Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for the 'energy' Category

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 »

Stark helps lead move against ethanol subsidies

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, helped spearhead a bipartisan letter sent today to House leaders urging them to let taxpayer-funded ethanol subsidies expire this year.

The letter was signed by 30 Democrats – including Stark, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Mike Honda and Zoe Lofgren – as well as by 37 Republicans, and was directed to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

Here’s the text:

As the first session of the 112th Congress comes to a close, we urge you to allow ethanol subsidies set to expire to do just that and to resist calls to expand or create new ethanol subsidies in the eleventh hour.

The ethanol industry has benefited from a tax credit incentivizing production, an import tariff shielding it from competition, and a renewable fuels mandate creating demand. Both the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit and the prohibitive import tariff are set to expire at the end of this year. These benefits were not permanent in nature for a reason. Congress anticipated the ethanol industry one day being sufficiently mature to stand on its own. It is difficult to make the argument that this day has not arrived. With widespread concern across a spectrum of issues including anti-hunger, fiscal, environmental, agricultural, good governance, and others, extending a billion dollar ethanol tax credit would appear out of the question and the prohibitive import tariff should be allowed to expire as well.

In addition, we urge you to oppose efforts to create new or expand existing subsidies that benefit the ethanol industry in the waning days of this session. For example, there has been the suggestion that the renewable fuels standard be revised to allow corn-based fuels to qualify as an advanced biofuel. Taxpayers deserve to have the future of federal ethanol policy fully vetted under regular order, an opportunity that is unlikely in the last days of the session.

Posted on Friday, December 9th, 2011
Under: Agriculture, energy, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Contra Costa receives $500,000 DOE solar grant

A Contra Costa economic development partnership was awarded a $521,529 Department of Energy grant to help streamline and digitize the permitting process for solar system.

Read on for the news release issued earlier today:

A clean technology initiative of the Contra Costa Economic Partnership has been awarded a major grant through the U.S. Department of Energy Rooftop Solar Challenge, a national program to encourage cities and counties to compete to streamline and digitize solar permitting. (See the DOE news release here:

The Economic Partnership, in collaboration with the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County (, officially launched a business-led effort in June 2011 to stimulate economic growth and job creation throughout the Greater East Bay. This initiative led to the formation of the Diablo Innovation Alliance (, a regional collaboration focused on driving economic growth and job creation in the clean technology sectors.

The DOE funds will be used to develop the first phase of a solar permitting process within Contra Costa County that encourages local jurisdictions to standardize permit requirements so they are easily understood, consistent, timely and cost effective. Subsequent phases and funding would involve the three-county region; successful implementation would serve as a best practice model for statewide adoption.

“The Economic Partnership is working closely with industry to accelerate market adoption and to reduce barriers to innovative solar and other clean energy programs throughout the region,” said Partnership Chair Alex Mehran. “We want to become a global center of clean technology and innovation, and this grant will help us begin to get there.”

“We are extremely excited about this new award and the boost that it provides to spur innovation and job creation in our region,” said Stephen Baiter, Executive Director for the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County. “By continuing to develop and promote policies that support sustainable and efficient energy sources, we will fuel increased demand for our rapidly growing solar industry cluster and get more people in the East Bay back to work.”

A second initiative involves development of a regional energy procurement plan that focuses on public-sector aggregated procurement of solar and other forms of clean energy, and is modeled on the successful Silicon Valley Collaborative Renewable Energy Procurement Project.

Bay Area legislators John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney and George Miller have been big proponents of the economic development initiative from its beginnings, and were part of the launch event on June 29 at Bishop Ranch.

“I am proud to have supported the Contra Costa Economic Partnership application for the Department of Energy SunShot program grant, and I congratulate them on winning the award,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek). “This program will move our country one step closer to energy independence. By streamlining the permitting process, the Economic Partnership will cultivate an environment for businesses to grow and create jobs in our community. Smart public-private partnerships like this will help us to Make It Locally and Make It In America.”

“This grant will put people in the East Bay back to work, creating jobs that we need in the region,” said Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton). “The work of the folks at the Contra Costa Economic Partnership is a wonderful example of how American ingenuity can get our economy back on track. I look forward to seeing the progress that will result from this grant. In today’s economy, the federal government needs to be a partner in spurring economic growth.”

“This announcement is great news for our community. I congratulate the Contra Costa Economic Partnership on their work to create jobs, help homeowners and businesses, and invest in the sustainability of our cities by making it easier to install clean energy in Contra Costa,” Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) said of the project.

About the Contra Costa Economic Partnership (CCEP): The CCEP is an association of  business, education and public sector leaders dedicated to creating and retaining quality jobs in  the Greater East Bay to maintain the region’s quality of life. It is the nonprofit arm of the Contra Costa Council (

Posted on Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, energy, Environment | No Comments »

Lawmakers hold hearing on clean energy economy

Two Assembly members from the East Bay co-chaired a hearing today on keeping California at the forefront of the world’s clean-energy sector.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, co-chair the Assembly Select Committee on California’s Clean Energy Economy, and convened the hearing this morning at the State Capitol.

“We have a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit in this state that is in sync with Californians’ desire to produce clean energy, create jobs and improve our environment,” Wieckowski said in a news release issued later today. “We have the venture capital, the innovation ecosystem and a sound clean energy policy framework. We need to do a better job at coordinating services and incentives, and make sure we continue with the policies that have helped spark the industry.”

Panelists included F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10; Rana Mookherjee, senior director of project finance at Fremont-based Solaria Corp.; Alissa Peterson, director of product marketing and business development at Hayward-based Primus Power; Mickey Oros, senior vice president for business development at Folsom-based Altergy Systems; Nancy Pfund, managing partner of DBL Investors; and Henry Yin, founder and president of USA-China Link.

Panelists discussed the state’s access to venture capital, its research and development capabilities and its clean energy incentives as reasons why so many clean tech companies start here. But federal clean energy subsidies are inadequate and temporary, and with increasing competition from other states and nations, California’s future isn’t assured.

“We have some competitive advantages that other states do not, but what the private sector is telling us is we need to be smart about which incentives we use and how we package them so our companies will want to keep more manufacturing here in California,” Wieckowski said.

Posted on Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, economy, energy, Environment, Nancy Skinner | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers: Gov’t didn’t do enough for Solyndra

At least two local lawmakers say the layoff of 1,100 workers and bankruptcy of Fremont-based Solyndra – a solar cell manufacturing company held up as a paragon of California’s burgeoning green economy by politicians such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Boxer and Barack Obama – is because government hasn’t done enough.

Per our story, Solyndra had landed $535 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as $1.1 billion in private venture capital.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, said he’s saddened by Solyndra’s news and his thoughts are with the workers who’ll lose their jobs, but the company’s struggle “is one shared by other American manufacturers attempting to scale-up operations in a very competitive global economy.

“Although there has been criticism of the amount of public funding received by the company, we must recognize that our fiercest foreign competitors often receive substantially more assistance from their own governments,” he said. “If America is to compete globally and maintain a strong manufacturing base in our industries, we must provide the proper investments, research, and incentives to grow jobs here and assist our companies in scaling up operations. Our workers in the region are among the most innovative and productive in the world, and I remain confident that we can be competitive in the emerging clean energy field.”

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, said it’s “devastating news,” and state lawmakers must “wake up to the fact we must act with urgency to protect jobs and help nurture California’s economy back to good health. When we don’t, our families and communities suffer. The instant loss of 1,100 jobs in my district is big blow that will have negative trickle-down effects throughout the Bay Area.”

“Unfortunately, it is too late to help Solyndra, but many other companies are struggling and could benefit from legislation I have authored that would give California-based solar companies a bid preference on state contracts,” Corbett said. “If California is going to place solar panels on state property, shouldn’t we try to use panels made in California? Isn’t it common sense to use taxpayer dollars to support California jobs? This is a simple measure that can help protect California jobs.”

Corbett’s SB 175 would’ve provided a 5-percent bid preference to companies that certify they’re using California-assembled or manufactured solar panels; the state Senate passed the bill June 1 on a 27-11 vote, but the Assembly Business and Professions Committee nixed it last month. Corbett recently revived the measure by gutting-and-amending the language into SB 134; time is growing short in this legislative session, but Corbett spokesman Andrew LaMar said today that Speaker John Perez’ office has committed to scheduling a hearing on it.

Posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate, economy, Ellen Corbett, energy | 36 Comments »

Biden: DOE money seeded Bay Area investments

Five institutions that got Energy Department seed money in 2009-2010 – including two in the Bay Area – since have attracted more than $100 million in outside private capital investment, Vice President Joe Biden said today.

The money came from the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

“America is at its best when we innovate – and ARPA-E supports the very best of American innovation,” said Biden, who spoke today at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 in Las Vegas.

“These five companies are swinging for the fences, pioneering new technologies that could help answer the energy challenge and create jobs,” he said. “They illustrate how a small but strategic investment by the federal government can pay big dividends down the road and bring into the market groundbreaking new technologies.”

Primus Power of Hayward received $2 million in ARPA-E seed funding in July 2010, and in May 2011 raised $11M in a round of financing. DBL Investors and I2BF Global Ventures joined existing investors Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. It’s developing a “flow battery” using high energy fluids pumped throughout the unit, capable of storing renewable energy such as wind and solar power and then releasing that energy into the grid during peak load times.

Stanford University received $1.5 million in ARPA-E seed funding million and since has secured $25 million in private investments to support Professor Fritz Prinz’s work on commercializing a new type of energy storage device that will perform many of the same jobs as a normal battery, but deliver greater energy and power and withstand thousands of charges without showing a significant drop in performance.

ARPA-E will be making its next round of awards in September, including some to projects to keep America’s manufacturers competitive by reducing the need for expensive “rare earth” materials from China. Rare earths are naturally-occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties, used for modern necessities such as laptops and lasers as well as in clean-energy technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. Up to $30 million will be made available for this area, in addition to funding for projects in advanced biofuels, thermal storage, grid control technologies and solar power.

Posted on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Under: energy | 1 Comment »