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Coal fueling energy debate
Warren Cornwall, Seattle Times
...Even as some states go on a building binge of coal-fired power plants, Washington is considering hefty restrictions that would do the opposite, essentially allowing just one new coal plant to be built. It's part of an emerging schism over coal as a future source of energy, pitting those who see it as reliable and cheap against those who consider it the dirtiest way to make electricity.
On one side is Texas, where a Dallas energy company wants to build 11 new coal power plants. On the opposite end is California, which wants to bar the use of most coal power to fight global warming.
Washington voters in November endorsed a shift toward cleaner energy. They approved an initiative requiring major utilities to get 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources like wind by 2020.
Now, if Washington makes proposed restrictions on mercury emissions a reality, it will be further allied with the California camp. But that may hinge on the outcome of a debate between a huge state agency and the leader of a much smaller one.
(27 Dec 2006)
Coal In Your Stocking
Tom Prugh, TomPaine.com
At this moment, U.S. electric utilities are racing to build at least 150 coal-fired power plants, while hundreds more are planned or under construction elsewhere in the world, including as many as 550 in China. Especially in places like China and India, the coal rush is a response to frenzied growth in energy demand, but in the United States it’s also due to the rapidly advancing prospects of statutory limits on carbon emissions. Washington-at least the bits at the Capitol end of Pennsylvania Avenue-may finally have gotten the message about climate change.
But not TXU Energy, American Electric Power, Xcel Energy and the other utilities now hunting up the capital to build these “new” plants. I say “new,” because the pulverized coal technology they intend to use is 80 years old and hardly more advanced than a log fire. Pulverized coal is just what it sounds like: Coal is crushed into a powder and shot into a huge furnace, where it burns to make steam to drive a turbine that turns electric generators. Such plants must now be equipped to reduce many pollutants, but they still emit huge quantities of carbon. The utilities could build advanced "clean coal" plants-called integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC-but even these are only a bit more efficient than pulverized coal plants and are substantially more expensive. And while they produce a stream of carbon dioxide gas that could, in theory, be captured and stored underground in old oil fields or other geologic structures, there’s no guarantee it would be, or that it would stay put as long as needed (essentially forever). As for pulverized coal plants, they are almost impossible to refit later for carbon capture and storage.
Tom Prugh is editor of World Watch magazine, published by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Worldwatch Institute. The January/February issue of World Watch has more on the U.S. rush to coal and China’s coal prospects.
(21 Dec 2006)
Nukes in Amarillo
John Whiteside, Blue Bayou
Last week the Los Angeles Times ran a brief but chilling story about safety conditions at a nuclear plant in Amarillo. The Pantex plant, operated by BWX Technologies under a contract with the Department of Energy, decommissions nuclear weapons. Safety procedures are under investigation after an anonymous letter from employees (the authenticity of which BWX does not dispute) blew the whistle on conditions at the plant.
Employees characterized conditions at the Pantex complex, which sits on 25 square miles and began nuclear work in the early 1950s, as "degraded" and in disrepair in many areas. The letter also said engineers were being required to work up to 84 hours in a seven-day week and production technicians 72 hours in a six-day week.
The employees said the company was preoccupied with safety slogans, such as the recently created "Pantex High Reliability Organization," that were masking the stresses in the plant. "Senior management is distracted, losing sight of the overall picture and circumstances," the letter said, adding that some managers lacked specific experience in handling nuclear weapons.
"The consequences are almost too awful to speak," the employees said, adding that an accidental nuclear detonation would kill everybody in the plant, destroy the complex and parts of Amarillo, as well as contaminate thousands of square miles.
(19 Dec 2006)
Is thorium the answer to our energy crisis?
Helen Brown, The Independent
It could power the planet for thousands of years, the reactors would never blow up and the waste is relatively clean. So is thorium the nuclear fuel of the future?
...Is it really - as some are claiming - cleaner, greener and safer than its scarcer cousin uranium? One thing's for sure: there are massive reserves of thorium throughout the world, and if the power that represents could be harnessed, it could keep us in energy-saving light bulbs for thousands of years to come. So why aren't governments investing in the technology needed to make that potential a reality?
(13 Dec 2006)
So Cal Ed signs biggest U.S. wind contract
Bernie Woodall, Reuters via Yahoo!News
Electric utility Southern California Edison and Australian-based Allco Finance Group Ltd. have signed the biggest contract for wind power in U.S. history, the two companies said on Thursday.
The pact is to generate at least 1,500 megawatts of wind power on more than 50 square miles in the windy Tehachapi region in southern California, with the first new windmills expected to begin spinning in 2011.
The new turbines would generate twice the power of the biggest U.S. wind farm, the Horse Hallow Wind Farm in Texas...
(21 Dec 2006)
Related from Reuters: California regulators issue solar energy guide:
The California Pubic Utilities Commission on Thursday issued requirements and other details for a new energy program that aims to make the state one of the world's biggest producers of solar energy.
Offshore wind farms get go-ahead in UK - largest in world
The green light has been given for two offshore wind farms in the Thames Estuary, one of which will be the world's biggest when it is completed.
The government said the schemes would produce enough renewable electricity to power about one million households.
(18 Dec 2006)