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Silicon Valley biofuel company gets $2.5m grant

A Silicon Valley company is getting a $2.5 million federal grant to develop a pilot-scale “biorefinery” that will make jet fuel out of switchgrass.

The Energy Department announced the grant to Cobalt Technologies of Mountain View as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to find and use alternative fuels to lower costs and improve performance.

“Advanced biofuels are an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our energy security and protect our air and water,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a news release. “The innovative biorefinery projects announced today mark an important step toward producing fuels for our American military and the civil aviation industry from renewable resources found right here in the United States.”

Domestic oil and gas production has increased each year the President has been in office, the Energy Department notes, but at the same time the administration is seeking other ways to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. According to the Energy Department’s Billion Ton Study, advanced biofuels could replace about one-third of the nation’s current transportation petroleum use.

The grant to Cobalt is part of an $18 million investment in four projects across the country in which pilot-scale biorefinery projects will use various non-food biomass feedstocks, waste-based materials, and algae to produce biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel and diesel. Recipients must contribute at least 50 percent matching funds for these projects.

Partnered with the Naval Air Warfare China Lake Weapons Division, Show Me Energy Cooperative and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Cobalt intends to build a pilot-scale facility to purify and convert butanol made from switchgrass into jet fuel. The company will both evaluate the process’ efficiency and its greenhouse-gas emissions.

Posted on Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Under: energy | 17 Comments »

Former Senator joins Stanford energy think tank

Former U.S. Senator and Stanford Law School alumnus Jeff Bingaman will join Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance to develop policies to help states and local communities promote increased use of clean energy.

Jeff BingamanThe Steyer-Taylor Center for is a joint initiative of Stanford Law School and the Graduate School of Business to study and advance the development and deployment of clean-energy technologies through innovative policies and financial mechanisms. Dan Reicher, formerly of Google, the clean-energy investment sector, and the U.S. Department of Energy, is the center’s executive director.

Bingaman will focus on helping 29 states (including California) plus the District of Columbia extend and update their Renewable Portfolio Standards – policies to promote increased generation of electricity from renewable energy sources. Seven other states have adopted voluntary goals for generation of electricity from renewable sources.

Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who spent 30 years in the Senate, was the lead champion of the Clean Energy Standards Act of 2012, which would have required greater use of low-carbon energy sources. He served as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and on the Senate Finance Committee, as well as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

During his appointment as a distinguished fellow from April 2013 to April 2014, he’ll assess the status of current RPS programs and try to determine what policies might be adopted to update and improve those programs.

“Senator Bingaman will bring unparalleled policy and finance experience to the work of the center at a moment when energy is on the national and international agenda like never before,” Reicher said in a news release.

Bingaman will collaborate with the Environmental Law Clinic within the Mills Legal Clinic, which provides law students with hands-on experience in policy work on environmental and energy issues and in client representation. In addition, the former Senator will provide research opportunities to other law students, business school students, and also collaborate with energy scholars throughout campus, including at Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy.

Posted on Monday, April 1st, 2013
Under: energy, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Anti-pipeline protesters to target Obama in SF

CREDO and other groups intend to protest outside President Obama’s fundraiser next Wednesday evening in San Francisco to send a message that if he’s serious about fighting climate change he must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

They’ll be targeting the $32,500-per-person Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising dinner that Obama is headlining along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the home of Ann and Gordon Getty, at Broadway and Baker Street in the Pacific Heights district.

Activists say the controversial pipeline project would accelerate climate change by speeding tar sands development and exporting dirty tar sands oil from Canada to foreign countries. Other organizations taking part in the protest include 350.org, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club.

CREDO in 2011 turned out over a thousand people at President Obama’s re-election campaign fundraiser in San Francisco, shortly before he first delayed his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Posted on Friday, March 29th, 2013
Under: Barack Obama, energy, Environment, Obama presidency | 3 Comments »

Berkeley’s Steven Chu resigning from cabinet

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has announced he’ll resign from President Barack Obama’s cabinet as soon as a successor is confirmed.

Chu, 64, is a Bay Area local: a former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a University of California, Berkeley professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology. Earlier, he taught at Stanford.

“Serving as Secretary of Energy during such a momentous and important time has been incredibly demanding but enormously rewarding,” he wrote in a letter to department employees today. “While I will always remain dedicated to the missions of the Department, I informed the President of my decision a few days after the election that Jean and I were eager to return to California. I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research, but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years.”

From President Obama:

“I want to thank Secretary Chu for his dedicated service on behalf of the American people. As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy. And during his time as Secretary, Steve helped my Administration move America towards real energy independence. Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs. Thanks to Steve, we also expanded support for our brightest engineers and entrepreneurs as they pursue groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future. I am grateful that Steve agreed to join in my Cabinet and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“Secretary Chu is a brilliant man who understands the importance of addressing the threat posed by climate change and has helped put America on a path toward energy independence and a clean energy future.”

Posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013
Under: energy, Obama presidency | 15 Comments »

West Coast Senators urge probe of gas prices

The West Coast’s U.S. Senators today asked the Justice Department to do a refinery-by-refinery investigation into why gas prices spiked to more than $4 a gallon during May and October.

The letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder from senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash., asks that the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group probe any possible market manipulation or false reporting.

“A McCullough Research report released Nov. 15th in conjunction with a California State Senate hearing on California gas prices revealed information that showed that the price spikes in May and October occurred while crude oil prices were declining, inventories were increasing, and possibly in conjunction with misleading market-making information,” they wrote.

The report they cited found that some West Coast oil refineries may have been producing oil last May despite public reports that they were shuttered for maintenance. For example, McCullough’s analysis found that the Chevron refinery in Richmond emitted byproducts of petroleum production throughout May – yet public reports claim the refinery shut down production from May 12 to May 26.

The report found the October price spike added up to a 66 cent-per-gallon windfall profit for oil companies—or about $25 million a day. The difference between what drivers actually paid and what they should have paid exceeded $1 billion.

“West Coast families and businesses are reeling from elevated and extremely volatile prices at the pump, impacting family budgets, inflation levels, and overall economic activity,” the senators wrote. “We believe this situation demands the attention from the Working Group established in April 2011 specifically to ‘monitor oil and gas markets for potential violations of criminal or civil laws to safeguard against unlawful consumer harm.’ ”

The working group includes representatives from the Department of Justice, the National Association of Attorneys General, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and Energy.

Feinstein in August had urged the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation of the sudden rise in case prices.

Read the full text of the senators’ letter, after the jump:
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, energy, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

State Senate panel to probe refineries, gas prices

With gas prices soaring and news that the Chevron Richmond refinery’s crude oil unit won’t reopen until 2013, a state Senate committee will hold a hearing next month on the safety and reliability of California’s gasoline production system and its impacts on gas prices and the economy.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, announced today he’ll convene the Senate Select Committee on Bay Area Transportation to explore the issue.

Mark Leno“The volatile spikes in gas prices and gas shortages in our state in recent weeks indicate serious problems with California refineries,” Leno said in a news release. “I am concerned that refineries have no incentive for keeping their operations safe and fully functional because their profits increase greatly following any type of disruption, whether it is the consequence of a potentially deadly explosion or failed piping. Meanwhile, consumers are paying the price for these refinery errors, not only at the pumps, but also in the risks posed to public health and safety.”

Leno said the hearing will focus on two main topics: system reliability for California’s refineries and its effect on the economy; and the state’s oversight process and role related to refinery worker safety. Topics may include monitoring health and safety at the state’s 15 oil refineries, state compliance and enforcement at refineries, West Coast gasoline prices and how they may be manipulated, refinery capacity and its relationship to gas prices and the economy, and the Chevron Richmond fire investigation.

“Chevron’s announcement late yesterday that its Richmond (crude oil) facility will be closed for the remainder of the year could further complicate matters for California,” he said. “Economists have estimated that a lengthy shutdown of that facility could slow the growth rate of the state’s economy by half a percentage point.”

This past weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown urged the California Air Resources Board to make an early switch to the state’s winter blend of gasoline to improve supply, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., renewed her call for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the soaring prices.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., got into the act Monday, sending a letter urging the Department of Justice’s Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to investigate the recent spike.

“Californians have too often been victimized as unscrupulous traders have created or taken advantage of supply disruptions to drive up energy prices,” Boxer wrote. “We cannot allow market manipulation by those who would seek to profit off the pain of our families at the pump.”

In the letter, Boxer pointed to published reports that cited energy traders saying the sudden rise in gas prices had “many of the hallmarks of a classic short squeeze.”

She acknowledged the maintenance issues facing California refineries beginning with the shutdown of Chevron’s Richmond crude oil unit in August due to a fire, the power outage at Exxon Mobil’s Torrance refinery, and the September shutdown of a Chevron pipeline that supplies crude from the Central Valley to the Bay Area. But noting a pattern of similar maintenance issues at West Coast refineries that led to price spikes earlier this year, Boxer wrote, “it is critical that we ensure that these shutdowns are not part of any broader effort to deliberately keep gasoline supplies tight—and prices high—at the expense of consumers.”

Posted on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
Under: Barbara Boxer, California State Senate, economy, energy, Mark Leno, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Brown, Feinstein seek action on gas prices

Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein today pushed for action and answers on California’s skyrocketing gas prices.

Brown directed the California Air Resources Board to take emergency steps to increase the state’s gasoline supply and bring down fuel prices by immediately taking “whatever steps are necessary” to let oil refineries to make an early transition to winter-blend gasoline, which typically isn’t sold until after October 31.

“Gas prices in the state have set new record highs, and gas is completely unavailable at some stations in southern California,” Brown wrote to CARB chairwoman Mary Nichols. “If this situation continues, it may cause unacceptable price impacts for consumers and small businesses, significant economic disruption, and serious harm to public safety and welfare.”

Winter-blend gasoline evaporates more quickly than the gas sold in summer months, which is better for air quality during the smog season. Allowing an early transition could increase California’s fuel supply by up to an estimated 8 to 10 percent with only negligible air quality impacts, Brown said.

Gas prices in California have skyrocketed over the past week due to a tightening of fuel supplies caused in part by shutdowns at Tesoro and Exxon refineries. The Exxon refinery came back online Friday and Tesoro is scheduled to resume production early next week.

Feinstein, meanwhile, sent a second letter to Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz – she sent the first in late August – asking for an immediate investigation of the price spike:

First, I request that the FTC immediately initiate an investigation to determine if the price spike in Southern California this week results from an illegal short squeeze. A Reuters investigation cites industry sources who believe that the 97-cent price spike in CARBOB gasoline this past week “has many of the hallmarks of a classic short squeeze.” Multiple trade sources say Tesoro Corporation was caught short on supply. In the severely concentrated Los Angeles gasoline market, the few sellers were reportedly able to squeeze Tesoro either through collusion or use of market power. An FTC investigation is likely the only way to determine whether this reported squeeze took place.

Publically available data appears to confirm that market fundamentals are not to blame for rising gas prices in California. Despite a pipeline and refinery shut down, gasoline production in the state last week was almost as high as a year ago, and stockpiles of gasoline and blending components combined were equal to this time last year, state data show.

Second, I ask that the FTC immediately seek data sharing agreements that will allow it to monitor gasoline and oil markets actively and effectively. Data on prices, trading activity, refinery output, demand, stocks, and other information are vital to determine if trading activities reflect fraud, manipulation, or other malicious trading practices. While much of this data is currently collected, but not released, by the CFTC, the Energy Information Administration, the California Energy Commission, and private sources, the FTC does not collect, compile, or analyze this information in any organized or ongoing way. I believe that obtaining relevant data is a basic prerequisite of effective consumer protection.

Third, I request that the FTC establish a permanent gasoline and oil market oversight unit modeled on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Division of Energy Market Analytics and Surveillance. As you know, FERC’s anti-manipulation authority in natural gas and electricity markets mirrors the FTC oil market authority nearly word for word. With its authority, FERC has built an entire division of market monitoring professionals who oversee trading in real time to protect consumers from malicious trading practices. I fail to understand why the FTC has not yet set up its own unit to oversee oil markets.

Posted on Sunday, October 7th, 2012
Under: Dianne Feinstein, energy, Environment, Jerry Brown, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »

Two area Democrats OKed ‘No More Solyndras’ bill

Two Northern California House Democrats sided with House Republicans last week to pass a bill called the “No More Solyndras Act” to phase out the clean energy loan-guarantee program that bankrolled the now-defunct Fremont solar manufacturer.

Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, were among the 22 Democrats who joined with 223 House Republicans to vote in favor of H.R. 6213; they were the only California Democrats to do so. On the other side, 157 Democrats and four Republicans opposed the bill, which now is before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised the bill as ensuring “that taxpayers are no longer left holding the bag for the administration’s reckless investments. … The Obama administration may still regard the loan program that brought us Solyndra as an ‘enormous success,’ but the American people know better.”

Both McNerney and Garamendi are locked in tough re-election battles: McNerney, with Lodi Republican Ricky Gill; and Garamendi, with Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, also a Republican. Also, both voted for President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package, which funded the loan-guarantee program among many other things; the program itself began during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“This program, like all government programs, needs to be reviewed and modified to address problems,” Garamendi said in a statement issued by a spokesman Friday. “I will continue my work to strengthen energy independence, create clean energy jobs, and Make It In America.”

McNerney last year had defended the loan-guarantee program.

“Solyndra certainly needs to be accounted for,” he had said in an interview. “But in order to develop new sources of energy we need to do research and development, and a well-supervised loan guarantee is one way to achieve that. I think there is a need for loan guarantees, especially considering what’s happening overseas.

McNerney had said it’s “not a good argument to say that the failure of one company is an indication that the whole industry has a problem. Moreover, oil, gas and coal companies have had government subsidies for 100 years or so, so I think it’s reasonable that renewable resources companies can look to the government for help both in research and in incentives.”

McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith on Saturday noted McNerney’s use of the phrase “well-supervised,” and said he made no endorsement of a program that lacks proper oversight and management.

“Congressman McNerney has always taken pride in being an independent voice and representing the people in our community,” she said. “With the people in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties struggling in today’s economy, he felt compelled to vote for H.R. 6213 to ensure that their hard-earned tax dollars are spent in a responsible way with proper oversight and accountability. He understands what it’s like to be out of work and worried about money – and how every last dollar matters to most families in our region.”

As the Associated Press reported, Republicans have noted that three of the first five companies to get loan guarantees under the stimulus, including Solyndra, have gone bankrupt. But Democrats say Republicans are ignoring the Energy Department’s successes, including saving nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline a year by supporting such projects as one of the world’s largest wind farms in Oregon, a large solar generation project in California and a major photovoltaic solar power plant in Arizona.

Gill’s campaign is making hay of McNerney’s vote, noting McNerney had called green energy his “signature issue” during his initial run for the House in 2006.

“It turns out his signature was written in disappearing ink,” said Gill campaign consultant Kevin Spillane, accusing McNerney of “suddenly running away from the issue that defined his candidacy and his entire record in Congress — the advocacy of green energy, its supposedly endless economic potential, and the need for costly government incentives to promote its development.”

“Seems like McNerney’s true ‘signature issue’ is saving his political career,” Spillane said.

Smith replied this is “a blatant political attack… There is no credibility there.”

Posted on Saturday, September 22nd, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, economy, energy, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi, U.S. House | No Comments »

Congressman flies GOP flag on energy in Bay Area

One day after President Obama was touting his energy record at Silicon Valley campaign stops – stronger fuel economy standards, increased clean energy production, foreign-oil imports at a 15-year low – a Central Valley congressman was in the Bay Area to say there’s a better approach.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, is a regional captain of the House Energy Action Team (HEAT), a Republican policy effort that mounted a “2012 American Energy and Jobs Tour” today. The theme is the GOP’s work “to reverse Administration policies that are causing unnecessary pain at the pump, on Valley farms and in grocery stores as well as costing our nation jobs,” his office said.

He toured the Valero refinery in Benicia and had an energy roundtable discussion with refining business representatives and community business leaders; later, he made a brief stop at an Oakland truck stop.

On his web page, Denham says that even as the nation explores “newer, cleaner energy sources, we must continue to utilize the rich resources within our own borders and on the Outer Continental Shelf, such as oil, coal, liquid, natural gas, and oil shale. One of the most promising outlets for new energy sources is nuclear energy, one of the cleanest forms of energy on the planet.”

For his full remarks as prepared for the Benicia event, read after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012
Under: energy, Environment, Jeff Denham, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Boxer to hold nuclear safety hearing next week

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer will convene a hearing next Thursday on Capitol Hill to discuss the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s efforts to shore up U.S. reactors’ safety following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis.

This Sunday marks one year since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japan’s coast caused a massive tsunami that killed about 20,000 people and precipitated the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant – a multiple-meltdown and radiation release that was the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The NRC announced today it’s implementing several recommendations based on lessons learned from Japan. All U.S. commercial nuclear power plants, including those under construction, must better protect post-9/11 safety equipment and get enough such equipment to support all of a site’s reactors simultaneously; they also must install better equipment to monitor water levels in spent-fuel pools. Certain boiling-water reactors also must improve their venting systems. They have until the end of 2016 to comply.

All five commissioners are scheduled to appear at Thursday’s hearing.

Posted on Friday, March 9th, 2012
Under: Barbara Boxer, energy, U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »