sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2016

EPA rejects $20.4 million in requests for Gold King Mine spill costs

DENVER — The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it will pay $4.5 million to state, local and tribal governments for their emergency response to a mine spill that the EPA triggered, but the agency turned down $20.4 million in other requests for past and future expenses.

The EPA provided the figures to The Associated Press a day after informing two Indian tribes and more than a dozen state and local agencies in Colorado and New Mexico.

An EPA-led crew accidentally triggered a 3-million-gallon spill from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while doing preliminary cleanup work in August 2015. The wastewater carried arsenic, lead, metal and other heavy metals and polluted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The spill prompted utilities, farmers and ranchers to temporarily stop drawing from the rivers. The EPA said the water quality returned to pre-spill levels quickly.

Reimbursements for emergency response costs have been contentious. Some governments complained the EPA is rejecting legitimate expenses or taking too long.

Two bills before Congress are aimed at speeding up the reimbursement process.

The EPA said in a statement Friday it is following federal law that dictates what it can pay.

Separately, the Navajo Nation filed a claim with the federal government last week seeking $162 million in costs from the spill, including $3.1 million for unreimbursed expenses and $159 million to develop alternative water supplies, future monitoring and other costs.

One of the rivers affected by the spill, the San Juan, crosses the Navajo Nation. In addition to agriculture and drinking uses, the tribe considers the river sacred.

The EPA said the Navajo Nation had requested $1.4 million and would be reimbursed $603,000. The difference in the EPA and Navajo figures couldn’t immediately be reconciled.

Navajo Nation officials had no immediate comment Friday on the EPA’s reimbursement decisions.

Among the Navajos’ costs that EPA rejected was more than $250,000 to haul drinking water to replace supplies taken from the San Juan. The EPA did agree to pay more than $90,000 to transport water to two areas until early September 2015 but said the river quality had returned to pre-spill levels by then.

The EPA turned down requests from several local and tribal governments to be repaid for such spill-related expenses as attorney fees, future water quality monitoring and travel to testify before Congress.

The EPA agreed to pay New Mexico $1.1 million but rejected $236,000 in requests. The reimbursements are for the San Juan County cities of Aztec and Farmington, and 11 state agencies.

State Environment Secretary Butch Tongate said he was pleased the EPA was repaying the costs and said the state will pursue reimbursement for long-term monitoring as well.

The EPA’s reimbursement decisions can be appealed. None of the governments reached Friday had decided whether to do so.

La Plata County, Colorado, may decide next week, County Manager Joe Kerby said.

“We are extremely disappointed in their response,” Kerby said. “Disappointed but not surprised.”

EPA rejected some of the county’s costs because they came after Oct. 31, 2015, the day the EPA closed down its incident command center. But Kerby said the county kept accumulating response costs after that.

Kerby said the EPA has repaid the county about $377,000, and he believes the agency owes it another $29,000 in expenses.

“It’s not a huge amount, but it’s actual cost that we incurred and that our taxpayers paid for because of the spill, through no fault of our own,” he said.

Sunrise With Solar Array

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency captured this photograph from the International Space Station on Nov. 25, 2016, and shared it on social media.  Pesquet commented, "Sunrises. We experience 16 sunrises every 24 hours on the International Space Station as it takes us 90 minutes to do a complete orbit of our planet flying at 28,800 km/h. Of course we don't notice most of the sunrises as we are working inside, but every now and again I can take a picture."

Image Credit: ESA/NASA

Solar's Florida future: mostly sunny

Solar industry advocates in Florida are forecasting a mostly sunny future with just a few uncertainties after voters failed to approve a constitutional amendment supported by big utilities in a bitter election battle.

A sign of the increased confidence was an announcement on Dec. 1 by SolarCity, the nation's largest installer, of plans to expand its operations into Florida.

"The industry is evolving almost as rapidly as cell phones these days," said Ray Johnson, president and founder of Fort Lauderdale-based Florida Solar One, one of Solar Power World magazine's 500 most influential solar contractors in North America in 2015. "Solar panels are priced at an all-time low and are now 500 percent cheaper than they were eight years ago."

Interest is also being driven by improvements in storage technology and electronics that control and regulate electricity flows, growing demand for electric vehicle charging stations and "smart home" technology. Another lift came from the federal government's extension through 2019 of a 30-percent tax credit for solar installations, Johnson said.

"Many of the modern custom home builders are contacting us to professionally engineer these highly specialized and advanced home electrical systems and the pace of these inquiries has never been higher," he said.

But even as the amendment battle gave the solar industry untold millions of dollars worth of free advertising, uncertainty over the next moves by Florida's electric utilities is preventing solar from gaining even more traction among homeowners, says Patrick Altier, an Ocala solar installer and president of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.

The failure of Amendment 1 to garner more than 60 percent of the vote prevented enshrinement of a decree utilities said was meant to protect non-solar users from subsidizing solar users' connection to the grid.

Opponents contended that language was meant to give the utilities legal standing to push for repeal of state rules requiring them to buy back excess electricity from residential solar users at retail rates. The utilities, including Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light, maintained they hadn't decided what they would do if the amendment was enacted.

Just because the amendment was defeated, solar advocates counter, doesn't mean utilities won't try new strategies to end the buy-back requirement - known as "net metering." The state's two largest utilities, FPL and Duke Energy, have asked the state Public Service Commission to address net metering, the Miami Herald reported on Nov. 12.

Elimination of net metering, coupled with an increase in the $16 to $30 charge solar users pay each month to connect to the electric grid would drive up the long-term cost of ownership of solar systems, Altier said, and even double the length of time from 10 to 20 years it takes for an owner's investment to be repaid by utility bill savings.

"That uncertainty is one of the biggest things that keep people from adopting solar and moving forward," he said. "Having to tell the customer, 'I don't know what it's going to be' turns into a deal killer."

The association would like to negotiate an agreement with the utilities during the next legislative session that would eliminate the uncertainty. "Whatever it may be - let the chips fall," he said. "Then I could go to my customer and say 'Here's what it's going to be. It's not going to change.'"

The association would also like to see the Legislature quickly enact Amendment 4 - the one voters approved in August with solar industry approval and no opposition from the big utilities. That amendment exempts solar systems from property taxes and is seen as mainly benefiting commercial businesses. Quick enactment will encourage more businesses to install solar, Altier said.

Even in the current climate of uncertainty, the national Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that solar capacity in Florida will increase by 2,315 megawatts over the next five years - nearly 20 times the current installed capacity of 248 megawatts.

Florida, the third-most populous state in the nation, ranked 13th in total installed solar capacity in 2015, according to a report by the Smart Electric Power Alliance. The state ranked 14th in the nation for capacity generated by residential systems - 58.5 megawatts.

But in a comparison of residential solar capacity per household, Florida ranked 26th. The top five, in order, was Hawaii, California, Arizona, Vermont and Massachusetts. Also above Florida were Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Rhode Island and Texas.

Helping the state make up lost ground will be SolarCity, the nation's largest manufacturer of solar systems. On Dec. 1, the company, chaired by Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, announced plans to expand its Florida operations. The decision was directly related to the defeat of Amendment 1, the company said.

SolarCity plans to base its expansion at an existing installation facility in Clermont and serve customers of Duke Energy and Orlando Utilities Commission, the company said in a statement. Further plans call for expansion "to additional areas of the state in the coming months," the statement said.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, SolarCity recently began making loans to help make the systems and installations available to area homeowners.

Ed Strobel, owner of Sunshine Solar Services in Fort Lauderdale, said he doubts SolarCity's Florida expansion plans include a rapid move to South Florida "because installing in these conditions is very specialized and to do it correctly, a different engineering mindset is required."

South Florida has stricter wind codes, requiring more attachment hardware, Strobel said. In addition, the area has more homes with tile roofs, and they also require more labor and hardware. The price difference can be as much as $7,000 more to install a typical 10,000-watt system, he said.

SolarCity officials did not respond to requests for an interview for this story. But in an email, Will Craven, director, policy & electricity markets for the company, said the company has no current plans to expand further in the state.

Addressing Strobel's statement about about South Florida's stricter installation requirements, Craven said, "all of our products and installation methods are manufactured, designed and engineered to exceed local and state building codes and standards including regionalized wind uplift standards."

Johnson of Florida Solar One said Florida's smaller solar providers are worried about the high-volume provider's entry. "None are happy and all are very concerned," he said. "This is like Wal-Mart moving into a small town."

Altier said he welcomes SolarCity and expects the company to force him and other mom-and-pop solar providers to become more competitive. "I want to see SolarCity do a ton of installations," he said. "It will make us sharpen our pencils and bring down the cost of installation.

"I'm glad to see them. I want to beat them."

viernes, 9 de diciembre de 2016

Sustainability doesn't mean 'living in a cave'

Jerad Capp never pays a utility bill.

The Spearfish resident, who goes by Cappie, lives off the grid, an increasingly popular choice for environmentally conscious homeowners, and one Cappie hopes to share with his fellow community members.

Off-grid living means not relying on traditional municipal water supply, natural gas, sewer, electrical power and other utility services.

"There are many misconceptions about what an off-grid house means," Cappie said. "That was my hope with this house, was to show people you didn't have to live in a cave, you didn't have to live in a hobbit house, you didn't have to live this austere lifestyle where everything was so arduous."

Cappie's home is a 650-square-foot load bearing straw bale house, which runs completely on solar power. The straw bales, which are stacked on top of one another like Legos, serve as the structural support for the home. Straw bales are natural building elements that help immensely with the heating and cooling of the home. Straw bales are also easily obtainable, renewable and naturally fire-retardant.

It took about four years to get approval to build his off-the-grid home, but Cappie has lived sustainably most of his adult life.

"I always felt I needed to be responsible for me and the impact I make on humans and the planet," Cappie said.

He built his first off-the-grid home in 2004, a modified 1993 International school bus with PV solar, solar hot water and a composting toilet. However, his fascination with sustainable building peaked through travel. Cappie has visited 61 countries and all 50 states.

"I've seen every kind of building you can imagine from mud walls three-feet thick in the Middle East to log cabins in Oregon built with logs I can't even reach around down to Central America homes built out of cinder block and tin roofs," he said. "It's about using what you have."

Cappie, who has built conventionally with his dad and grandfather most of his life, now owns Pangea Design Group in Spearfish, a natural building company using local materials and sustainable techniques to build homes.

The U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) cites that in 2015 less than 2 percent of homes in the United States ran on solar power. But the trend is picking up momentum.

In a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough solar energy is produced in the U.S. to power 6.2 million homes. The report also states there were 1.1 million residential solar installations nationwide in the second quarter of 2016.

While South Dakota is not a leader in solar energy, it's making progress. The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission shared data from the EIA stating 9,734,000 MWh of energy was produced in 2015, with approximately 1,000MWh of that coming from solar power. The total was a 29.3 percent increase in solar generation from 2014 in the state.

Cappie runs with a 1.6kw array solar panel mounted on his roof. The solar system, which Cappie said is modest in size, provides all of his electricity, which is enough electrical power to wash his clothes, cook food and binge watch his favorite television shows like any homeowner in Spearfish.

And in the event the solar panel didn't produce enough electricity, which Cappie said it never has, he has 14, 12-volt deep cycle batteries stored beneath his living room floor for backup.

Cappie said overcast days do not hinder energy production; it simply takes self-conscious decision-making to conserve electricity.

"I pay attention to things," he said. "I don't do four loads of laundry at midnight because it uses a lot of the battery bank. I do a load of laundry at 9 a.m. or over lunch when the sun is high and there is a lot of electricity being produced."

Aside from producing electricity, the sun heats Cappie's home for most of the winter, and a ceiling fan, coupled with fresh air, cools it.

The floor and walls of his house are made from straw, clay and sand. When the sun beats through the windows, the 10-inch thick floor creates a heat sink, storing the heat and warming the home much like concrete on a hot, summer day.

When the temperatures do start to drastically drop, Cappie has two wood stoves to heat the home. The wood used is left over from his construction projects; he has enough wood to heat his home for eight years.

An irrigation ditch runs through the property supply Cappie with all his irrigation water. A paddle wheel, called a screw pump that Cappie designed, pumps water into a tank 20 feet above the ground. The water is used to water his 10,000 square foot vegetable garden, eliminating another charge from a utility company.

Cappie enjoys sharing his passion for sustainable building and off the grid living. Last March, he spoke at the International Straw Building Conference in New Zealand on practical sustainability.

"People talk about these smart homes with smart thermostats, why can't we just be smart homeowners," Cappie said.

Homeowners can make small changes to reduce their carbon footprints such as opening a window to heat the house or using a ceiling fan rather than running an air conditioner. Cleaning the back of the refrigerator, using more sustainable light bulbs and even riding a bike to work helps reduce the carbon footprint, he said.

And while South Dakota is not a leader in solar energy, Chris Nelson, South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner, said the state has created much energy from wind and water. In 2015, 50 percent of the state's energy was water generated and 26 percent was wind generated. And 14 percent of the hydro energy was used, while 10 percent of the generated wind energy was used.

"And now for the first time, we're seeing solar power projects in the state," Nelson said. "A 1 megawatt solar facility in Pierre recently developed through the Missouri River Energy Systems, providing electricity to municipal energy facilities."

While the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission doesn't keep track of individuals using solar energy, Nelson said he suspects the option will become more popular as the economics make more sense.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the cost of photovoltaic solar panels dropped 60 percent between 2008 and 2014. In 2014 the median installed price for residential systems was approximately $4.3 per watt DC, costing a homeowner approximately $43,000 to install a 10 kW PV system.

Cappie said Spearfish is progressive enough to make sustainable changes in the future.

"It's exciting to bring something to light where your kids, my kids, will be like, "Well, why wouldn't you have solar panels on your house?' I think we can get there," Cappie said. "It just has to go mainstream and it has to be practical."

miércoles, 7 de diciembre de 2016

Ameresco to develop community solar projects in Massachusetts

Renewable energy service provider Ameresco is playing a large part in bringing community solar to two towns in Massachusetts.

The company announced Monday that it has completed a four-project pipeline of community solar installations in Wayland, while also unveiling plans to develop a 2.4MW facility in Sturbridge.

Wayland's solar arrays are made up of 4,214 PV panels totaling 1.2MW, and are expected to generate over 1.5 million kWh of renewable electricity per year.

Collectively, three solar canopies developed at Wayland's high school, middle school and town building - as well as a rooftop project at the Department of Public Works building - are projected to generate enough electricity to offset 25% of the town's municipal electric needs and net an annual financial savings of over US$100,000.

Dan Knapik, director of the green communities division at the Department of Energy Resources, said: "With the passage of the Green Communities Act of 2008, the Commonwealth established an opportunity for municipalities to blaze a new path in the clean energy field. Wayland was one of our earliest designations as a Green Community and I am pleased to see the town utilize the powerful opportunity provided by an energy management services program."

Ameresco's solar project in Sturbridge is slated to be completed and operational by early 2017. The 2.4MW installation will help provide renewable energy to Sturbridge and cut down on energy costs.

The 20-year power purchase agreement tied into the site is expected to generate millions of dollars in savings. Under the PPA, 50% of the annual electricity generated from the project will be used by the town as net metering credits, while the other half will be used by the Community Solar Program to deliver green energy to residents in the area.

Michael T. Bakas, senior vice president, Ameresco, said: "It's a pleasure for Ameresco to partner with the town of Sturbridge and the greater community to build and manage this new renewable energy project. We commend town leadership for being fiscally prudent in selecting a project that will generate long-term savings and admire the community's commitment to sustainability."

Tags: ameresco, massachusetts

Americans love, love solar energy, but not everyone can wrangle a set of rooftop solar panels.

Americans love, love solar energy, but not everyone can wrangle a set of rooftop solar panels. Some roofs are too small or too shady, or they face the wrong direction. Some people are renters. Others own their home, but they can't afford the up-front installation costs.

These barriers, say experts, don't have to keep Americans from cashing in on solar. If rooftop panels aren't right for you, you might try something called community shared solar. Band together with friends, neighbors or your church to set up a solar array. Everyone buys in. Everyone reaps the benefits.

Community shared is taking off, but not necessarily in the places with the most sunshine. Rather, solar is growing in states with the strongest policy. The steps currently being taken to advance community solar in New York make that state a prime example.

How does community solar work?

In 2015, Governor Cuomo approved the Shared Renewables Initiative to expand access to clean energy. The initiative enables renters, homeowners and businesses to set up shared solar projects.

Community solar projects can take several forms: One variety is community group purchasing, where a group of homeowners or businesses jointly hire a solar firm to install panels on their roofs. Buying in bulk cuts everyone's costs. Another option is offsite shared solar. These arrays usually take the form of a solar "farm" or "garden." Any ratepayer can subscribe to panels in the array and get credited on their electric bill as if the panels were on their own roof. Onsite shared solar is another form of community solar. Residents of an apartment building or tenants in a large office building can put panels on the roof to supply electricity for everyone. And finally, there are community-driven financial models, which involve private investors and donors funding solar installations in low-income communities. Residents in turn reap the cost savings.

New York utilities now credit ratepayers for the electricity produced in their name by offsite solar projects. Consumers play a flat rate to subscribe to a solar panel or two in a shared solar array, and they are credited on their monthly bill for the energy generated by that solar panel. Subscribers pay month-by-month, meaning they can move away at any time.

"People really want to go solar, but only one in five homes are suited for it," said David Sandbank, director of NY Sun, part of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). But with community shared solar, this is the first time that everyone can buy in.

"Low to moderate income residents now qualify. Renters are in play now. It really widens the demographic access," Sandbank said. He said NYSERDA is receiving applications for community shared solar worth hundreds of megawatts.

Shared solar arrays cost less per kilowatt than individual arrays, in part because the per-panel cost of installation is lower. Shared solar is also eligible for tax incentives from NYSERDA, as well and state and federal tax credits that apply to any solar installation.

"It's a big deal and we're really excited about it," Sandbank said. "There's a lot of development because of it, and we're bringing a lot of business to New York."

A case study

The first shared solar project in New York state was completed in Tompkins County this year. When community shared solar became a possibility, Renovus Solar, an Ithaca-based solar installer, was eager to jump on the opportunity and conducted an informational session for the community.

"Over our 12 years of business as residential and commercial solar energy installers, we'd disqualified many roofs of hopeful solar owners due to shading issues, size constraints etc.," Renovus' Emma Hewitt said. "So we knew that there were many people in this area who wanted a community solar option and would happily become early adopters."

Judy Hyman, a local clean energy advocate, drove all over Enfield searching for suitable panel sites: flat, south-facing, and electrically compatible.

Renovus looked at Hyman's notes, aerial maps, and property maps before sending out letters to each person who owned land suited to this purpose, telling them that they might be able to receive income from their land, defray tax costs, and help the environment. Several property owners responded and a site was selected.

CREDIT: Renovus Solar

About three dozen people signed up for the solar project, which feeds into the utility grid. The array offsets 100 percent of the power subscribers use at home.

"Community solar is about individuals claiming their power production , investing in a clean energy system that they own. It's the difference between owning your electricity production versus renting electricity from the utility company," Hewitt said. "And there are big savings associated."

"With energy prices increasing, the cost of doing nothing is becoming increasingly expensive. Going solar secures a low energy rate for decades," Hewitt said.

Before shared solar arrived on the scene, there were a lot of Tompkins residents who wanted to solar power, but couldn't make it work.

"People like me would've loved to go solar, but my house is in the woods," said David Bock, one such resident. When the community project was unveiled, Bock signed up. His monthly electric bill is now about $15.

Net metering laws allow solar power credits to be annualized, so surplus electricity generated in the summer is effectively carried over to winter. So, while the solar panels fell a little short of his needs in October, they'd built up enough credits during the summer to defray his energy costs.

"The future of the planet depends on getting us off of fossil fuels," Bock said. "Renewables and solar are our best option."

California EPA says settled with Apple on hazardous waste claims

The California Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday said Apple Inc agreed to pay $450,000 to settle state claims that it had mishandled hazardous electronic waste at facilities in Silicon Valley.

Apple also agreed to increase inspections to settle allegations about facilities in Cupertino and Sunnyvale, the Agency's Department of Toxic Substances Control said.

"This matter involves an oversight in filing paperwork to close one of our recycling facilities as part of our expansion to a larger site," Apple spokeswoman Alisha Johnson told Reuters in an emailed statement.

"We've worked closely with [the Department of Toxic Substance Control] to ensure that going forward we have the proper permits for our current site. As we do with all our facilities, we followed our stringent set of health and safety standards, which go well beyond legal requirements."

State regulators alleged Apple opened and operated an electronic waste shredding facility in Cupertino, its home base, between 2011 and 2012 without informing them.

The department also alleged Apple mishandled metal dust from shredder operations at the Cupertino facility, which processed about 1.1 million pounds (500,000 kg) of waste before it was closed in January 2013.

Regulators also said that Apple subsequently opened another shredding facility in nearby Sunnyvale and processed 800,000 pounds of waste before notifying the regulators of the plant's existence. At the Sunnyvale plant, regulators alleged, Apple took hazardous dust swept from the floor and sent it to a disposal site that was not authorized to handle toxic waste.

The regulators also claim Apple did not properly report and track exports of hazardous waste and failed to mark used oil containers properly as hazardous waste.