Posts filed under 'Energy'

EQSC Completes 2008 Meetings

The Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) has completed its 2008 meetings, and the final report should be available online soon.

I had the opportunity to serve as chairman of this interim study committee this year. We received some informative testimony about a range of important environmental and energy issues that the Legislature will be likely dealing with next year.

At our final meeting on October 8th, we were able to unanimously agree to the following recommendations for inclusion in the final report:

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure. The EQSC recommends that the General Assembly support an updated study on funding water and wastewater infrastructure needs through a variety of funding sources.

E-Waste. The EQSC looked at existing E-waste programs in Indiana and other states, including the distribution of costs and landfill bans. After hearing testimony, the EQSC recommends to the General Assembly expanding opportunities for E-waste recycling and looking at the roles of manufacturers, retailers, and consumers with the goal of making it more widespread and convenient.

Energy Code. The EQSC recommends that the General Assembly and the administration direct the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission to examine the Indiana Energy Code and look to updating the code with input from a broad group of stakeholders.

Green Building Standards. The EQSC recommends that the General Assembly find ways to encourage the adoption of green building standards, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Green Globe, or an equivalent standard, in publicly funded construction projects.

CAFOs. The General Assembly should adopt the confined feeding good character disclosure and enforcement requirements contained in SB 431-2007, amended to allow IDEM to consider a permit applicant’s compliance history outside the United States.

The recommendations do not include everything I would have liked to have seen, particularly regarding CAFOs and Green Building Standards. However, I think it is important the committee be unanimous in its recommendations, and this was the consensus we were able to reach.

I will post a link to the final report, which includes summaries of the testimony from each meeting, when it becomes available.

1 comment October 15th, 2008

Continuing committee work on Senate bills

Most business in the House this week is taking place in the committees, as bills that have been sent over from the Senate are being considered.

Yesterday, the Environmental Affairs Committee unanimously passed two bills. SB 22 applies pipeline safety laws to hazardous liquids and carbon dioxide fluid, and SB 146 deals with property transfer disclosure forms.

environmental committeeA third bill, SB 234, was held over for a vote at the next committee meeting. The bill deals with several aspects of environmental rulemaking, but it needs a few technical amendments, and Chairman David Wolkins (R – Winona Lake) indicated he would like time to consider more possible amendments for the bill.

Today I will be working in two more committees. The Committee on Courts and Criminal Code has the following bills on the calendar:

    SB 5 – Makes disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral a Class D felony.
    SB 6 – Modifies several sex offense provisions, including lifetime parole and GPS monitoring for some offenders.
    SB 83 – Creates a mandatory D Felony for some classes of resisting law enforcement with a deadly weapon and some motor vehicle offenses resulting in death or injury.
    SB 168 – Allows a county prosecutor to refer some Medicaid related crimes to the Attorney General for prosecution.
    SB 246 – Expands definition of “sexually violent predator” among other issues. (This bill has been carried over from the last committee meeting and will be amended.)

Later in the afternoon, the Committee on Utilities and Energy will be considering these bills:

    SB 69 – Changes governance provisions of rural telephone cooperatives.
    SB 72 – Allows the IURC to meet in executive session in some instances.
    SB 353 – Creates several incentives and deductions for biodiesel and ethanol.

Some of the bills listed above may end up being held over for additional consideration, pending the outcome of committee discussion.

Add comment February 15th, 2006

Ethanol and Net Energy Balance

cornpumpMy last post on E85 fuel arriving in St. Joseph County prompted a reply from a reader in the great state of Wisconsin who asked me to discuss more of what he felt were the negative aspects to ethanol.

I thought I was relatively neutral in my posting, and even mentioned the poor fuel economy that E85 gave relative to gasoline. In fact, with gas prices what they are at this writing, E85 is actually a bad buy compared to gasoline.

However, his email did remind me of a familiar topic that comes up whenever ethanol is discussed. That is the common perception that ethanol takes more energy to produce than it actually produces. This is called a “negative energy balance.”

The biggest proponents of this viewpoint seem to be Prof. David Pimentel of Cornell University, and Prof. Tad Patzek of UC Berkley. Prof. Patzek’s updated paper on the issue can be found here.

The main thrust of the argument is that all of the energy that goes into biomass production, distillation, and distribution far outweighs the energy benefit that actually ends up in the tank of your car.

Criticisms of their methodology, though, do exist. For instance, they fail to give energy “credits” for co-products created in the ethanol distillation process (such as animal feed), and include the energy costs associated with the steel in the farmer’s machinery (even the farmer’s food), that would probably still be consumed regardless if the crop were used for ethanol production.

However, the U.S. Department of Energy says that ethanol – while acknowledging high energy and chemical use in its production – has a positive energy balance.

Further, a new study led by Dr. Michael Wang at Argonne National Laboratory Transportation Technology R&D Center concludes that ethanol actually generates 35% more energy than it takes to produce.

More after the jump…

ethanol plantThe Argonne report (summary available here) lays out the following:

One million BTU’s of ethanol takes .74 million BTU’s of fossil energy input, while one million BTU’s of gasoline takes 1.23 million BTU’s of fossil energy input.

In fact, the Fuel to Energy Ratio (energy contained in the fuel / fossil energy input) is even worse when considering other energy sources. Electricity comes in at .45, gasoline is .81, coal is .98, and corn ethanol is 1.36.

Real future potential lies in the development of cellulosic ethanol, derived from plants like switchgrass, which has an astounding FER of 10.31. Switchgrass is more efficient to harvest, doesn’t require re-seeding, and current R&D is focusing on ways to use the unfermentable portion of biomass to generate steam for electricity.

The policy conclusions reached by the study are also interesting. They point out that not all BTU’s are equal – in fact the energy sector routinely spends energy to convert a low-value BTU (like crude oil) into a high value BTU (like refined gasoline).

Further, it seems clear that the net energy balance of any given fuel is arbitrary when considered by itself. To be useful, net energy balances of different fuels need to be compared to each other and weighed against desired results – such as reduction in petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. When ethanol is put up against petroleum based fuels, the Argonne study says it is clearly superior in those categories.

Of course, new research will continually improve the baseline numbers. Changes in things like the cost of enzymes used in ethanol production have dropped the price per gallon recently.

Companies like General Motors are aware of these developments and build alternative fuel consumption into their market-strategies:

If you compare a vehicle using E85 to a typical hybrid vehicle, the hybrid may get better gas mileage but the E85-powered vehicle saves hundreds more gallons of petroleum per vehicle per year, because only 15 percent of what you put in the tank is petroleum-based, compared with 100 percent in the hybrid’s tank…

In the big picture, E85 is just one of what we see as a number of solutions to the energy equation, and we’re planning for all of them, so that we will be ready when the market decides which way to go. We’re not putting all of our eggs into one fuel tank.

Ethanol is not a catch-all solution to our energy problems. It is just one of the many innovative alternative fuels being developed today that will evolve over time. One of the most interesting potential fuel sources I’ve read of recently comes from Nobel prize-winner Dr. Stephen Chu, Director of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Dr. Chu sees a future in a type of biomass I had never considered:

Now, if you look in the gut of a termite, or the gut of a cow — or even in feedlot manure piles — there are bacteria that are similarly converting biomass into energy for them to live on…

Either we’ll genetically engineer the microorganisms from termite guts to produce more energy from biomass than they need, or we’ll adapt the chemistry within the microorganisms to process the biomass ourselves.

Much of our national energy policy is decided at the Federal level. But in Indiana, we can continue to invest in basic research and encourage the development of many different alternative fuels. For example, in the last legislative session I was a co-author of HB 1032 (written by Representative Steve Heim, R-Culver), which required state vehicles to use biodiesel fuel when possible.

I will continue to work on legislation that leads to a healthy alternative fuel economy and a more far-reaching energy policy in general. As always, let me know if you have any ideas you would like to share.

Add comment November 15th, 2005

E85 arrives in St. Joe County

brown countyAs reported by WNDU, St. Joseph County finally has a gas station selling E85 fuel. The Citgo at the corner of Bittersweet Rd. and McKinley Hwy. is selling the alternative fuel for (as of last night) $1.99 a gallon – almost 20 cents cheaper than gasoline.

E85 is actually 85% ethyl alcohol (ethanol), and only 15% gasoline. You can check here for a current list of E85 refueling locations in Indiana.

e85 nozzleAs my Ford Taurus is a “Flexible Fuel Vehicle” that can run on E85, I just had to give it a try. Filling up was just like using a regular pump, and the nozzle was clearly labeled to prevent people from accidentally fueling incompatible vehicles.

So far, everything is running smoothly. However, I did seem to notice a dip in fuel economy. A quick check with the Federal Fuel Economy Guide shows that ethanol actually has a slightly worse fuel economy than gasoline:

taurus stats

Just how economical that difference in fuel economy is will depend on the future of gas prices. However, if my car ran on E85 all year, it would end up emitting 2 tons less greenhouse gas than if it had burned gasoline.

For more information, feel free to consult the following resources:

Add comment November 11th, 2005

EQSC adopts final report

The Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) held its final meeting of the year on Wednesday. The Council adopted a final report, which included recommendations on several areas of environmental policy.

eqsc

The final report has not yet been posted, but I have uploaded a draft version of the report and made it available here (the highlighted portions are additions from Wednesday’s meeting).

One of the most significant recommendations deals with the mercury switch problem that I discussed in an earlier entry:

Essentially, the problem is that car manufacturers included motion-activated switches in automobiles (like the switches under your hood and trunk that turn on lights when you lift them) for many years. Although most of these switches are no longer included in cars, the mercury from them ends up in scrap steel. This scrap steel is melted down by steel manufacturers, and pumped back in to the atmosphere.

Many other states are dealing with this problem, and the issue always comes down to who covers the cost of reclamation from the scrap yards - car manufacturers, steel recyclers, the scrap yard operator, or the state taxpayers.

The Council essentially endorsed the concept of a state “bounty” system to pay for the collection of mercury switches from scrap yards. Exactly how the bounty will be funded - and by whom - is an issue that will be hashed out in the Legislature. Other states have required automobile manufacturers whose cars contained mercury switches to contribute to their collection programs.

Another recommendation was to improve the practices of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) - including the possibility of requiring financial assurance bonding. Indiana CAFO issues have been covered extensively at Kemplog, if you would like to do further reading on the subject.

The report also includes a recommendation for the Governor to establish a Sustainable Energy Commission to examine the potential long-term impacts of alternative energy and energy efficiency. The recommendation mirrors some of the policy contained in HB 1642 that was introduced by Representative Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) in the last session.

I look forward to working on these and other environmental issues in the upcoming session. As always, if you have any suggestions or comments, please feel free to let me know.

Add comment October 27th, 2005

Renewable Energy in Indiana

biofuelsThe Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) met today to discuss the development of viable renewable energy sources in Indiana.

Our first guest was Andy Miller, Director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. He discussed strategies for the development of “Bioenergy” in our state - specifically ethanol, and soy biodiesel. Of particular interest was the proposal for the state’s first “Bio-Town” - Reynolds, Indiana.

The people of Reynolds have agreed to take part in a long-term experiment that seeks to make the entire town energy self-sufficient. In cooperation with the Indiana Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Energy, and Purdue University, Reynolds will eventually be converting all of its gasoline, natural gas, and electric consumption to 100% renewable and locally-produced sources.

Another interesting group of presenters was a team of scientists from Purdue University. Representatives from the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering, the Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, the Energy Modeling Research Groups, and the Department of Agronomy discussed the latest research in ethanol and soy biodiesel, biofuel additives for jet engines, clean coal technology, and methane/methanol production from waste products.

Paul Pabor from Waste Management discussed his company’s landfill gas recovery systems. Vince Griffin from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce talked to the Council about energy production from waste tires.

Eric Holdsworth from the Edison Electric Institute also made a presentation on some of the key points of the 2005 Federal Energy Act, and the impact it could have on Indiana.

The EQSC makes a point of spending a great deal of time on complicated and technical matters that effect environmental policy. My goal as a memeber of the Council is to stay up-to-date on the latest science, research, and administrative regulations that impact the quality of our state’s environment. To see past minutes and agendas, visit the EQSC web page.

Add comment September 29th, 2005

County Council Denies Tondu Permit

The St. Joseph County Council has voted to deny the special use permit for the proposed Tondu coal gasification plant.

The final vote was 7-2.

The two “yes” votes were from Andrew Kostielney (R - District B), and Dale Devon (R - District C).

The “no” votes were from Randy Przbysz (D - District A), Rafael Morton (D - District D), Michael Kruk (D - District E), Dennis Schafer (R - District F), Mark Catanzarite (D - District G), Joseph A. Baldoni (D - District H), and Mark Root (R - District I).

If you are intereseted, you can access the District maps here.

The folks at Michiana Quality of Life worked to put together an impressive grass-roots effort on this issue.

(update: here)

September 22nd, 2005


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