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Scotland Awards Contracts to Make Electricity from Whiskey

Scotland will use the byproducts of its famed whiskey-making industry to create electricity for homes

Kirsty Scott, Guardian

May 5, 2011
The Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland

It is the spirit that powers the Scottish economy, and now whiskey is to be used to create electricity for homes in a new bioenergy venture involving some of Scotland's best-known distilleries.

Contracts have recently been awarded for the construction of a biomass combined heat and power plant at Rothes in Speyside that by 2013 will use the by-products of the whiskey-making process for energy production.

Vast amounts of "draff," the spent grains used in the distilling process, and pot ale, a residue from the copper stills, are produced by the whiskey industry each year and are usually transported off-site.

The Rothes project, a joint venture between Helius Energy and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) will burn the draff with woodchips to generate enough electricity to supply 9,000 homes. It will be supplied by Aalborg Energie Technick, a Danish engineering company. The pot ale will be made into a concentrated organic fertilizer and an animal feed for use by local farmers.

Environmentalists have expressed concern that some of the wood used in the process may not be locally sourced, but say the 7.2 megawatt project — the equivalent output of two large wind turbines — is a good scale and a valuable addition to Scotland's renewables industry.

BP Alaska Deal Seen Pointing to Big Gulf Fine

BP will pay a $25 million civil penalty for its 2006 Alaska oil spills, or over $4,900 per barrel, in the largest such fine to date for an oil accident

Tom Bergin, Reuters

May 4, 2011
Gulf of Mexico, June 2010

BP Plc's $85 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice for oil spills in Alaska in 2006 suggests the government will push for higher than expected fines for the Gulf of Mexico blowout.

 Legal experts said the size of a $25 million penalty levied as part of the deal, when calculated on a per barrel of oil spilled basis, and the DoJ's willingness to invoke a raft of legislation to threaten BP, set a bad precedent for the British oil major.

 "The per barrel calculus is really sort of a way of communicating to the public that the Obama administration is very serious about this stuff," said Zygmunt Plater, Professor of Law at Boston College Law School.

BP has indicated it will face fines of under $5 billion related to the 2010 Gulf disaster, rather than the around $21 billion it could face if it was found guilty of gross negligence, a position that most analysts have accepted.

 However, if the Alaska settlement is a template, BP could end up paying out well in excess of $21 billion, as the spill at Prudhoe Bay in 2006 was dwarfed by the nearly 5 million barrels spewed from BP's ruptured Macondo well last summer.

Seas Could Rise Up to 1.6 Meters by 2100: Study

New international research shows that sea levels could rise by 5 feet by 2100 from warming — a prediction that is above most past scientific estimates

By Alister Doyle, Reuters

May 3, 2011
Greenland Ice Cap

OSLO, Norway—Quickening climate change in the Arctic including a thaw of Greenland's ice could raise world sea levels by up to 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) by 2100, an international report showed on Tuesday.

Such a rise — above most past scientific estimates — would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also, for instance, raise costs of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

"The past six years [until 2010] have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic," according to the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

"In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 meters [2 feet, 11 inches] to 1.6 meters [5 feet, 3 inches] by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution," it said. The rises were projected from 1990 levels.

"Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet contributed over 40 percent of the global sea level rise of around 3 mm per year observed between 2003 and 2008," it said.

Experts Divided Over Safety of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Critics of Indian Point say the NYC suburbs are no place for a nuclear plant, while advocates insist the facility is safe, despite having some seismic risk

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

May 2, 2011

New York City, the nation's most densely populated county, stands just 24 miles downwind from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, making it the closest and largest city to an atomic facility in the United States. 

Now the plant has brought another unwanted distinction to the area. A recent MSNBC investigation based on Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) figures reveals that among the country's 104 nuclear power plants, Indian Point carries the greatest risk of reactor core damage from an earthquake.

NRC maintains that Indian Point and all U.S. nuclear plants were designed to absorb increased risk. "All plants continue to meet their seismic requirements and continue to operate safely," NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell told SolveClimate News.

But in the wake of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station, some New York politicians and environmentalists are demanding a fresh cost-benefit analysis of Indian Point and the carbon-free power it provides. Leading the charge are New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner, whose town sits midway between Indian Point and New York City, and the Ossining, N.Y.-based environmental group Riverkeeper.

Could a disaster similar to the one still unfolding in Japan happen here? the critics ask. Is nuclear power's zero-emissions electricity worth the risk?

Total to Tender for Majority Stake in SunPower

With Total's financial heft behind it, SunPower said solar energy would become competitive with fossil fuels more quickly

Nichola Groom, Reuters

Apr 29, 2011
Solar panels

French energy company Total SA offered to pay up to $1.37 billion for a majority stake in U.S. solar company SunPower Corp, one of the biggest moves ever by an oil and gas giant into the market for renewable energy.

Solar power has been one of the fastest growing energy industries in recent years, but still remains tiny compared with oil, gas and coal because of its higher cost. With Total's financial heft behind it, SunPower said solar energy would become competitive with fossil fuels more quickly.

"It's a vote of confidence from a much larger company and a vote of confidence for the solar industry as a whole," Wedbush analyst Christine Hersey said.

Total will launch a tender offer for up to 60 percent of SunPower's outstanding Class A common shares and 60 percent of its Class B common shares for $23.25 a share.

EPA Examines Gas Well Blowout for Hazardous Substances

EPA has asked Chesapeake Energy to give a "complete accounting" of all the hazardous chemicals released by a gas well that blew out last week

Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Apr 27, 2011

WASHINGTONRegulators said on Tuesday they have asked Chesapeake Energy to give information on any hazardous substances released by a Pennsylvania natural gas well that blew out last week.

The regional U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked for details, including sources of the discharge and the extent of environmental damage.

"We want a complete accounting of operations at the site to determine our next steps in this incident and to help prevent future releases of this kind," said Shawn Garvin, the EPA regional administrator.

The EPA said it requested the information on Friday about fluids used at the well in hydraulic fracturing, which is also known as fracking. Pennsylvania is taking the lead in investigating the blow out (read EPA's letter to Chesapeake).

Chesapeake said it intends to comply with EPA's request and has already communicated with the agency about its response to the incident. Chesapeake is one of the gas producers that voluntarily reveals the fracking fluids it has used at completed wells (see FracFocus, chemical disclosure registry).

Rich Nations' Greenhouse Gas Cuts Canceled Out by Imported Goods

New reseach provides the first global view of how international trade altered national carbon footprints during the period of the Kyoto Protocol

By Duncan Clark, Guardian

Apr 25, 2011
Air pollution in Hangzhou, China

Cuts in carbon emissions by developed countries since 1990 have been canceled out three times over by increases in imported goods from developing countries such as China, according to the most comprehensive global figures ever compiled.

Previous studies have shown the significance of "outsourced" emissions for specific countries, but the latest research, published on Monday, provides the first global view of how international trade altered national carbon footprints during the period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the protocol, emissions released during production of goods are assigned to the country where production takes place, rather than where goods are consumed.

Campaigners say this allows rich countries unfairly to claim they are reducing or stabilizing their emissions when they may be simply sending them offshore relying increasingly on goods imported from emerging economies that do not have binding emissions targets under Kyoto.

U.S. Ethanol Boom Fuels Farmland Price Spike, and Some Fear a Bubble

Farmers have found a source of steady demand for corn. But the conditions may be inflating a bubble, which if bursts could drag farm country into recession

By Kevin Dobbs, Midwest Energy News

Apr 24, 2011
A cornfield

Midwest farmers — and the land on which they rely — have prospered in recent years, even as the U.S. endured a financial crisis and economic recession.

And for better or worse, agriculture has built its good health on the fortunes of energy.

While rising global demand for food — particularly from densely populated and growing countries such as India — gets a chunk of the credit, this newfound prosperity is closely linked to the U.S. government's backing of corn-based ethanol. Farm incomes and farmland values have surged as the ethanol industry emerged and then swelled in the past decade, creating a new form of steady demand for corn and hastening the rise in value of the soil in which it grows.

Additionally, some in farm country are squeezing even more from their land by making swaths of it available for wind turbines, an emerging energy sector.

Activists from 12 Countries Scale Massive Oil Rig to Protest Arctic Drilling

Greenpeace activists occupied the world's second-largest rig on Friday, which is on its way from Turkey to Greenland to explore for oil

John Vidal, Guardian
Apr 22, 2011
Greenpeace activists on the oil-drilling platform Leiv Eiriksson

SARKOY, TURKEY—The fight to stop the global oil industry exploring the pristine deep waters of the Arctic has been dubbed the new cold war, and early on Friday it escalated as environmental activists from 12 countries occupied the world's second largest rig on its way from Turkey to Greenland to drill among the icebergs.

The protesters found the 52,000-ton semi-submersible at around midnight, steaming due west at a stately six knots in the sea of Marmaris, heading for the Dardanelle straits and the open Mediterranean. It took four more hours for Greenpeace to bring in its inflatables and a further 50 minutes in the choppy moonlit sea to intercept it.

Even from three miles away, the Chinese-built mobile rig, which specializes in drilling in extreme environments, looks huge. From 100 feet away in the pale dawn light it is a 15-storey industrial castle, bristling with cranes, derricks, gangways, chains, spars, girders, pipes, helipads and radar. Just 10 years old, it is already rusting and its paintwork is streaked from years of drilling in harsh west African, north Atlantic and Asian waters.

The Greenpeace boats approached the vessel cautiously in the three-foot swell, like fleas to the backside of an elephant. At exactly 5.31 AM, the 11 climbers began to leap on to its hull and headed for a ladder. The plan was to stop the vessel in its tracks not by taking over the bridge, but by radioing the captain and asking politely. Fat chance.

Analysis: A Year After BP Spill, Drilling Risks Linger

The new U.S. safety regulator is handicapped because Congress has yet to pass legislation that would impose higher fines for accidents, Rep. Ed Markey said

Ayesha Rascoe, Reuters

Apr 20, 2011
Deepwater Horizon spill site, July 2010

The worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history spurred federal regulators to overhaul safety rules, but critics say gaps remain that could leave America's coast vulnerable to another disaster. 

A year after BP Plc's underwater Macondo well ruptured and sparked an explosion that killed 11 rig workers and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Interior Department's offshore drilling arm is still rolling out new regulations to address key risks. 

"We do not plan to fail," said Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the new regulatory agency that grew from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which was overhauled after being widely criticized as inept.

After the Obama administration called a months-long full-stop on new U.S. deepwater drilling to review safety rules, regulators have begun issuing permits that include new plans for deepwater operators to have access to spill-containment systems that could cap a runaway well.

Critics say the potential remains for another spill.