Obama Bets Big on Biofuels in Georgia

3 02 2009

Ben Mack | Wired

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get all the love in Detroit these days, but Washington isn’t giving up on biofuel. Uncle Sam is spending millions of dollars to find ways of turning everything from algae to lawn trimmings into fuel as President Obama promises to invest heavily in alternative fuels.

The departments of energy and agriculture will award $25 million to advance development of “technologies and processes” to produce so-called “next generation” biofuels that aren’t refined from food crops like corn. The announcement follows an agriculture department  promise to loan $80 million to Range Fuels, a Colorado company that produces ethanol from wood chips, so it can build a refinery in Georgia.

“A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next-generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The $25 million will finance projects focused on feedstock development, biofuel and biobased product development and biofuel development analysis. The goal is to create a wide range of “economically and environmentally sustainable” sources of renewable biomass that can be turned into fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels, officials said.

“These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The production of ethanol derived from corn, soybeans and other crops has been blamed for everything from spiraling food prices to clear-cutting in the Amazon. But there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol and other fuels refined from non-food biomass because they nullify the food vs. fuel debate and other criticisms. Several airlines are developing algal fuels, each of the Big Three automakers offers “flex-fuel” cars that can run on ethanol and even super-luxury automaker Bentley is promising a biofuel-burning car.

Washington is funding more than R&D, however. During the last days of the Bush Administration, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced an $80 million loan to help Range Fuels build a new refinery. It is the first time the agency has guaranteed a loan to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery.

Range Fuels, which Obama visited in October, uses a thermo-chemical process called gasification to convert cellulose to ethanol. Production is slated to begin next year and will be ramped up in three stages, company CEO David Aldous told Ethanol Producer magazine. During the first stage, the refinery will convert 125 tons of woody biomass into fuel each day. That will climb to 625 tons daily and then 2,625 tons – at which point the refinery will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. All of the biomass will come from the surrounding timber industry.

“It’s located in the Milion Pines area of Georgia,” Aldous said of the refinery. “There is a very significant supply of wood waste in that area, hundreds of years supply for our plant.”

Stimulus could fund local projects

29 01 2009


Diane Wagner | Rome News-Tribune

Local officials are prepared to seek federal stimulus funding for projects, although neither Rome nor Floyd County have prepared comprehensive lists.“I’ve heard other cities are doing it, but who do you give it to? Just send it to the White House?” City Manager John Bennett said.

Provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — the stimulus package — funnel much of the money through various federal agencies to their state counterparts.

Bennett said if the Georgia Environmental Protection Division calls for projects, the city would submit plans for a sewer lift station on Horseleg Creek.

Rome also has a five-year plan to improve low-income sections of the city using federal entitlement funds. Some of those projects could be eligible for stimulus money flowing through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The Georgia Department of Transportation also has a statewide list of “shovel-ready” road projects that includes center turn lanes on Ga. 53. The 411 Connector was a last-minute addition, but the state still needs to buy the right of way so it’s unlikely to fit the stimulus package requirements.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have a lot of projects that are ready to go,” Bennett said. “There are some street pavings, drainage work and sidewalk improvements we’d like to submit. But we don’t have plans for a new city hall, for example.”

County Manager Kevin Poe said the county is in a similar position. Officials are lobbying the DOT to add funding for the west leg of the South Rome bypass, he said, but it’s unclear what other projects could be eligible.

“The only thing that would be shovel-ready is the Armuchee Connector,” he said. “But we’re trying to stay away from federal dollars on that because there are more hoops to jump through.”

The $12-million road and bridge across the Oostanaula River that would link State Mutual Stadium with Old Summerville Road north of Rome is part of the 2006 special purpose, local option sales tax package.

Using stimulus money to pay for sidewalk and drainage projects on Lyons Drive and the Pennington Avenue area could, however, solve a looming problem for the city.

Continue Reading Here.

Georgia Power: Nuclear critics’ data is flawed

28 01 2009


MARGARET NEWKIRK | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Power fired back at critics this week, saying dire warnings about the cost of its proposal to collect fees upfront for nuclear power expansion were mistaken.

In testimony filed with the state Public Service Commission late Monday, the utility said critics including the PSC’s public advocacy staff had mixed accounting apples and oranges to come up with their estimates. Those critics will have an opportunity to cross-examine the company in two weeks.

The company also blasted a cost-control mechanism proposed by the state PSC staff.

Under that plan, the PSC could roll back Georgia Power’s allowed return on its $6.4 billion nuclear investment if the construction project ran too far over budget.

Georgia Power said no dice.

“We must start by emphatically stating that we cannot and will not agree to the staff’s proposed ‘incentive’ plan,” the company said in the testimony.

“We will not accept a certificate that includes those regulatory conditions,” it said.

The company said its business depends on offering low rates, which is cost-control incentive enough.

Georgia Power’s rebuttal came on the eve of a state Senate committee hearing about a bill that would give the company the early funding it wants, bypassing the PSC.

The Senate Regulated Industry and Utility Committee will hear testimony on Senate Bill 31 Wednesday afternoon.

Continue Reading Here.

Officials eye faster rail link from N.C. to Atlanta

26 01 2009



Transportation officials are considering the development of a rapid passenger rail service that would link Charlotte and Atlanta with a train that would travel at about 100 mph.

A federal study released this month found that officials could realistically develop service that travels between 90 and 110 mph without needing major changes to the existing rail corridor.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Amtrak service on the route currently has a top speed of 79 mph but still takes more than five hours to make a trip that takes less than four hours in a car.

The preliminary study assumed there would be as many as nine stops between Charlotte and Atlanta, serving passengers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Gastonia, Spartanburg, S.C., Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, Greenville, S.C., Clemson, S.C., Toccoa, Ga., Gainesville, Ga., and Atlanta. The study also looked at continuing rail service to Macon, Ga.

Officials in the three states are now preparing to conduct a more detailed study to assess ridership potential and costs.

The railway would not meet the definition of a “high-speed” line, which is generally reserved for those tracks that move faster than 125 mph. But trains traveling at that speed need costly track upgrades.

Continue Reading Here.

City hall wetlands project underway

26 12 2008

By Rachel Oswald | Covington News

Visitors to the Covington City Hall in recent weeks have no doubt noticed a great deal of activity taking place to the left and right of the building.

Since the beginning of November, a wetlands creation project has been underway on the side of city hall that abuts Dried Indian Creek. A new bio-retention parking lot is also under construction on the other side of city hall on Emory Street.

The city is using a Georgia Environmental Protection Division grant to fund the wetlands project which encompasses 1.2 acres next to city hall. The EPD’s $158,000 grant will pay for 55 percent of the costs of the project. The city is matching EPD with $130,000 of its own from the Storm-water fund.

City Engineer Tres Thomas said he was pleased that the city received lower than expected price bids for the project. Cline Service Corporation won the construction contract with a low bid of $142,000 he said. Design schematics for the wetlands project were completed by Manhard Consulting.

To make way for the wetlands, several large pecan trees had to be cut down next to city hall. Thomas said the decision was made to remove the trees because their root systems would not have survived in a wetland environment.

Those pecan trees will be replaced with 15 river birch trees, eight green ash trees, 12 Ironwood trees, six swamp chestnut oaks and nine water oaks. All total, 107 trees and shrubs will be planted in the wetlands site.

“It’ll take them a while to reach a mature stage, but I’m hoping that it’ll turn out nice,” Thomas said of the tree plantings.

The wetlands project also includes the construction of a raised boardwalk that will wind through the site allowing visitors to admire the natural splendor of the wetlands without muddying their feet. The boardwalk will hook up to the county-wide trails system once it is complete Thomas said.

“Part of our grant requires demonstration,” Thomas said. “Anyone in the public is welcome to come down and see it.”

The idea for the wetlands project is the result of collaboration between Manhard and the city, Thomas said. Two earlier EPD grant proposals were turned down, but the city was awarded the grant this year due to the endangered status of Indian Creek Thomas said.

“EPD likes to see projects that protect impaired streams,” he said.

Grading work is already underway for the control structure that will funnel stormwater discharge from as far away as the Covington square into Indian Creek, which, depending on rain levels, should result in a permanently flooded site. Construction will also entail digging 2-3 feet down to access groundwater to flood the site.

Thomas said he expected construction on the wetlands site to be completed by April.

Read on here.

Savannah Joins Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia

3 12 2008


The City of Savannah has become the first community in Georgia to receive designation as a Bronze Level Partner by the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia, a state-sponsored voluntary environmental leadership initiative.

The designation was based on the strength of the City’s sustainability plan, called the Thrive Initiative which seeks to reduce the Savannah City government’s carbon footprint by 15 percent.

Becoming a Partner allows the city to access state resources, such as grant funding, to improve environmental efforts and help Savannah achieve its sustainability goal.

The Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia was created by the state in 2004 to foster environmental leadership and recognize superior environmental performance. Free and open to any business or organization in Georgia, it includes four Partnership levels to fit the changing goals and environmental initiatives of the participants.

As a Partner, the city will work to improve our current environmental efforts, identify potential cost saving measures, and set a standard for environmental excellence in Georgia.

EnergyStar Certifies Northeast Georgia Home Builder

25 11 2008


Gainesville, GA, Mountain View Home Builders, of Gainesville, Georgia, recently qualified as a green home builder under the Department Of Energy’s Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star program. Energy Star homes use up to 50% less energy to maintain than conventional homes. To date, they have built four homes that qualify for the EnergyStar label and plan to make all their future homes EnergyStar qualified. The company is also certified under several other green building programs including Jackson EMC “Right Choice”, Georgia Power EnergyStar, and the U.S. Dept. of Energy “Builders Challenge Program”. Mountain View Home Builders is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. During 2009, the company plans to be certified under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. The LEED green building rating system provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction. Also during 2009, the company plans to become a certified builder under the EarthCraft House program of the Atlanta Home Builders Association. The EarthCraft House program is recognized nationally as the leading residential green building program. For more information on how Mountain View Home Builders is pioneering green building in the Northeast Georgia area, visit their website at…

http://www.mvhomebuilders.com phone: 770-654-3435 or e-mail at mvhomebuilders@bellsouth.net.

Also visit these other websites to learn more about the Green Building Programs mentioned above.

EnergyStar- http://www.energystar.gov
EarthCraft House- http://www.earthcrafthouse.com/
U.S. Green Building Council- http://www.usgbc.org/
LEED Program- http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=222
Right Choice- http://www.jacksonemc.com/Why-Buy-Right-Choice.137.0.html
Georgia Power Energy Star- http://www.georgiapower.com/energystar/
Builders Challenge- http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/challenge/homebuyers.html