Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

The People’s Watchdog: Jeff Weems for Railroad Commissioner!

Jeff Weems announced his candidacy for Texas Railroad Commissioner today in Austin, and he was in Lubbock tonight for his very first campaign house party. I got a chance to meet him, and I am impressed.

With Jeff Weems we have a candidate who knows the oil and gas industry inside and out from the point of view of all the involved parties — the companies, the rights owners, the citizens. He is running to return the Texas Railroad Commission to its proper regulatory, unbiased role. He will make the Commission do its job.

The Texas Railroad Commission was created as a watchdog for the people (originally farmers vs. railroad companies, but now utilities in general vs. the little guy). Under Republican rule it has become a do-nothing agency that always rules in favor of the pipeline company or utility company (in that order) — 59 decisions in a row, even.

Jeff spoke passionately about the need to regulate out-of-control fracking that’s going on in Texas. Fracking is where a million+ gallons of water are pumped underground to crack underground rock formations and release trapped natural gas. (The Bluedaze blog by TXSharon is one of the best resources out there for discovering the many dangers of fracking.) This technique is used commonly in the Barnett Shale area around Ft. Worth, and it’s causing all kinds of problems — even earthquakes. The water used in fracking is so chlorinated and otherwise polluted that it can never be potable, and in fact is so toxic that it can’t even be used for subsequent frack jobs. On top of all that, eminent domain claims — which go unchallenged and unregulated by our TX Railroad Commission — are literally running allowing pipelines to run through people’s front yards in the Ft. Worth area.

Weems also talked about the epidemic of wasted natural gas caused by aging equipment in the field. Such waste is bad for the companies, bad for the environment, and deprives the State of Texas of millions of dollars in tax revenue — enough to cover all of SCHIP, in fact. This is another area where a regulatory nudge from the TX Railroad Commission could do wonders for our State.

The negotiations between cities and utility companies on natural gas prices are another area where the Commission needs to change its ways. If a municipality and a utility company can’t work out a price, the dispute comes before the Commission, which hasn’t met a utility company it didn’t like. This phenomenon explains why Houston’s natural gas costs consumers 4 times what ours does out here in Lubbock.

Another major area of reform is with the Commission itself. Texas Railroad Commissioners can accept campaign contributions any time except when the legislature is in session. They serve six-year terms. That means that they can accept money years before or after elections. I believe that it gives the appearance of bribery and corruption, especially with the current Commission receiving big donations from the companies it rules in favor of. Weems wants to make the Commission obey contribution rules like judges, who can only accept contributions near an election.

Weems took a couple of appropriate jabs at his opponent Victor Carrillo. His inaction on the above concerns was mentioned, as was his unethical use of campaign funds to travel to Israel with Governor Perry in 2006.

There is a lot of damage to be undone and positive work to be accomplished on the TX Railroad Commission. The Commission is a powerful check on abuses of power by the energy industry, and the Texas GOP knows this. They run candidates for Commisisoner who do nothing while waiting to run for higher office (e.g. Michael Williams), and they take every opportunity available to limit, shrink, or eliminate powers of the Commission. In the last legislative session, they were nine votes shy of putting a constitutional amendment up for vote that would replace the 3-member Commission with one lone Commissioner.

Jeff Weems is who we need fighting for the people on the Texas Railroad Commission.
Jeff Weems on Facebook

Randy’s Wrong-O

Mondays mean many things to me: back to work, plenty of Star Trek: The Next Generation to watch, and a fresh copy of “Randy’s Roundup” in my inbox. “Randy’s Roundup” is our Congressman’s weekly dispatch.

From Monday’s Roundup (I prefer “Wrong-O”), discussing the Cap and Trade energy bill that passed the House:

As I said on the House floor during the debate, this bill is not about science or sound policy, but it is really about driving up the cost of energy, sending millions of jobs overseas to countries like India and China, and placing an especially heavy burden on rural America.

What a load of crap.

I see 5 parts to this crapload:

1) no science
2) no sound policy
3) driving up the cost of energy
4) sending jobs overseas
5) an especially heavy burden on rural America

The whole point of Cap and Trade is to provide a market-based solution for getting our CO2 emissions under control, which any reputable climatologist will tell you is absolutely essential to minimize our damaging impact on our environment. There’s (1) the science and (2) sound policy.

(3) The cost of energy may rise briefly, but it will decrease over time as more renewable energy sources come online. If there is any iota of competition left in the energy industry, then companies that implement effective methods of clean energy production will win out over more polluting companies by offering a cheaper rate. It’s a fine, capitalistic solution that only entrenched big business interests would oppose. This bill is a good step toward tackling a global problem, and it won’t break the bank along the way.

(4) The great thing about green energy jobs is: they cannot be outsourced. I truly don’t understand Randy’s line about Cap and Trade “sending millions of jobs overseas to countries like India and China.” We will be creating new jobs here in the USA, many right here in sun-and-wind-rich West Texas. After all, it’s easier to put wind and solar farms out in the middle of nowhere than it is to put them in urban centers. This is (5) a clear win for rural America, which will have new and long-lasting industries based around wind and solar energy (as opposed to boom-and-bust oil economies). Our oil imports over time will decrease. Overall, our country will be more self-sufficient.

To conclude, I want to share a political cartoon (by a Lubbockite!) that captures the essence of No-gebauer and the rest of the Grand Obstructionist Party:


The cartoon illustrates that there is, in fact, one bad energy policy on the Democratic side: neglecting to harness all the hot air and friction emanating from today’s GOP.

No-gebauer: No Cap and No Cattle

Today our Republican Congressman Randy No-gebauer (Neugebauer) took a rare turn at the microphone to oppose the current proposed emissions trading (aka cap and trade) bill. I could have guessed his position without watching him speak, but at least he reminded us that he exists, even though it was to bleat “no” yet one more time.

Reducing mankind’s harmful effect on the environment is not going to be easy, but it must be done. The science is quite clear on this matter, and anyone can observe industry’s many negative consequences, whether it’s mountaintop removal coal mining, man-made earthquakes from overzealous oil drilling, or a sky full of black smoke that’s melting our glaciers and warming our planet.

I believe that cap and trade is a good way to proceed with limiting harmful emissions and nudging industry in the direction of renewable energy. (The smart ones like T. Boone Pickens are already headed that direction anyway.) However, we should proceed carefully.

Since 2005, the EU (particularly the UK) has led the way in emissions trading as a way to reduce carbon emissions. It hasn’t been a perfect start by any means, and US lawmakers should study the successes and failures of the EU approach before passing a carbon cap and trade bill for our nation.

In particular, I think the EU made three crucial mistakes that we would be wise to avoid:

1) Instead of auctioning off all of the credits at the outset, the EU hooked up well-connected companies with free carbon emission credits, which were promptly sold to competitors at a huge profit. We can’t afford to play favorites and jeopardize a new and necessary system like that.

2) There were no penalties/tariffs against energy imported into the EU from other countries with no emissions control laws, or on companies who use carbon-emitting raw materials generated in other countries. We won’t tolerate lead paint on toys made in China; we likewise should not tolerate rampant pollution from Chinese — or any other nation’s — industry.

3) The EU allowed too much of the cost (which will be high initially but decrease over time) of emissions trading to be passed on to the consumer. I believe an equitable solution to this problem can be found. Energy companies clearly should not be allowed to make record profits by gouging consumers in the name of increasing costs from cap and trade (this is what happened in the EU), but neither should we put energy companies out of business. Of course, the former scenario is much more likely than the latter, and we should guard against it.

Ultimately, the whole world will have to take emissions regulation seriously, whether through cap and trade or through some other system. The survival of humanity depends on it. In the meantime, first-world nations have a moral obligation to lead the way by cleaning up their own act. And we should go forward with confidence, remembering our successes with closing the hole in the ozone layer and with reducing the problem of acid rain (through a cap and trade system on sulfur dioxide emissions, in fact).

Once we have removed the carbon splinter from our own eye, we can help our neighbors do the same.

Two Wind Energy Helpers

The next time someone tries to tell you that wind energy is a non-starter because “the wind will not always blow” (and I’m looking at Lubbock’s own Mr. Conservative here), share these two promising technologies:

* compressed-air energy storage (scroll down to #10) — part of the ambitious Pickens Plan for using wind and solar energy effectively is storing extra energy as compressed air in underground caverns. The energy can be released later for peak demand periods.

* Put a curve in front of a wind turbine — the same principle lets us fly around on airplanes will also increase the speed of wind going into a wind turbine, thus increasing the energy output of the turbine

Of course, the real power of wind and solar will come on the demand side of the equation. Low profile solar panels and wind turbines can reduce energy pulled from the grid at homes and businesses.

Obama Video Address 11/22/2008

It’s all about job creation between Jan 20, 2009 and Jan 2011: 2.5 million new jobs in 2 years focusing on infrastructure, green energy, and public education. I love it!

Offshore Drilling is a Gimmick

MoveOn’s new ad cuts straight through the bull on the current energy debate:

Furthermore, today we learn that Exxon Mobil just reported not only their most profitable quarter, but the most profitable quarter of any corporation in the world, ever. The lie that oil companies somehow are hurting right now because of the price of oil is ridiculous.

The idea that lower prices at the gas pump would come from lending the oil companies a hand by letting them drill in protected areas… is also a lie.

If Exxon Mobil and other members of Big Oil wanted to lower prices for the American consumer at the pump, they could have done so by now. Instead, they would rather rip us off to the tune of 11.68 billion dollars in a single quarter.

We don’t need more drilling — we need to get off of oil as fast as possible!

Missouri Town Powered Totally by Wind

Brief post today — just want to make sure no one misses this great news about a Missouri Town that is completely wind-powered.

Al Gore’s challenge to be on 100% renewable energy in 10 years looks more likely with news like this!

Obama Gas Price Ad

Obama’s campaign ad about the truth of gas prices is right on target:

Energy Islands

This idea is just too cool for words: build up to 50,000 concrete “islands” which generate clean, renewable energy from wind, solar, and the difference in seawater temperature between the surface and the depths. Here’s the basic premise:

Warmer surface water is used to heat liquid ammonia, converting it into vapor, which expands to drive a turbine — which in turn produces electricity. The ammonia is then cooled using cold water from the ocean depths, returning it into a liquid state so the process can start all over again.

Each energy island could generate 250MW. Wow! I want to learn more about the potential for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).

Apparently, this technique is being reconsidered as part of the Virgin Earth Challenge. Thank goodness such philanthropic organizations exist, so at least someone is encouraging this type of research in the absence of U.S. Government leadership.

A New Record for World’s Largest Wind Turbine

Via ecogeek, it seems that a company called Enercon has topped its own record of World’s Largest Wind Turbine near the town of Emden, Germany. Enercon is building two of their new E-126 wind turbines, each of which can power about 5,000 homes.

Pretty awesome stuff, huh?

One of the ecogeek comments said it best: While the U.S. Congress is still debating whether climate change is real or not, other countries like Germany are investing heavily in clean, renewable energy sources. Government policy aside, I sure hope our business community can keep up with this kind of innovation.

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