Tidal power makes waves in Maine

Admittedly, the Sun is my usual celestial body of interest, but today I feel compelled to mention the Moon. Or rather, the tides that the Moon’s gravity creates here on Earth. Tidal power is an almost entirely untapped source of renewable energy in the United States. Almost. For the first time in history, tidal energy is contributing to the US power grid. On Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, Ocean Renewable Power Company’s Maine Tidal Energy Project, using underwater turbines off the coast of Maine, delivered electricity to ~27 homes. Incremental developments in technology and our use of renewable energy like this are, I think, certainly cause for optimism re our evolution beyond fossil fuels. After all, small steps make for giant leaps. And we need a giant leap.

Here is a link to the ORPC project website, and here is the Huff Po article that first reported the project’s coming online.


Is Denton fracked?

At this point, one can surmise that natural gas drilling is a booming issue. This is especially true on big shale plays like the Barnett shale in North Central Texas. The challenge for municipalities, Denton among them, then, is to regulate this new gas drilling and production activity as best they can.

With this in mind, on February 7, 2012, the Denton City Council placed a 120-day moratorium on new natural gas well permitting applications so that it could revise the city’s gas drilling and production ordinance. In June, with the revisions still incomplete, the Council extended the moratorium ordinance another 120 days, setting it to expire on October 4, 2012.

But, not surprisingly, the ordinance is still in the works, so last night the Council gathered in City Hall to vote on another amendment to the moratorium ordinance. But last night’s vote wasn’t only on whether to extend the moratorium – the amendment also redefined three exemptions to the moratorium ordinance allowing applications already in progress when the moratorium was established, as well as applications filed prior to the moratorium, and applications for projects not using hydraulic fracturing, to move forward.

These exemptions are particularly contentious because they apply to four gas wells owned by EagleRidge Energy – a company known around the Denton community for poor environmental and public health and safety practices. The predominant citizens position represented at last night’s meeting was clear: strong support for extending the moratorium and strong opposition to the redefined exemptions.

But these two provisions of the amendment would either live or die together.

In a unanimous 6-0 vote, the Council passed the amendment to extend the moratorium until December 18, 2012, and redefine the exemptions. Despite being sympathetic to the views of the citizenry, the Council argued that these exemptions better reflect standing state laws of vested rights, which provide that moratoriums of this kind not affect permitting applications retroactively.

This is, I think, an important point – Texas municipalities cannot simply ban fracking, as some might believe. Texas state law prevents moratorium ordinances from having a retrospective effect. In other words, permitting applications already approved or already underway will be valid no matter what new ordinances the City Council passes. The Council’s power stops at halting new permitting applications, meaning old drilling projects are still happening, and after last night’s vote, so too will the four controversial EagleRidge wells.

So, these exemptions better accommodate state regulations, fine. Nevertheless, there’s reason to suspect that other motivating factors were at work in this decision; that is, to not pass the exemptions redefinition would have been very risky for the City Council. EagleRidge has been petitioning for “variance” from the moratorium on the four aforementioned wells for some time now, and if the Council had left the exemptions as they were, EagleRidge has likely been preparing to file a lawsuit against the City of Denton under current state vested rights law and the 5th amendment compensations clause, claiming that the moratorium is causing undue financial harm to the company without just compensation. For this issue to go to trial at all would set a dangerous precedent – one that the Council wants to avoid. So, in order to extend the moratorium, they had to redefine the exemptions. Call it losing a battle to win the war.

In either case, it was a tough spot to be in: the vote was either against extending the moratorium or in favor of the redefined exemptions. Both are politically sticky – painfully ironic, even – putting the Council between a rock and a hard place. But is Denton fracked? Not exactly. The priority is still getting a strong gas-drilling ordinance in place, a goal that remains, I think, entirely reasonable.

See this post also on the Bard CEP blog.


JM Kincaid

Third year of triple-digit growth in US solar PV market

In the second quarter of 2012 the US installed 742 Megawatts of utility-scale solar PV, reports GTM Research. This growth is largely attributable to the new Agua Caliente, Mesquite, and Silver State solar plants, all of which were backed by federal loan guarantees. I would like to think this means we can put the Solyndra issue to rest. Loan guarantee programs help free up capital for important projects to which private investors suffering from Keynesian mass psychosis are reluctant to commit. Sure, they can be risky at times, like all investments, but developing renewable energy technology stands as perhaps the most salient hurdle to perpetuating our high standard of living, making our energy intensive lifestyles sustainable, and maintaining a healthy environment for our contemporaries, future generations, and non-humans. For we who champion progress as sustainable improvements in science, technology, and social organization, this is surely welcome news.

JM Kincaid