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Midwest Tries to Prove Its Worth as a Green Technology Supplier to Pentagon

The Midwest's strength in manufacturing, battery storage, solar panel production and biofuel development could make it a top contender for military funds.

By Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News

Nov 9, 2011

Five Minnesota-made electric vehicles with rooftop solar panels will soon find homes at Naval bases in Texas and Mississippi.

Manufactured by e-Ride Industries in Princeton, the low-speed vehicles can travel between 40 and 45 miles on a single charge and have the same power as a gasoline-powered small pickup.

E-Ride is among the many Midwest firms vying for business from the Department of Defense for good reason. The DOD has become a major federal funder of green projects, with $1.2 billion spent in 2010 alone. It's also funding research through other initiatives, such as a collaboration with the Department of Energy called the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA-e.

In fact, the military set up a website, DoD Goes Green, just to track all the activity.

Every service branch is participating in green energy procurement and research, according to Phyllis Cuttino of the Pew Project on National Security Energy and Climate.

Released in September, Pew's report "From Barracks to Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America’s Armed Forces" details the armed services push for greener bases, supply chains and more renewable energy and technology for soldiers in battle.

The Pentagon's continued support of greener energy is a potential game-changer because of its enormity. The military spends more than $400 billion on goods and services every year, a good portion of it on new technology.

State Dept's 'Special Review' May Delay Keystone Decision into 2012, or Later

The State Department's Inspector General has opened a "special review" of the department's handling of the pipeline's environmental assessment.

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Nov 7, 2011
State Dept building in DC

The State Department's Inspector General has opened a "special review" of the department's environmental assessment of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, Senator Bernie Sanders said, which could delay the final decision on the line into 2012 or later.

"The State Department inspector general has informed me that it is reviewing the department's handling of an environmental impact study related to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project," Sanders, a Vermont independent, said in a release.

The State Department has said it hopes to decide by the end of the year whether TransCanada Corp's $7 billion Keystone project to ship oil sands crude to the United States can go forward, but has opened the door to a possible delay citing the need for a thorough review.

Sanders, one of the Senate's most liberal members, Democratic Representative Steve Cohen and 12 other Congressional Democrats late last month asked President Barack Obama in a letter to delay a decision on the oil pipeline until the State Department inspector general investigated alleged conflicts of interest over the project.

"The chances of them making a decision before the end of the year are pretty much impossible at this point," a congressional aide familiar with the matter, told Reuters.

Keystone XL Primer: Secrecy Still Shrouds Diluted Bitumen Risks

Many questions but few answers about the substance that would flow through the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

By Marie C. Baca, InsideClimate News

Nov 2, 2011
A handful of Canadian oil sands

The Canadian crude oil that would flow through the Keystone XL pipeline is either the lynchpin of U.S. energy security or the path to certain environmental destruction, depending on whom you talk to. Advocates say there is no evidence that it is any more harmful than other types of oil; critics say there is insufficient evidence that it is safe. There is little information to support either side.

The oil that would flow through the pipeline is known as diluted bitumen, or dilbit, and it has become a lighting rod for controversy in the debate over the pipeline, which would send as much as 830,000 barrels every day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries as far as Texas. The pipeline would cross six states, sometimes passing through environmentally sensitive terrain where spills would be of special concern.

While bitumen has long been refined into oil, regulation of diluted bitumen has been slow to follow. Federal safety officials, for example, don't know precisely which chemicals shippers mix with bitumen to create dilbit. And even industry groups can't say exactly how corrosive dilbit is. Research is spotty and outdated; there have been no independent scientific studies exploring the relationship between dilbit and pipeline corrosion.

Here's a primer on what is—and isn't—known about dilbit.

U.S. May Miss Year-End Goal for Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters

Oct 26, 2011
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The State Department may miss a year-end target to approve TransCanada Corp's Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil sands pipeline, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, risking a further delay to the most important new crude oil conduit in decades.  

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the State Department still hoped to make a decision by the end of this year, which has been its target, but that its highest priority was to carry out a thorough, rigorous review. The decision has already been pushed back once.

A further delay would not only be a blow to TransCanada, it could also prolong a massive gap between U.S. and global oil prices because oil traders are counting on Keystone's 700,000 barrel-per-day capacity to relieve a build-up of crude in the Midwest, which doesn't have enough pipelines to ship growing Canadian output to Gulf Coast refineries for use around the United States.

The ruling, which falls to the State Department because the line crosses national borders, is forcing President Barack Obama into a decision that effectively pits environmental safety against job creation and energy security.

"While we still hope to make a decision by the end of the year, we are first and foremost committed to a thorough, transparent and rigorous review process," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"So we're carefully reviewing all of the information we've received, including the many comments from the public, and will make a decision only after we have weighed all of the facts," the official added.

Nebraska Governor to Call Special Session on Keystone XL Pipeline

The session could lead to a change in the pipeline's route away from Nebraska's Sand Hills region and the Ogallala Aquifer.

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Oct 24, 2011
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman

Nebraska's governor will call a special session of the state's legislature over TransCanada Corp's proposed oil sands pipeline that would cross ecologically sensitive areas in his state, an aide said.

Governor Dave Heineman does not oppose the Canada-to-Texas pipeline outright but wants TransCanada to change the route away from Nebraska's Sand Hills region, which sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest sources of water for farms in the central United States.

If Nebraska succeeds in changing the route for the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline, it could add delays for the project. The pipeline would take oil sands crude from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries, and potentially to its ports for export.

New Analysis of Global Temperature Record Confirms the World Is Warming

The key issues that skeptics claim are exaggerating the evidence of global warming are shown to have no effect on world temperature trends.

By Ian Sample, Guardian

Oct 20, 2011
Map from Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study

Climate skeptics' criticisms of the evidence for global warming make no difference to the emerging picture of a warming world, according to the most comprehensive, independent review of historical temperature records to date.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, investigated several key issues that skeptics claim can skew global warming figures and found they had no meaningful effect on world temperature trends.

Researchers at the Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the mid-1950s.

This figure agrees with the estimate of global warming arrived at by major groups that maintain official records on the world's climate, including NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Met Office's Hadley Centre, with the University of East Anglia, in the UK.

"My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly skeptical," Richard Muller, a physicist and head of the Berkeley Earth project, told the Guardian.

TransCanada Offers Nebraska Concessions for Pipeline

by Reuters

Oct 18, 2011
Nebraska State Capitol

OMAHA, Nebraska—TransCanada Corp has offered a $100 million performance bond and other oil spill protection measures to Nebraska legislators in an attempt to reduce opposition to the company's proposed $7 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline.

State lawmakers want TransCanada to move the pipeline route from Nebraska's Sandhills region, which sits atop a massive aquifer from which a large portion of the agriculture-heavy central United States gets its water.

In a letter to the speaker of the legislature on Tuesday, TransCanada executive Alex Pourbaix said the company cannot make changes to the right-of-way so late in the review process, but is prepared to offer a host of other protections for the environmentally sensitive area.

TransCanada would put up a $100 million performance bond it would make available to the state if the company does not clean up a spill in the Sandhills area.

Among other measures, it would build a concrete containment structure at a pump station to stop any oil from mixing with surface water in the event of a spill, as well as install a pipe coating made of concrete or other materials in areas where the water table is close to the surface.

TransCanada Says Keystone XL Pipeline Route Unlikely to Change

A TransCanada official said a different route is likely out of the question because it would delay the pipeline for several years.

By Reuters

Oct 12, 2011
The proposed route of the Keystone XL

The controversial proposed path of the TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline across Nebraska is unlikely to change, company officials said Tuesday.

Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president of energy and oil pipelines, and Robert Jones, a TransCanada vice president who would be in charge of constructing the pipeline, met in Norfolk, Nebraska with four Nebraska state senators.

"We understand that the best solution from your perspective is to move the route. We don't believe that is an option for us," Pourbaix said.

"But there are things we can do together to improve the situation and add to your comfort level."

The project would cut across a corner of Nebraska's environmentally fragile Sandhills and the water-rich Ogallala Aquifer. Opposition to the route has swelled in recent months. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman asked the U.S. State Department last week whether the state can pass and enforce its own pipeline siting law.

New Zealand Oil Spill Seen as Potential Environmental Catastrophe

Oil leaking into the sea off the Tauranga coast has increased by as much as ten-fold, raising fears that New Zealand could face an environmental crisis.

By Toby Manhire, Guardian

Oct 11, 2011
Tauranga Coast

AUCKLAND, New Zealand—Fears that New Zealand could face a large-scale environmental crisis have escalated as the oil leaking from the container ship Rena into the sea off the Tauranga coast increased by as much as ten-fold.

The news came as the vessel's remaining crew were evacuated following a mayday alarm amid heavy swells.

The New Zealand environment minister, Nick Smith, said the fresh release of oil into the sea meant the Rena spill was the country's most serious ever maritime environmental disaster.

Speaking at a media conference on Tuesday afternoon, he said the consequences had been "inevitable" since the ship ploughed into the Astrolabe reef in calm waters in the North Island Bay of Plenty last Wednesday morning.

A new rupture to one of the ship's main fuel tanks released between 130 and 350 tons of heavy oil into the water, according to officials who conducted a flyover of the freighter. More than 1,600 tons of fuel remain aboard. The fresh damage was caused after the ship's hull dragged in heavy winds and swells of up to four meters.

The continuing movement of the hull has raised fears that the 47,000-ton vessel could break up, triggering an environmental and ecological catastrophe. The mayday alarm and evacuation by helicopter of the remaining crew early on Wednesday added to speculation that the vessel might be close to fracture.

U.S. Venture Aims to Improve Wind Energy Forecasting and Save Billions

NOAA and DOE have deployed more than a dozen wind detection instruments across the Midwest to measure the economic value of improved forecasting.

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

Oct 7, 2011

If the weather report says it's supposed to be sunny and breezy tomorrow, do you trust that forecast enough to plan a picnic or hike?


But what if instead of a soggy lunch or wet boots, the efficiency and reliability of the region's electricity grid was at risk?

Those are the stakes that grid operators face around the clock as they incorporate wind power into the system.

Wind is a variable energy source, which means, unlike coal or gas plants, grid operators never know precisely how much power wind farms will generate at a given time. They depend on weather forecasts to estimate how much power turbines will produce in the hours and days ahead.

Those forecasts are critical for getting the most value—economic and environmental—out of wind energy. A grid operator needs to trust a forecast before it will shut down or reduce generation at more expensive and polluting fossil fuel plants.

"If grid operators have more confidence in our weather forecasts, they'll be able to avoid burning excessive fossil fuels," says Melinda Marquis, a renewable energy program manager with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

That's why NOAA recently partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy on a study called the Wind Forecast Improvement Project, which will attempt to measure the economic value of improved forecasting to the energy industry.