use a diamond saw to cut the leaking and crumbled riser pipe cleanly from atop the failed blowout preventer and then install a cap to allow much of the oil to be pumped up to a ship on the surface.

Dudley told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the pipe was not restricting much flow, so severing it should not greatly increase the volume of oil spouting from the well.

“There may be a small increase,” he said. “But we should not expect to see a large increase, if any, by cutting this off and making a clean surface for us to be able to put this containment vessel over it.”

Dudley said on ABC’s “This Week” that BP “learned a lot” from the earlier containment failure, and this time it plans to pump warm seawater and methanol down the pipe to prevent the gases from freezing.

Browner said on CBS that Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a team of scientists on Saturday essentially put a halt to BP’s attempt to cap the spewing well with a process known as “top kill,” which injected drilling mud and other materials to try to counter the upward pressure of the oil. The administration team worried the increasing pressure from injecting heavy drilling mud could worsen the leak.

Drilling experts have warned that high-pressure injections could cause a catastrophic collapse of well pipes and leave an open crater that would be impossible to cap.

Asked whether U.S. officials told BP to stop the three-day-long top kill attempt, Browner said, “We told them of our very, very grave concerns” that it was dangerous to continue building up pressure in the well.

Meanwhile, BP chief Tony Hayward, on a tour of a company staging area in Venice, La., sought to refute multiple reports from scientists that vast plumes of oil from the spill are spreading underwater.

Hayward said BP’s sampling showed “no evidence” that oil was massing and spreading across the gulf water column. “The oil is on the surface,” he said. “Oil has a specific gravity that’s about half that of water. It wants to get to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity.”

Scientists from the University of South Florida, University of Georgia, University of Southern Mississippi and other institutions have detected what they believe are vast swaths of underwater hydrocarbons, including an area about 50 miles from the spill site and as deep as 400 feet.

For More and FULL Article Click HERE

June 3, 2010 at 10:20 AM Leave a comment

Gulf oil spill: BP cuts pipe, clearing way for cap

Robots using giant hydraulic shears finished cutting away the pipe atop a BP well gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, clearing the way for a cap to be placed over the well on Thursday in an effort to contain the 45-day-old spill.

Cutting away the riser pipe is “a significant step forward,” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said at a briefing Thursday morning. “The challenge now is to seal that containment cap over it.”

Robot subs start to cut

Allen said the shears used in the cutting did not give the clean edges that officials had hoped for, which could make it more difficult to fit the cap tightly over the pipe. The shears were used after a diamond-edged saw got stuck Wednesday while cutting through the pipe.

“This is an irregular cut. It will be a bit more challenging” to tightly seal the cap over the ragged-edged opening through which oil is gushing, Allen said.

The cap was already suspended over the area and would be lowered into place within hours, he said.

The cap is intended to contain, not stop the flow of oil, but the tighter the cap, the more oil will be contained.

The spill is not expected to be fully controlled until August at the earliest, after two relief wells are completed.

In the meantime, the oil continues to spread, with the upper edge of the spill approaching Florida and 37% of gulf waters closed to fishing.

Hurricane season, which began June 1, poses a major problem to workers trying to finish the relief wells, something Allen acknowledged was a concern. He said officials had to face the possibility that a major storm would force a halt to work on the relief wells.

For article click HERE

June 3, 2010 at 10:11 AM Leave a comment

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