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Wed, 2014-11-19 17:45Mike Gaworecki
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Renewable Energy Loan Program That Funded Solyndra Is Paying Off

Despite the high-profile bankruptcy of solar panel maker Solyndra, the Department of Energy's renewable energy loan program is officially in the black as of September and now expects to earn as much as $5 to $6 billion.

According to a report released last week by the Energy Department's Loan Program Office, some $810 million in interest has already been collected on the $21.71 billion the program has loaned out so far. Solyndra and three other companies that failed after receiving funds from the program, meanwhile, accounted for $780 million in losses.

The $5-6B in projected earnings is calculated based on average rates and expected returns over the next 20 to 25 years. Michael Morosi, an analyst with Jetstream Capital, told Bloomberg Businessweek that that return is better than many venture capital and private equity investors, many of whom got burned by Solyndra along with the federal government, will see from their investments in renewable energy. “A positive return over 20 years in cleantech?” Morosi says. “That's not a bad outcome.”

According to the LPO report, 20 projects that received funds from the program are already in operation, generating revenue, and have begun paying back their loans (some $3.5 billion in loan principle has been recouped so far). Tesla Motors is perhaps the biggest success of the program so far, and it paid back its loan of $465 million last year—9 years early.

Wed, 2014-11-19 10:00Mike Gaworecki
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Regulators Are Failing To Protect Californians From Oil And Gas Development

Two new reports show that California regulators are failing to enforce basic measures to protect the public—particularly in the most vulnerable communities—from the impacts of oil and gas development.

The FracTracker Alliance has a new report showing that there are 352,724 children in California who attend a school within one mile of an oil and gas well, including at least 217 wells using fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing as a stimulation technique.

State law and corresponding regulations do not place any limit on where the oil and gas industry is allowed to drill, nor do they require that notice be given to parents, teachers, or school officials when fracking or other high intensity oil extraction methods will be used in close proximity to schools, despite the growing number of scientific studies that have identified public health threats from oil and gas development, especially fracking.

State law and regulations are similarly lax in regards to the other end of the oil and gas development cycle, according to Clean Water Action, which has just released a report detailing the threat to California's air and water from the open, unlined pits used to store much of the oil industry's toxic wastewater.

California produced 8 billion gallons of oil and 130 billion gallons of wastewater in 2013—15 barrels of wastewater for every barrel of oil, the CWA report says. There has been no comprehensive analysis of the locations of these pits in relation to high quality groundwater sources, and many of the pits are being operated without any permit whatsoever.

Tue, 2014-11-18 16:12Mike Gaworecki
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Shell Knew Of Pipeline Problems Years Before 2008 Oil Spill In Nigeria

Oil giant Shell was warned by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline had a “risk and likelihood of rupture” years before two spills in 2008 spewed as much as 500,000 barrels of oil in the town of Bodo in Southern Nigeria.

The BBC reported these revelations after viewing internal company documents submitted to a court in London, where some 15,000 Nigerians are suing Shell over a separate spill from the same pipeline.

The documents uncovered in the London court may lead to a much bigger penalty against the company for the 2008 spills. A court in the Hague found Shell only partly responsible for those spills after four farmers sued the company in 2012. Shell's lawyers argued that the company had taken the necessary precautions, including installing leak detection systems, prior to the rupturing of the pipeline, and blamed acts of sabotage and attempted thefts for the spills.

But internal emails, letters, and reports show not only that no leak detection system was ever installed, according to the BBC, but also that Shell employees were warning management of the pipeline's decrepit state and the risk it posed to the surrounding communities. One study conducted by Shell's Nigeria business and a consulting arm as far back as 2000 had concluded that the pipeline's life expectancy was “more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”

Sun, 2014-11-16 14:00Mike Gaworecki
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Walton Family, Owners of Walmart, Using Their Billions To Attack Rooftop Solar

A recent trend has seen utilities deciding that since they haven't been able to beat back the rise of rooftop solar companies, they might as well join them (or at least steal their business model). But the Walton Family, owners of Walmart as well as a stake in a manufacturer of solar arrays for utilties, aren't ready to give up the fight.

A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that, through their Walton Family Foundation, the Waltons have given $4.5 million dollars to groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity—groups that are attacking renewable energy policies at the state level and, specifically, pushing for fees on rooftop solar installations. The head of ALEC has even gone so far as to denigrate owners of rooftop solar installations as “freeriders.”

But support for groups seeking to halt the rise of clean energy is only half the story. According to Vice News, the Waltons own a 30% stake in First Solar, a company that makes solar arrays for power plants as “an economically attractive alternative or complement to fossil fuel electricity generation,” per its 2013 annual report, which also identifies “competitors who may gain in profitability and financial strength over time by successfully participating in the global rooftop PV solar market” as a threat to First Solar's future profitability.

Perhaps it was that threat to its long-term strategic plan that led First Solar CEO James Hughes to publish an op-ed in the Arizona Republic voicing his support for a proposal by Arizona Public Service, the state's biggest energy utility, to charge owners of rooftop solar installations a fee of $50 - $100 a month, which would effectively wipe out any economic benefits of generating one's own power. A compromise was eventually reached to adopt a lower fee of roughly $5 per household, but even that has had a chilling effect on the growth of rooftop solar in Arizona, as residential solar installations subsequently dropped 40% in APS territory.

Bryan Miller, president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, said at the time that First Solar's move was unprecedented: “no solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar did it.”

Having collected its scalp in Arizona, First Solar is now attacking policies that foster rooftop solar in California and Nevada, according to the ILSR report.

Thu, 2014-11-13 14:59Mike Gaworecki
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Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Indicted Over 2010 Mine Disaster

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges for his role in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.

According to a statement by US Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia: “The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and securities fraud.” You can read the full indictment online.

Blankenship has long been a controversial figure. News of the indictment validates charges that have been made against him by environmentalists for years, not only over the poor safety and environmental record of Massey Energy but also his union busting tactics, his opposition to government regulations on extractive industries, and his outspoken belief that climate change does not exist.

Blankenship donated to just one federal candidate in this year's midterm elections: future Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe, who infamously called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (h/t Lee Fang).

Thu, 2014-11-13 14:17Mike Gaworecki
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China-U.S. Climate Deal Is Historic, But On Its Own Is Not Enough

Despite the fact that they've been using the “climate action is useless because China won't act” canard as one of their favorite arguments for years now, Republicans' outraged response to the historic climate deal between China and the U.S. probably took noone by surprise.

Because that's the thing: it is historic. For the first time ever, China has agreed to put a cap on the emissions produced by its rapid, voracious economic expansion. While it's certainly not true that the U.S. taking responsibility for its share of global warming pollution wouldn't have had a meaningful impact anyway, it also can't be ignored that averting runaway climate change would be nearly impossible if China's emissions keep growing unabated.

But to say it's historic that two of the world's biggest economic superpowers—and the world's two largest carbon polluters, together responsible for nearly half of global emissions—have agreed to begin to lower their respective contributions to global warming is not the same thing as saying that the deal President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping struck is enough to get the job done.

The most important issue, of course, is the emissions targets themselves, which come nowhere near what climate scientists say are needed to prevent catastrophic warming. We must lower global warming pollution 80% below 1990 levels by mid-century, yet the US is still using 2005 as its baseline, and has only committed to lowering emissions 26-28% by 2025. China, meanwhile, needs to see its emissions peak by 2020, climate scientists say, but has only committed to doing so by 2030.

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