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.”

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.

Rabun Gap plant to add green power to Georgia EMC grid

26 01 2009


Consumers in Middle Georgia interested in using green power will soon have more available to them.

Green Power EMC, a partnership of 38 of the state’s electrical membership corporations, announced recently that it has agreed to purchase 17 megawatts of biomass energy from Multitrade Rabun Gap.

That electrical power, in turn, will be available to customers of the 11 area EMCs that are part of the Green Power partnership – Altamaha EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Flint Energies, Little Ocmulgee EMC, Middle Georgia EMC, Ocmulgee EMC, Oconee EMC, Southern Rivers Energy, Tri-County EMC, Upson EMC and Washington EMC.

Green power is electricity generated from renewable, environmental-friendly technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and low-impact hydropower. Biomass includes landfill gas and agricultural wastes.

The $21.5 million Rabun Gap facility will use woody waste from Georgia’s forestry industry as the primary fuel in a conventional boiler for generation of steam to power a steam-turbine electricity generator.

The North Georgia plant is expected to produce 17 megawatts of electricity when it goes online in August. That is enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes. A megawatt is 1 million watts.

Michael Whiteside, Green Power’s president, says the Rabun Gap project is “renewable” in several other ways, in addition to its use of woody waste as fuel.

The facility is adapting an existing power plant, including its boiler, in a former Fruit of the Loom factory that closed in 2006, with a loss of 900 jobs. The Rabun Gap power plant will employ only 20 people, but another 75 jobs will be needed for people to gather and transport the biomass to the facility.

The Rabun Gap electricity will be added to about 8.3 megawatts now available through the Green Power EMC partnership — 5 megawatts produced in two landfill methane gas operations in Taylor County and in Fayetteville, 2.3 megawatts from the Tallassee Shoals low-impact hydroelectric plant on the Middle Oconee River near Athens and 1 megawatt from an experimental wind power operation of Oglethorpe Power near Rome.

Green Power EMC also expects to add 20 to 23 megawatts of power later this year from Plant Carl near Carnesville, a biomass facility using poultry waste as fuel.

Continue Reading Here

DECEMBER HEARINGS: Petroleum pipeline across 4 counties 1 step closer

11 11 2008


Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline has submitted applications to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to install a 44-mile petroleum pipeline across four Georgia counties.

If the EPD approves the applications, filed last week, Colonial will be able to use eminent domain to acquire easements on properties for the pipeline.

Before making its decision, EPD plans to have public hearings in early December in each of the four affected counties: Cobb, Carroll, Haralson and Paulding.

In its applications, one for each county, Colonial explained its Project ExCEL. In total, Colonial wants to install a 460-mile steel pipeline, three feet in diameter, next to two it already has between Jackson, La., and Austell. The company says the third pipeline is needed to resolve capacity limits that slow down petroleum shipments between the Gulf Coast refineries and markets in the Southeast, including Atlanta, and along the Eastern Seaboard.

Currently, the pipelines transport about 2.4 million barrels a day of petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil. The proposed pipeline would expand capacity by about one-third, to 3.2 million barrels a day. One barrel is the equivalent of 42 gallons.

Colonial plans to begin construction of the third pipeline in the second quarter of 2011 and complete it in late 2012. The third pipeline would require a permanent 25-foot easement across 600 tracts of land owned by about 500 individuals, families and businesses.

In Cobb, Colonial wants to veer away from its current pipelines for 2.1 miles to follow a Georgia Power Co. easement and a railroad right of way, in order to avoid a densely populated area in Powder Springs. It would need to cross through three wetlands and seven waterways, according to the Cobb application.

According to Colonial, the hearings have been scheduled for the following dates and locations, each beginning at 7 p.m.

> Dec. 4 in Haralson County at the Bremen Senior Center, 425 River Circle.

> Dec. 8 in Carroll County at the Villa Rica Civic Center, 1605 Ga. 61.

> Dec. 9 in Paulding County at the Hiram Community Center, 219 Main St.

> Dec. 15 in Cobb County at the Ford Center Reception Hall at the Coach George E. Ford Cultural Arts and Community Center of Powder Springs, 4181 Atlanta St.

Georgia Nuclear Plant Delay?

30 10 2008

WSB Radio

There’s a new complication in the already lengthy approval process for two proposed nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro, Georgia.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety licensing board agrees with environmental groups that the federal government’s review should look at the effect of dredging the Savannah River.   The NRC is about halfway through their 3 year review right now.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a delay in that process,” the NRC’s Roger Hannah tells WSB.  “It may simply that further information and further analysis have to be developed.”

The river dredging would be needed to barges could bring reactor components to the site. 

Hannah says a 3 judge agency panel found something missing in the staff review of the project.

“They did not adequately consider what dredging of that part of the rive might do to the environment.”

The state Public Service Commission must also approve the plan.  It’s set to hold hearings on the plant in a few days.

Expansion of Georgia pipeline will test state laws

20 10 2008

When the McIvers moved into their Powder Springs home 12 years ago, they had some reservations about one of their new neighbors.

Behind the split-level house, about a meter below the grass, two steel pipelines carried gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from Gulf Coast refineries to metro Atlanta and other markets between Houston and the New York harbor.

“We’ve always known that gas line was going to be trouble,” said Phillip McIver, 32.

It just wasn’t the type of trouble they were expecting.

The pipelines’ owner, Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline, wants to lay down a third line to unclog the choke point between Baton Rouge, La., and Atlanta. To do that, the company needs another 25 feet of right-of-way, adding to the 75 feet it already has.

“Now it’s a matter of trying to educate ourselves and be knowledgeable about it so we don’t get shafted in the end,” McIver said.

In Georgia, where the expansion is expected to cross the northwest counties of Cobb, Paulding, Carroll and Haralson, Colonial’s job is to convince environmental regulators and about 500 landowners that the advantages of being able to deliver more fuel faster is worth the disadvantages —- the potential for fuel leaks, polluted water and decreased property values.

A new pipeline is a high-risk enterprise from Colonial’s perspective as well, and not just because it carries a $3 billion price tag in a shaky credit market.

“Any one permit, any one piece of property that we couldn’t get stops the whole project,” said Norm Szydlowski, Colonial’s president and chief executive officer who knows something about risk. In 2005, he was the senior consultant to the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, appointed by the Pentagon to rebuild that country’s oil industry.

In an interview earlier this month, Szydlowski said the biggest hurdle to expanding Colonial’s pipeline is the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Colonial, owned by international oil companies and energy investors, is the first to test a 1995 law that requires EPD approval before a petroleum pipeline company can exercise the power of eminent domain. The other states affected by the 500-mile pipeline expansion —- Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama —- do not require state-level oversight, Szydlowski said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has already signed off, as has the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. EPD plans to hold at least three public meetings on Colonial’s request in December. The targeted completion date is late 2012.

Most metro Atlantans would be hard-pressed to name the company that delivers about 70 percent of the fuel they pump into their cars and trucks, and Colonial likes it that way.

When the pipeline company grabs headlines, it’s usually not good:

*In 2003, Colonial agreed to pay a record fine to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for spilling 1.45 million gallons of oil in five states. By far the largest spill, and one that still motivates the company today, was caused when a pipe ruptured and 960,000 gallons of diesel fuel contaminated a 34-mile stretch of the Reedy River near Greenville, S.C. About 35,000 fish died.

*In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wiped out power to the pipelines for several days, creating a 1970s-style gas crisis as metro Atlantans faced long lines and soaring prices. The company did not have a backup plan.

*Last month, metro Atlantans again waited in long lines after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike knocked out Gulf Coast refineries. But this time, Colonial was ready, mobilizing eight of the 12 massive power generators it purchased after Katrina for $5 million. The pipelines moved all the available product.

Colonial, established in Buckhead in 1962, also made an unfortunate name for itself around the state Capitol in the mid-1990s when it tried to extend its pipeline through some quail plantations in south Georgia. Their well-connected owners are the reason Colonial, and the Plantation Pipeline, which carries about 30 percent of metro Atlanta’s fuel, now have to get special permission from the state before condemning land for expansion.

Joe Tanner, who at the time was the state Department of Natural Resources commissioner, said, “I think the company just failed to understand who the landowners were they were dealing with.”

Read on here.