Pickens Plan Leads in A Direction – Going Green?

For the past year or so, the PickensPlan.com site has been gathering alternate energy enthusiasts into the fold.  The brainchild of a former oil baron who has since turned to natural gas and wind turbines, the first order of business with Pickens is to get the U.S. free of dependence on foreign oil, and to stop sending hundreds of billions of dollars out of the country when we could be keeping that money here in the States simply by switching to a much cleaner domestic fuel.

What has happened since is something nigh unto amazing.  The sheer volume of interest and support, the levels and degrees to which people have become involved, would be extraordinary in any other time.  It’s still leadership, even in this unusual and historic election year.  But in what direction?

Boone Pickens would have us all switch over to natural gas for the interum, while we devise other functional alternatives.  But that would require massive infrastructure changes, and at least some of the economic advantage would be lost as demand on natural gas increased.  To be sure, it’s better than the status quo, but is it a broad enough vision?  Some within the Pickens Plan fold are clear in their vision of a world which no longer uses the combustion engine at all.  Their wisdom is that we must disallow any fossil fuel, and focus all of our considerable intellect on optimizing passive energy sources such as tide, wind, and sun’s energies.  In focusing upon these totally clean technologies, they insist, we will be doing more than putting a band-aid on oil by merely switching to natural gas.  This is still within the Pickens Plan fold, but goes at a different angle than Boone suggested.

What direction do you suggest we take with our alternatives to foreign oil?

Recycling Slams to a Sudden Stop

All across the nation, recycling has hit an abrupt and solid brick wall. The economy has fallen off sharply and China, the largest buyer for recycled materials, just isn’t buying. With prices so low that they’re not worth handling, recycling centers all across the nation are at a loss as to what to do with what has suddenly become just so much trash.

How bad is it, really? Tin was at $327 a ton earlier this year. Now? Five bucks. That’s it. Collect, compact, contain, warehouse, and handle it, and you get $5 for a 2,000 pounds of vegetable cans. Even at the lower gas prices, it doesn’t pay to start up the heavy equipment to load it onto a truck in the first place. And it’s not just tin either. West coast prices for mixed paper are down to $20 a ton, less than a fifth of the $105 of earlier this year. Gas prices haven’t fallen that far.

Some recycling centers are warehousing it… and warehousing it… and warehousing even more, in hopes that the prices will come back up. They don’t have much choice. It cost them more to gain it in the first place than the buyers are paying now. Some have government contracts to keep collecting it, but the market just doesn’t justify the costs.

The single exception is glass. It seems there’s still a domestic demand for that. But all that paper and plastic that we’ve been so conscientiously separating and hauling to the colored bins and dumpsters? It’s likely that it’s headed for landfill… or worse. While you may have been recycling because it’s good for the planet, THEY were doing so because it made money.

Two questions remain:

1) Why do recycled products cost so much more than new materials when we’re giving it to them, (only to have it sold at a profit,) and we then buy it back as other products?

2) Are we still supposed to be separating and recycling this stuff?

Sooner or later, the falling economy was bound to affect recycling. Perhaps the better idea these days is to use less in the first place.

Here’s a thought: Just because they’re not accepting it at the recycling bins doesn’t mean you can’t still recycle, right there at home. Do you buy bottled water? Start refilling them, reuse them instead of throwing them out. Do you ship things? Take that paper, those egg crates and other clean recyclable products, and use them for packing. Tin cans? What about craft projects, pencil holders, robot toys? If push comes to shove, smash ‘em down and warehouse ‘em yourself.

Times are changing. We’ll adapt, and figure things like this out. Local solutions may be developed.

Meanwhile, use less, and keep on recycling right there at home.

Refineries claim a Loss? What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Valero Energy announced today that it is closing down an entire US refinery this quarter.reducing capital spending to manage the economic slowdown. (It’s just coincidental, I suppose, that this also reduces production, which brings prices back up.) Reportedly the biggest U.S. refiner in the country, Valero would reasonably be expected to be doing very well, yet they’re crying the blues, claiming billions in losses, less than a year after Exxon reported huge profits.

Valero yesterday reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $3.3 billion. What is that based on? Are they counting as a loss all the money they’re not charging, writing it off as advertising and good will gestures?

They’re not stupid. The oil companies see us getting serious about alternative energy. Suddenly, dramatically and drastically, the prices crash from nearly $150 a barrel to $40, and that’s because of supply and demand, too? There’s something wrong with this whole ugly picture. The only thing that’s clear is that we must not be distracted by this dog & pony show. We need to keep on pushing for non-combustion fuel sources. It does’t matter if they start giving the gas away or buying everyone cars to burn the fossil fuel in, we still can’t afford to be at the mercy of these companies any longer, and we definitely cannot afford to be forgetful of the raking over the coals that they gave us less than a year ago.

The great thing about statistics is that they can often be twisted around to fit whatever spin their author wants them to. When gas refineries claim they’re losing billions selling gas, it’s time to get out the hip boots and head for high ground, because the dark smelly loose stuff is getting deep.

As Bush was so fond of suggesting, stay the course, Alternative Energy folk. We’ve got ‘em on the run!

Renewable Energy Savings Bonds?

His isn’t a new idea.  Rather, it’s back to the future again. The notion: U.S. Treasury Savings Bonds earmarked for Renewable Energy  projects.  Michael Shawn Kendall, (an Electronic Technician Chief with 27 years of overseas service in the U.S. Navy,/u== and long-time alternative energy guy, wrote to share what sounds like a good idea pretty much all the way around.

Normally purchased in $25 increments, they’d provide us with a way of putting some money away safely and with a good return on the investment, while providing funds to support a renewable energy project.  They can even be designated for specific purposes (buy a RE-W bond for Wind Turbines, a RE-S bond for Solar, RE-I bond to help fund                                                                                                                                                                        infrastructure, RE-T for bullet trains,  RE-C co-op bonds for small communities needing a few wind turbines, etc.  The bond certificates would have their designation and and an artist’s depiction of that project printed on them, along with the American flag. Great idea, huh?

As one might expect of any sensible idea, government’s bureaucracy is staunchly planted in the way.   How could that be?  After all, U.S. Savings Bonds were sold during WWII, and earmarked to fund a tank, etc.   contacted the US treasury department and was told that the marketing department for savings bonds closed several years ago.  Why would this be a problem now?  The Chief Technician inquired at the Treasury Department, but was told there would be problems because savings bonds are at the federal level while the projects will be at the state and local level.  Such concerns can easily be addressed.  The US RE bonds could fund grants to the state and local level, earmarked for those specific projects.

If given the tools to participate directly, the power of the citizens of the United States to help achieve energy independance is undeniable.  Americans mean well and the Energy Independance Savings bond program will give citizens the power to make it happen. If marketed through a web page, commercials, and to federal employees the word would get out and participation would very likely spread like wildfire.

Especially in these tough economic times where banks are seen as questionable and other investments are shaky, while the Obama administration and Congress struggle to find funds to prime the pump and restart our economy, these bonds could provide a very welcome investment opportunity, while making U.S. energy independence a reality much more rapidly than the government could afford to do by itself.

We applaud this veteran’s ingenuity and efforts, and support the idea. This is a prime example of the kind of involvement and self-help that President Obama was talking about in his inauguration speech.  Now all we need is the Congress to remove the roadblocks and put it in action.

Please voice your support by commenting here, and by writing to Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman and Speaker of the House, at http://speaker.house.gov/contact/

Thank you!

Rising Oil Prices make Going Green Affordable

oil1.gifThe per-barrel Oil price hit near record levels of $110 dollars in the market, propped up by the declining US dollar.

The movement of investors into the commodities market looking for a safe place to hedge against inflation and the weakening US dollar was also contributing to the rise in crude prices.

In early morning trading, the New York Stock Exchanges main contract, light sweet crude for April delivery reached trading levels at 110.12 US dollars per barrel before ending trading at $109.85 dollars per barrel.

London’s Brent North Sea crude oil prices for April delivery eased 22 cents to $106.05 US dollars.

“Fundamentals are well and truly out of the window when it comes to oil prices,” said Jan Lambregts, head of regional research at Rabobank in Hong Kong.

“A lot of money’s obviously looking for a place to park and crude oil appears to be one popular destination among commodities in general,” he noted, and then added “the weak dollar doesn’t help one bit at this stage.”

The failing US dollar has also fueled a jump in world oil prices because crude that is priced in US dollars and has become cheaper to buy for purchasers holding stronger currencies abroad.

The US dollar dropped to a new low with an exchange rate of 1.5570 dollars to one Euro on Wednesday.

Note – 1 Barrel of oil = 159 Liters or 42 Gallons

Russia Cuts NG Pipeline, Leaving Millions To Freeze in Ukraine

About 60 percent of Russia’s budget comes from exporting natural gas westward, through the Ukraine and on to Western Europe. The pipeline has long been a risk, protected only by the potential of Russia to retaliate, and by Russia’s ability to turn the gas off at its source. Earlier today, Russia reduced the flow by about 90 million cubic meters, which is the allocation for the Ukraine’s 46 million people. The issue? Money, of course. Money and control.

Preface: Ukraine ceased importing electricity from Russia on December 1, 2008, after repairs to one of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors were completed.

The Ukraine delivered 1.5 billion dollars on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, and considered their bill settled. Russia’s Gazprom now claims that Ukraine must also pay $600 million in late fees before they will restore the flow of natural gas to the nation, which is in the midst of their coldest months of winter now.

Furthermore, Gazprom is demanding that Ukraine pay $250  $450 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2009, 40% 250 percent (2.5 times as much) more than the $179 price paid in 2008.*  Ukraine says they cannot pay that price unless Russia offsets the increase by paying Ukraine that same amount more for exporting Russia’s gas through their country on to Europe. Russia has promised that they will continue to export gas to Europe without interruption. Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladamir Putin, said that any interference with Russia’s gas exports to Europe would carry “serious consequences for the transit country itself.”

Russia is putting the Ukraine, a former Soviet Union country which has angered Russia by applying for membership in NATO, in the cruel position of having to surrender to the 40% increase or continue to pump gas on through their country to Europe, while they themselves are freezing but taking none of that gas for themselves.

This isn’t the first time Russia has acted against the Ukraine in this fashion. In 2006, Russia halted supplies to Ukraine for three days, in a similar disagreement over prices. When the pressure in the pipeline dropped by that allotment, the decrease was felt all the way to Italy, because the Ukraine continued to draw gas from the pipeline for their winter needs. Apparently they learned from the experience. Ukrainian authorities say they have stockpiled enough gas to hold out for three months, if the weather holds as anticipated.

Russia has perpetual negotiations with nations they supply energy to. Serbia was also in negotiations earlier this year, and Finland managed a stay of prices on wood purchased from Russia, but only after last year’s increases in Russian Export Tariffs caused Finland to reduce their demand by more than half. At the same time, Russia claims they would like to work with NATO (disagreements aside, of course.) It’s hard to avoid comparisons to a national mafia, friendly with speech, brutal and murderous in dealings with those who defy them.

Threatening millions of people in this fashion demonstrates that Russia cannot be trusted. In a time of global financial crisis, to strongarm the Ukraine for a 40% increase is clearly retaliatory and inhumane. It also demonstrates the importance of removing ourselves from dependency upon fossil fuels of all kinds. It was wise of Ukrainian authorities to stockpile the gas against this sort of threat, but their reserves will run out by very early spring, leaving nearly 50 million people freezing and without gas for cooking, heating or hot water, and electric generation. (Ukraine produces about 45% of its electricity via nuclear reactors, but relies upon fossil fuels to generate the remaining 55%, so their electric may be diminished as well.)

Germany, Italy and Turkey were amongst nations which lowered their demand for natural gas after prices were raised to $460-$520 per thousand cubic meters beginning in October of 2008. Despite that decrease in sales, Gazprom reports record revenues of $75 billion to $77 billion this year.

Energy independence is essential for all nations’ people.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: We were previously misinformed.  Russia is actually demanding $450 per 1,000 cubic meters, an increase of two and a half times the price paid last year – 250% increase.

Silver zinc battery – silver zinc batteries – ZPower rechargeable batteries

Lithium Ion batteries, several varieties of them, are the mainstream these days, for everything from cameras and laptops to the latest electric cars. They’re good on many levels, but not without dangers. IT’s not common, but sometimes they overheat — VERY abruptly, and catch fire or explode. This puts them into the Danger Zone category, meaning that we still need to be working on something newer, better.

Or do we? Silver-Zinc is the new best thing. It’s not really new, though. The military and aerospace industries have been using silver-zinc batteries for some time now, with tremendous success, but they were never made to be rechargeable.

Whereas a Lithium battery has a cobalt core and uses a highly flammable liquid as their electrolyte, the Silver-Zinc batteries have something far more safe, less volatile, in their center: Pure, simple water. What makes the technology even better is that they can produce about 40 percent more power at the same size. But that’s still not the best part.

ZPower, a California company, is developing a Silver-Zinc battery — with a very responsible twist. They promise to be the first battery manufacturer to buy back the batteries after they’ve been depleted, to recycle the silver. How much? Ross Duebner, CEO of ZPower, isn’t promising, but says it’ll be in the tens of dollars. They can do it, because they find that their battery is about 95% recyclable by weight. Lithium Ion batteries may be recycled as well, but it’s only technically true. What happens with them is that they’re melted down for their lithium and cobalt, and the other parts of the battery help fuel the fires that do it, so TECHNICALLY they’re being recycled… kinda…sorta… right? Meanwhile, Silver-Zinc batteries have no toxic chemicals in them, and no dangerous heavy metals. Moreover, once the silver is mined, by recycling it, silver-zinc batteries become a closed loop, a renewable source of rechargeable batteries.

Their new laptop battery should extend at least two hours beyond a 5 hour Lithium battery’s useable time; ZPower’s Silver-Zinc laptop batteries are expected to run your computer for at least seven hours on a charge.

That’s a pretty big boast. Considering their backers, ZPower may just be able to back it up. Intel and OnPoint Technologies, which is a venture capital fund of the U.S. Army, are amongst those on board with ZPower.

At least at first, these batteries won’t be any cheaper than Lithium. Silver isn’t inexpensive, and they do deliver more power, but we’re hoping that the price will come down. Maybe silver-zinc technology will end up being the standard for all sorts of batteries, a welcome solution for storing alternative energy sources.

A key part of the Green nature of the silver-zinc battery remains that it’s truly able to be recycled, not just burnt to a crisp and then having a few key elements floated back out in a smelting pot. Despite claims to the contrary, that’s pretty much exactly what happens when Lithium Ion batteries are supposedly “recycled.”

But will people do so? Will they return their silver-zinc batteries, or just toss them in the trash? With the buyback program in place and financially viable, it should be a no-brainer that people will turn them in. ZPower cites that large bulky lead batteries are recycled at least 90 percent of the time. Then again, they’re in your car already, and your car’s at the shop so, to the consumer, Recycling amounts to disposing at the same time. There’s minor room for concern, but the buy-back program should ensure that the metals are recycled.

It seems like silver-zinc technology could very well be our next Green thing.

Solar energy Spain-solar power use in Spain-Going Green

Spain is literally leading the way to solar supremacy over their dead bodies. The country’s habitable regions have limited free space for solar installations, so they’re getting very practical about it all, using up every bit of open space that they can find. ANY space. While Spin has put solar farms in cemeteries before, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a working man’s town outside of Barcelona, has mounted 462 solar panels atop the graves themselves, and is now piping that solar energy back into their local grid that supplies electricity for the 124,000 people who live within a mere 1.5 square miles.

This solar power use in Spain is being heralded as both sensible and noble. That solar array will produce energy to power 60 homes, while eliminating 62 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Esteve Serret, the director of Conste-Live Energy, said “The best tribute we can pay to our ancestors, whatever your religion may be, is to generate clean energy for new generations.” Would that the rest of the world would adopt such wisdom. In this sense, using the graveyard for solar power is noble as well.

Spain offers generous subsidies to solar manufacturers. The country has abundant sun, and along with that comes a high demand for air conditioning. To facilitate the jump-starting of solar power, Spain has initiated feed-in tariffs which guarantee up to triple the market price for solar energy — guaranteed — for the next 25 years. New legislation would require all new buildings to include solar technology. Spain really is pushing for solar supremacy, even if that means generating it over their dead bodies.

Tax Issues — Alternative Energy’s Albatross

Finally the people and the governments agree that alternative energy is essential, and are willing to put a bit of money where their mouths are. So why are investments in alternative energy sources diminishing, both from corporations and the government? The problems are legion, and one way or the other, it’s all about taxes.

For the established corporations, the government’s facile use of tax deductions has lost a lot of its value of late. In an economic time such as this, with huge layoffs, losses, and folding giants, there just isn’t much profit to shelter, and developments can’t be bankrolled unless the money is coming from SOMEwhere.

Tax break incentives work on the idea that the government will give the money up in arrears, after the funds have been invested, in lieu of taxes that the company would otherwise have been obligated to pay. But those tax obligations are only levied upon profits, so… no profit, no taxes owed, so no incentive after the investment is made. That part is relatively easy to remedy. The government can use grants instead, since it’s out the same amount of money either way. (This is a bit of an oversimplification, in that the government’s income is also down during times of little or no profit, but the initial concept remains valid.)

Using grants adds an advantage: It allows the little guys, start-up companies with great ideas, abilities and know-how, to become involved in alternative energy solutions. Such companies would otherwise pretty much be out of the running under other circumstances, unless they had huge backing from some invest who expected… well… to get the money back from tax incentives…. you see the problem?

The other way that taxes are an issue is a bit less comfortable to ponder. The government gets a LOT of money from taxes on gasoline. With alternative energy aimed at reducing (or ending) the use of fossil fuels, where will that tax money come from? When people generate their own electricity, that tax also goes away. How can the government continue to run and provide services without that income? Obviously, it will need to levy taxes in some other fashion in the long run. Meanwhile, though, taxing alternative energy producers is counterproductive, even if it could be accomplished, the balance between fossil fuel and alternative energy generation is in nearly constant flux (so a fair new system can’t yet be put into place,) and the governments are bleeding tax losses all over the place.

That we’re all finally getting friendly with Going Green is good news. Unfortunately, a river runs through it, as well – a river of tax dollars. Nobody said the transition was going to be entirely trouble-free. Eventually we will shed the albatross around our necks. The savings found in using alternative energy will help ease the change. Meanwhile, we can take good, sound comfort in knowing that we’re not going through these growing pains for no good reason. Petroleum and Europe’s recent gas crisis both prove that, though transitions may not always be easy, there’s still far more sense in Going Green.

Obama’s Green Gameplan-Obama energy policy-Obamas energy plan

President-Elect Barack Obama has been very assertive in statements about his intentions to get the United States on the fast-track to going Green. One of those goals includes putting a million American-made plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015. That’s GREAT! Now how are you going to make it happen, Mr. President? Enter Heather Zichal, a member of the President-Elect’s Energy and Environment Policy Transition Team, who explains that with the auto industry hurting, they’re more likely to be receptive to helping the people of the United States achieve those goals. To facilitate that, P.E. Obama has proposed providing up to fifty billion dollars in retooling assistance to help build advanced-technology vehicles. She also suggests the P.E. would offer a $7000 tax credit for those who have purchased a hybrid that year, to make the car more affordable to them.

Also on the boards is improving and increasing mass-transit, both so that it is more widely available and feasible, and also to improve its environmental friendliness.

On the Alternative Energy gameplan, Obama is again labeled as aggressive, pushing for us to have 10% of our energy coming from renewable resources by 2012. To assist that, he intends to provide investment tax credit for those involved in building wind farms, solar and transmission infrastructures.

Finally, could the government be made to be Green, to lead by example? This seems like a HUGE concept. Ms. Zichal points out, on Obama’s behalf, that in 2008 the Federal government spent fourteen billion dollars in fuel and energy. Amongst his proposals is a mandate that all new Federal constructions be 40 percent more efficient, and that existing Federal structures be refitted to comply with a demand for 25% higher energy efficiency.

Yes, all of this is going to cost a lot of money. On the other hand, under the Bush administration, Iraq recently LOST (as in cannot find) some 15 billion dollars, so we’ll be able to make up a lot of the cost of these energy investments simply by not being in Iraq any more. More to the point, though, whatever it costs, it will also be saving – both money and our future.

We’re with you, President (Elect) Obama! Get as aggressive as you like, as aggressive as you can, and let’s get serious about Going Green!

Tell the Obama Trasisition Team You Ideas on Alternate Energy