Ongoing cold weather in the Northeast United States has caused natural gas prices to spike to their highest levels in over four years. March delivery for natural gas hit $5.58 per million Btu (MMBtu) in early trading on February 5, 2014, a price not seen since early 2010. An unusually cold January complete with multiple snow storms has the region burning through more natural gas than expected. Pipeline constraints have localized prices spiking to a premium – prices serving New York City briefly surpassed $90/MMBtu in the last week of January. The situation was similar in New England, where prices hit $70/MMBtu before falling back again.
With the region consuming high volumes of natural gas to heat homes and businesses, storage levels are 22.5% below where they were a year ago and 16.6% below the five-year average. In fact, consumption has been so high, that since 2005 the five highest days of natural gas consumption all occurred in January 2014. (Related article: Is There Still Opportunity in the Natural Gas Space?)
RECOMMENDED: Cheapest way to heat your home? Four fuels compared.
The country has become used to cheap natural gas from the shale gas revolution over the past four or five years, and the latest flare up in prices has been all but unseen over that timeframe. The low natural gas prices have allowed utilities to switch away from coal to natural gas, which has compounded the problem this winter as more and more generators are burning through gas. ( Continue… )
It makes little sense to be anti-solar energy in this day and age, although it does make sense to do it right. Even solar can be done wrong. Usurping farmland, forest, or pristine desert tortoise habitats for solar should be against the rules.
I was motivated to do this post by a rare, cloudless, 50 degree day in the dead of winter.
If you put grid-tied solar panels on your house to eliminate your electric bill, you may one day be billed for use of the grid anyway. Some solar panel owners are already paying about 25% for use of the grid. That’s because, like natural gas and coal, solar panels are essentially a source of energy (fuel) for an electrical grid,which is only one component of the total cost. Power grids are like roads and sewer lines in that we all have to pay our fair share for their use. I’m OK paying an extra fee for my electric car which pays no gasoline taxes. I’m also OK with temporary government subsidies to test the waters for new technologies. ( Continue… )
Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI) reported a big loss for the fourth quarter of 2013, its eighth straight. The numbers came in lower than many analysts expected and the company continues to struggle amid declining revenues. Arch posted a loss of $0.45 per share with revenues of $719.4 million. Part of the blame, according to Arch, was from a rail outage in the Powder River Basin and “geological” problems in Appalachia, which contributed to lower revenues.
With coal demand slumping, Arch Coal’s stock price has been in freefall since 2011. It closed at $4.01 on February 3, down from the pre-recession highs of $70 per share, and even much lower than $35 per share just three years ago. Arch Coal’s struggles mirror the sector as a whole. Shale gas is increasingly the fuel of choice for utilities as they make the switch away from coal to fire their power plants. In 2013, the coal industry produced only 984 million tons of coal, the first time since 1993 that the industry produced less than one billion tons. (Related article: Why Coal will Remain the Basis of Electricity Generation for Most of the World)
However, the company believes it may be poised for a bit of a comeback. Natural gas prices have more than doubled since their lows nearly two years ago and they have continued on an upward trajectory from the remarkably cold weather in the northeastern United States. Record-low temperatures have led to high demand, and Henry Hub prices have rapidly jumped above $5 per million Btu. And with infrastructure bottlenecks, regional natural gas prices have temporarily spiked far beyond those levels. ( Continue… )
After dumping snow, sleet, and freezing rain on Midwestern states Tuesday, the latest winter storm is bringing another blast of cold to the Eastern Seaboard. A winter storm warning is in effect for Pennsylvania, New York, and much of New England Wednesday, with states expected to receive anywhere from a few inches to a foot of snow.
RECOMMENDED: Cheapest way to heat your home? Four fuels compared.
This year's early string of winter storms has sapped the home energy assistance funds used to aid low-income households with utility payments during peak heating or cooling periods. State and local officials are supplementing federal aid with emergency dollars of their own and calling on President Obama to increase funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the nation's primary source of home heating and cooling assistance. ( Continue… )
Environmental groups in the European Union said they would consider taking a complaint against the European Commission to a top court in Luxembourg for reneging on a measure that labels Canada's more viscous grade of crude oil as highly polluting. Canada said it wants to expand its export market, but overseas obstacles and national trade policies could keep much of its crude out of Europe.
Nusa Urbancic, a clean fuels director at Transport & Environment, a European environmental group, said EU policy should encourage the use of fuel sources that have low emissions.
"Europe needs to decarbonize its transport fuels in the most efficient way possible," she said in a statement. "Allowing dirty tar sands to flood into Europe is going to raise emissions, not lower them." (Related article: This Might Be The World’s Lowest-Cost Oil)
Transport & Environment joined Friends of Earth Europe and Greenpeace in arguing the European Commission hasn't put a policy into practice that would label Canadian and other non-conventional forms of crude oil as highly polluting. ( Continue… )
Winter has a tendency to sap electric car batteries. This January, the extreme cold took its toll on electric car sales too.
Bad weather battered Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt sales in January, making for a chilly start to 2014 for electric cars. But the setback is likely temporary for an industry struggling to gain a significant share of the automotive market. Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt sales should rebound as the temperatures do, and high-end electric carmakers like Tesla Motors continue to expand their reach.
The impact of January's bitter cold wasn't limited to electric cars, however.
RECOMMENDED: Think you know Tesla Motors? Take our quiz!
"January car sales are the worst month for car sales generally," Karl Brauer, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, says in a telephone interview. "People have spent all their money on gifts and holiday travel." Cold plays a factor too, and can hit electric cars especially hard because consumers worry about its impact on battery performance. ( Continue… )
Denton, Texas, a bustling community near Lewisville Lake 30 miles northwest of Dallas, is known for its festivals and eclectic music scene, often compared to the Austin of 20 years ago. But Denton (pop. 113,000) is also a leader in clean energy, boasting more wind power per capita than any other city in the nation.
Denton’s electric utility company, Denton Municipal Electric (DME), has been municipally owned since 1905. Up until 2008, DME provided Denton with energy from a mix of equal shares gas and coal. But the advantage of being owned by its 48,000 customers means DME does what its customers want, which was more green energy.
In 2009, DME signed a multi-year power purchase agreement with NextEra Energy Power Marketing, which owns and operates the Wolf Ridge Wind Farm near Muenster, Texas, north of Denton. NextEra now sells 60 megawatts of wind power to DME, providing approximately 40 percent of Denton’s electricity needs on an average yearly basis.
RECOMMENDED: Top 10 states for clean tech
According to Brian Daskam, energy services development officer for DME, “Having citizens own the company instead of shareholders, there’s the potential to make this decision to go green easier. We’re not putting out our monthly returns to shareholders who live all over the country. It’s people that live here. Denton is an environmentally progressive city, and it’s our job to get people what they want.” ( Continue… )
Last fall at the Shareable Cities Summit in Portland a panelist from Getaround, the car sharing service, made the astounding statement that car sharing had the potential to reduce the number of cars on the road by an order of magnitude--for the math-impaired that means 90 percent.
What makes this seemingly fantastical development possible is the fact the cars sit parked 95 percent of the time according to Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor of urban planning who has made a specialty of researching parking. (This fact has had a huge impact on the urban landscape. But that's a subject for another time.)
The received wisdom is that we are heading toward 2 billion vehicles on the road in the next 20 years, a doubling of today's 1 billion. This is put down primarily to auto demand in India and China. I've doubted this wisdom from the start because of obvious constraints on the liquid fuel supply. But virtually no one in policymaking circles believes that vehicle numbers are headed downward, let alone dramatically downward.
I mentioned car sharing in a recent piece and was criticized for advocating car use which was called "unsustainable." But sustainability is keenly sensitive to scale. A world with, say, 100 million cars is clearly more sustainable than one with 1 billion or 2 billion cars. And, while we cannot hope to create a perfect world from the one we have, we do have responses that can make significant strides toward a better one. Hence, my admonition not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. ( Continue… )
[UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect the release of the Keystone XL environmental impact statement]
The US State Department released its final Keystone XL environmental impact statement Friday afternoon, triggering a 90-day deadline for President Obama to make a final decision on the controversial oil pipeline.
Keystone XL will not pose a significant environmental threat, Friday's report concludes, echoing past studies by the State Department. That seemingly paves the way for Mr. Obama to eventually approve the pipeline, ending more than five years of debate over what has become a flash point in US energy.
Environmentalists strongly oppose the proposed 875-mile pipeline, which would transport heavy crude oil from Canadian tar sands (also known as oil sands) to Nebraska and onward to Gulf Coast refineries. Keystone XL would significantly increase carbon emissions, environmentalists say, and prolong US dependence on fossil fuels that are a primary cause of climate change. They also point to alleged conflicts of interest between the company behind the pipeline and the third-party contractor who led its environmental review. ( Continue… )
Oil and gas production is booming in much of the world, but it's not boosting Big Oil's bottom line.
As supplies of easily obtainable oil dwindle and prices remain flat, the world's oil majors are getting less in return for the vast sums they invest on big, risky projects that don't always pan out. Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil announced drops in fourth quarter profits Thursday. Chevron announced similar results Friday.
Big Oil is by no means broke. International energy companies still record billions in profits each quarter, and global oil demand is projected to grow for decades. But the shifting energy landscape has hit those companies hard, while benefiting smaller start-ups. Established firms have been slow to take up the disruptive technologies that have dramatically boosted US oil and gas production onshore, opting instead for ultra-deep drilling offshore in treacherous regions halfway around the world. ( Continue… )