Solyndra a Model of Why the U.S. Won’t Be a Contender in the New World Order

Going green has lost quite a bit if traction in the U.S. because of some really outrageous spin and it would appear the oil/gas industry and their lackey’s in congress to be the culprits. Despite the fact we can see climate change with our own eyes, and that some of the giants in the oil industry admitted greenhouse gas contributes to climate change, we’re heading toward more fossil fuel production with gas fracking and tar sands oil at the top of the list. Friends of fossil fuel have jumped on the Solyndra bandwagon of failure as some sort of omen that green start-ups are too risky, and therefore, unworthy business models in the U.S. during a time of renewed “drill and frack” mentality. But Solyndra is a model of a much more ominous nature. Solyndra’s failure is not due to an innovation that had no place in the market, or mishandling of funds, or was too costly compared to the competition, or because it was a vehicle of some underhanded exchange of money for political gain. While conspiracies abound around the name “Solyndra” the biggest problem Solyndra had to overcome was CHINA, one of the four new and fastest growing world economies. No the U.S. is not on that short list.  We’ll never make it at all if we continue on the path of fossil fuel for energy and stall moving forward quickly with green innovation.

Don’t get me wrong. China is indeed destined to get most of that tar sand oil from Canada, and so it is in the big fossil fuel burning category of nations. But China also continues to be a mixed bag for its energy sources and moving more and more quickly into the green foray. China recently emerged as KING of solar panel producers exporting its solar panel wares worldwide in numbers far greater than its competitors. But how did this happen you say and so quickly? And how come a company like Solyndra that barely came out of the ground went under so quickly? Surely there was a market for solar just look at China.

Just about all the reporting relative to Solyndra from ABC, to Fox, to numerous websites has been false and totally out of context, the main one being that it is Obama’s baby. Truth is Solyndra began in 2005 with a sound standing in the field of solar panels. Solyndra was the leader in innovation for solar. While standard solar panels look like flat screen monitors and utilize costly silicon in their photovoltaics (sun’s energy converted to direct current), Solyndra’s solar panels sported a tubular design that didn’t utilize silicon chips at all.

Solyndra’s solar panels are made up of 40 individual modules, wired in parallel for high current, which capture sunlight across a 360-degree photovoltaic surface capable of converting direct, diffuse and reflected sunlight into electricity. Using innovative cylindrical copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS modules) and thin-film technology, Solyndra systems are designed to be able to provide the lowest system installation costs on a per watt basis for the commercial rooftop market. More than 1000 Solyndra systems are installed around the world, representing nearly 100 Megawatts.

Lightweight: Low Distributed Load of 2.8 lbs. per Square Foot

Designed to Last for More than 25 Years

Easier and Cheaper Installation

Superior Wind Performance: Ideal for Windy Locations

Greater and More Effective Rooftop Coverage

Design Keeps Panels and Roofs Cooler

From 2005 to late 2009, Solyndra panels were in the ballpark cost wise with standard solar panel manufacturers. Solyndra’s  founder  Dr. Christian Gronet earned a Ph.D. in semiconductor processing and a bachelor of science degree in Materials Science from Stanford University and was Vice President and General Manager of the Transistor, Capacitor and Gate product group at Applied Materials for 11 years.   According to their website, “Applied Materials is the global leader in providing innovative equipment, services, and software to the semiconductor, flat panel display, and solar photovoltaic industries.

Solyndra had no problem raising over $78 million in venture capital quickly. From Climate Progress and verified by the DOE: “Solyndra raises its first round of venture financing worth $10.6 million from CMEA Capital, Redpoint Ventures, and U.S. Venture Partners. In October, Argonaut Venture Capital, an investment arm of George Kaiser, invests $17 million into Solyndra. Madrone Capital Partners, an investment arm of the Walton family, invests $7 million. Those investments are part of a $78.2 million fund.”

Funding came from the Right, the Left, and everywhere in between.

At about the same time Solyndra began, the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 was initiated. Section 1703 seemed an ideal match for a company like Solyndra as follows: “Section 1703 of Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy to support innovative clean energy technologies that are typically unable to obtain conventional private financing due to high technology risks.” The emphasis here is on the word “risk.”

In 2006, Solyndra applied for a DOE loan under Section 1703. Late 2007 the loan program was funded and Solyndra was on the list for a loan. According to Energy Sec’y Sam Bodman at that time: “The Energy Department had received 143 pre-applications for the guarantees and narrowed the list down to 16 finalists — including Solyndra.” Why was Solyndra mentioned that way, as if singled out? According to, “Bush’s Energy Department apparently adjusted its regulations to make sure that Solyndra would be eligible for the guarantees. It hadn’t originally contemplated including the photovoltaic-panel manufacturing that Solyndra did but changed the regulation before it was finalized. The only project that benefited was Solyndra’s.” Hmmm—heavy Republican investors or what? The Bush Administration, as I often blogged about back then, was not exactly green by any stretch of the word. However, it was late 2007 and 2008 meant a new presidential race. Being able to tout investment in alternative energy might appeal to some independent voters. Whatever the case, this loan program and its admittance of Solyndra on the list was a decision made during the Bush Administration.

By 2008, Solyndra planned on building 2 new facilities in the U.S., and private investment in Solyndra reached an accumulated $450 million. It still looked like a great venture. Prices for silicon remained high and Solyndra’s costs were still competitive. But by late 2008, the loan still hadn’t been approved. According to

January 2009: In an effort to show it has done something to support renewable energy, the Bush Administration tries to take Solyndra before a DOE credit review committee before President Obama is inaugurated. The committee, consisting of career civil servants with financial expertise, remands the loan back to DOE “without prejudice” because it wasn’t ready for conditional commitment.

March 2009: The same credit committee approves the strengthened loan application. The deal passes on to DOE’s credit review board. Career staff (not political appointees) within the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out terms for a guarantee.

Once taxpayer money was involved, the Obama administration was reluctant to let Solyndra fail. reported:

June 2009: As more silicon production facilities come online while demand for PV (photovoltaics) wavers due to the economic slowdown, silicon prices start to drop. Meanwhile, the Chinese begin rapidly scaling domestic manufacturing and set a path toward dramatic, unforeseen cost reductions in PV. Between June of 2009 and August of 2011, PV (photovoltaic) prices drop more than 50%.

Some reports suggested that President Obama was warned several times via email that the deal was risky. On the contrary, Media Matters stated:

There was no email to Obama that the deal wasn’t ready for prime time relative to financial risk. Instead Email Concerned Timing Of Announcement, Not The Merit Of The Loan Guarantee.[] The email argued that ‘This deal is NOT ready for prime time’ because there were more steps to be completed before the loan guarantee could be finalized — namely, OMB had to review the credit rating and Solyndra needed to raise an additional $200 million in private capital. [House Energy and Commerce Republicans,9/14/11]

The merit of the loan guarantee lies with the OMB or Office of Management and Budget.

  • OMB reviews and must approve credit subsidy cost estimates for all loan and loan guarantee programs, including the credit subsidy cost estimates generated by DOE for the Title XVII program, to ensure that costs are accounted for appropriately.
  • OMB assesses cost estimates on a loan-by-loan basis because the Title XVII program provides relatively large-dollar guarantees and because their characteristics, terms, and risks vary greatly from project to project.
  • OMB delegates the modeling of credit subsidy costs to agencies, and issues implementing guidance to ensure consistent and accurate estimates of cost.
  • OMB works closely with agencies to create or revise credit subsidy models for new programs or programs issuing their first loans or loan guarantees, such as the Title XVII program in 2009,
  • Based on these models, OMB reviews and exercises final approval authority over credit subsidy costs to ensure that the costs of direct loans and loan guarantees are presented, and reflect estimated risks, consistently across Federal agencies so that taxpayer funds are invested in a prudent and effective fashion.
  • The final decision on whether to issue the loan or guarantee rests with the agency implementing the applicable program – DOE in the case of Title XVII.

By September 2009 Solyndra raised the money, an additional $219 million dollars and the $535 million loan from the DOE went through. Around one billion dollars had been invested in Solyndra, the bigger portion coming from the private investment sector. The Walton’s (the Wal-Mart family) Madrone Capital Partners and the Kaiser Foundation’s Argonaut Venture Capital, the Right and Left money respectively, being the biggest investors.

At this point, early 2010, China trumped everyone in the solar game “dump[ing] $30 billion into its solar industry. That is a lot of money for infrastructure as well as research and development. There is little doubt that the companies making solar panels in China benefited from the money.”

However, China did so in violation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which prohibits government subsidies for corporations/businesses that plan to export. To do so allows that country to possibly corner the worldwide market in any segment, which China has done with solar panels. The thinking goes this way. A corporation is limited in growth if all its goods and services remain in the country. In the U.S., a corporation is limited by the fact that we only have 300 million people and consumers are only going to buy so many goods/services over a period of time. But if that same corporation decides to export—the sky is the limit. So for any government to heavily subsidize a corporation that also plans to export, tips the playing field badly on competition that can’t possibly keep up. Since China has over 3 times our population the playing field is already tipped to say the least. The $30 billion dollar Chinese “illegal” dump into the solar industry was a death knell for Solyndra.

It’s not unforeseen or unusual that from December 2010 through February 2011, the two largest private investors, DOE, and Solyndra “negotiated the terms and conditions of an agreement to restructure the Solyndra loan guarantee. Throughout this process, DOE consulted with OMB about the proposed terms and conditions of this arrangement.” NY Times: Experts Said DOE’s Decision To Restructure “Is Routine In The Commercial World.” From a September 16, New York Times article

By the end of February 2011,

  • Both Argonaut and Madrone added a combined $69 million in emergency funds to Solyndra.
  • DOE agreed to extend the term of Solyndra’s loan guarantee from seven to 10 years, and to postpone the first repayment installment by one year, from 2012 to 2013.
  • In addition, the agreement provided that, in the event of the company’s liquidation before 2013, the investors have the senior secured position with respect to the first $75 million recovered. In this case, it is not the full $75 million but rather the $69 million in emergency funds as stated, “The two firms gave the company a total of $69 million in emergency loans. The loans are the only portion of their investments that have repayment priority above the U.S. government. [Associated Press,9/16/11].
  • DOE has the second senior secured position with respect to the next $150 million recovered in liquidation. This is taxpayer money
  • If Solyndra had not liquidated or declared bankruptcy by 2013, the investors would have lost their senior secured position to DOE. [House Energy and Commerce Committee, 9/12/11]

Media Matters further stated that the decision to fund Solyndra, which in turn built brand new state of the art facilities, is in much better shape to garner more when they liquidate. “DOE determined, as part of the restructuring, that the facility would be more valuable, even in the event of a future liquidation, once complete.” He went on to say that “DOE determined that restructuring the loan guarantee gave the U.S. taxpayer the best chance of being repaid”

So there you have it. Advanced solar technology like Solyndra had a foothold in the industry when it began 7 years ago, but failed during the slow, slow process of funding during which time a giant like China decided to dump an “unforeseen” 30 billion into the solar panel industry in a very short time. Did they know about Solyndra? China’s panels are ho hum standard cheap, nowhere near the innovation of Solyndra. It’s a shame we have segments of our population that scream about government helping new industry get a start when our competition does it all the time. It’s not socialism by any stretch, especially when it’s about energy and infrastructure. It’s investment in the U.S. future if we’re going to compete with the likes of China, India, Russia, or Brazil—the top 4 economic powers now. Government certainly needs to rethink  trade agreements too now that we know how China plans to play the game.


XL Pipeline Looks to be a Good Deal for China Not Americans; Alternate Route through British Columbia Being Considered

I did some research into the XL pipeline and reputable sources outlined a trail that leads back to China. China is investing in oil, gas, and alternative energy projects around the globe for its huge population and Canada is getting a lot of Chinese investment. According to an article from October this year by Senator Ron Wyden (OR), “Just last week, the New York Times reported that Sinopec, a Chinese oil company owned by the Chinese government, bought Daylight Energy, a Canadian oil and natural gas producer. This is the third major acquisition of a Canadian tar sands oil company by the Chinese government in recent months.” Just last year, “ConocoPhillips…agreed to sell its stake in Canadian oil sands producer Syncrude to a Chinese petroleum company for $4.65 billion. This marks the largest energy deal in North America by a company backed by China’s government.” With the latest scandal about conflict of interest between lobbyists for Trans Canada who propose the pipeline and officials in the State Dept., plus growing dissent among Americans, President Obama has taken over the decision of the pipeline. It will come somewhere around January and will take into account both economic and environmental factors.

The economics relative to the XL pipeline as far as I can see are this:

China benefits. Trans Canada benefits. U.S. Big Oil benefits.

The jobs are negligible. Information straight from TransCanada stated:

Construction of the proposed Project, including the pipeline and pump stations, would result in hiring approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers over the 3 year construction period. As indicated above, it is expected that roughly 10 to 15 percent of the construction workforce would be hired from local labor markets, thus 500 to 900 local workers throughout the entire region of influence would be hired.

After construction of the pipeline there won’t be any jobs. To do what? Watch it? All the pumping stations are monitored electronically. Even oil job websites make the statement that pipeline jobs are temporary, “To build a pipeline takes a huge initial investment, but once it’s built, the cost of labor and pipeline maintenance are fairly low. Contrast this to the cost of building and running tanker ships, another popular means of oil transportation. It costs far less to build a tanker than a pipeline but over the long run it’s more expensive due to fuel costs, staff, and maintenance.”

Lower prices at the pump will simply not materialize once the tar sands oil is shared with a nation of 1 billion plus consumers like China. I shouldn’t use the term shared. The pipeline for tar sands is predestined for CHINA whether through the U.S or Canada. Demand will go up and so will prices and Canadian Oil is all for it. It’s in the plans to get prices up on dirty tar sands oil. As Senator Wyden also commented in the same article from Huffington Post cited above:

[]There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Canadian oil producers view the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline as an opportunity to charge more for their oil. According to TransCanada, Canadian oil shippers could use the pipeline to add up to $4 billion to U.S. fuel costs. As I indicated in a letter to the FTC earlier this year, seven Canadian oil producer have already shown signs of having colluded to raise prices on gasoline for American consumers.[] Building the KXL pipeline would also mean that we would be helping our county’s biggest global competitor — China — meet its energy import needs at the expense of our own. Sounds like a great deal for China, but not such a good deal for the United States.

That’s quite a twist on what we’ve been told about the merits of the XL pipeline. We’re lied to once again by Big Oil advertising. There will be no hundreds of thousands of jobs and growing. It will not boost our economy but for Big Oil’s pockets and will possibly serve to raise prices at the pumps instead. And in the grand finale of it all we’re helping our biggest competitor with nothing in it for us.

Meanwhile a video of the environmental impact from developing a project like Alberta Tar Sands speaks a thousand words. We should not have done this. We should not perpetuate this practice any longer.

Canada’s Dirty Oil: Breaking Our Addiction – General audience (long version) from Dirty Oil Sands on Vimeo.

It’s time to move on to the 21st Century and away from fossil fuel. There is no need to tap INTO the earth when the environment has readily available, renewable sources for energy that have never been harvested in a big way. We’ll never switch to alternatives, if we continue our addiction to fossil fuels and enable other countries to use what will ultimately create more climate crisis worldwide.


Oil Industry Earnings Leap

Even though less oil was produced, higher prices at the pump resulted in a leap of earnings for the U.S. largest oil companies.

We encourage oil companies by subsidizing them to produce more. The claim is we have to get away from HOSTILE foreign sources of oil. Hell, we get half our oil from HOSTILE CANADA.

So let me get this straight. Subsidies went in but production was down anyway and what did come out were higher prices at the pump for us and a big, big profit for Exxon. And besides big profits, taxes are basically non-existent for big oil. How?

A subsidy works like a tax cut and clearly contributes to the oil industry’s big profits. The Becker-Posner blog (and other sources) claim big oil pays little to no taxes because: “The aggregate values of the subsidies to the U.S. oil industry is approximately $5 billion a year, almost as much as the industry pays in federal income tax ($5.7 billion).” It’s a wash!

Doesn’t it occur to anyone that independent companies should be paying for their own production, and when it’s a bust, they eat the loss like the rest of the little businesses do? But then again the little guys are still subject to a free market, which depends upon close competition. The little guys can’t raise prices too much or they lose buyers. But we consumers have little to no alternative choices for gas that’s economically and environmentally viable at this point. Therefore, big oil is not subject to a truly free market. They have no competition other than foreign vs. domestic oil. And what about the competition that just never seems to get off the ground as far as new fuels like algae, hydrogen, etc. No one seems to be curious about that fact even though our military is thoroughly enjoying algae fuel. The U.S. used to be a big innovator but all of that seems to have stopped especially when it comes to energy.

Warnings about too big to fail should be “TOO BIG TO TAKE DOWN NOW” for many U.S. corporations especially big oil. They call the shots when it comes to cutting out their subsidies that would save us billions. Attempts have been made to do that back to Reagan without success. The threat to us from big oil is evident in commercials where supposedly normal citizens are interviewed and warn: “Increasing taxes (cutting subsidies) on big oil is not a good idea. We’ll pay for it at the pumps and we can’t afford that now.” Plus with our jobs problem there is the added leverage of declaring “it will hurt jobs too.” Am I wrong here or do these warnings smack of for-lack-of-a-better-word “extortion” because the definition for that fits: “The practice of obtaining something, esp. money, through force or threats.” Regular citizens in commercials or not, big oil pays for those “warnings” to be aired. Raising prices at the pump is the threat if we the people continue to pursue cutting subsidies to big oil.

How about force? Oil companies just arbitrarily raise prices across the board for their profit. Oh we might find a 10 to 15 cent per gallon variance at this pump or that but that’s it. We’re forced to pay the price. There is no “taking business elsewhere.” Outside of buying an old diesel car and filling it with dollar store veggie oil, we’re forced to pay big bucks for hybrid cars, electric cars, etc. too. And I can already see our U.S. automakers falling behind because our mindset is stuck on petro. U.S. automakers were punished for producing gas guzzlers that the public kept demanding. Meanwhile we allow foreign automakers to unveil their cheap all electric cars here. Enter Mitsubishi:

The powers that be no longer represent us when we read about enormous profits for Exxon/Shell knowing we subsidized them dearly with nothing for us in return. We’ll see alternatives like algae fuel when big oil decides we’ll see it even though Exxon admitted long ago:

The world faces a significant challenge to supply the energy required for economic development and improved standards of living while managing greenhouse gas emissions and the risks of climate change,” said Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering Co. “It’s going to take integrated solutions and the development of all commercially viable energy sources, improved energy efficiency and effective steps to curb emissions. It is also going to include the development of new technology.

I posted that Exxon admission in a blog March, 2010,

See the date of the link for that quote–2009. Nothing new in commercially viable energy sources has been introduced yet. There has been nothing but stalling on that front. Now the XL Pipeline that will carry oil that burns 6 times dirtier is causing controversy as it should while most GOP contenders for 2012 don’t “think” humans and our pollution are affecting climate change. Someone needs to let them know Exxon let that cat-out-of-the-bag long ago.


About the EPA Lawsuit Against DTE

On August 5, 2010, the U.S. EPA sued DTE Energy, seeking to halt an EXPANSION to a coal-fired electric plant that the government says will worsen air pollution in Michigan. The lawsuit alleges DTE made major modifications in March 2010 to Unit 2 at its Monroe Power Plant without first obtaining necessary approvals. The $30 million overhaul was made without installing, as required under the New Source Review (NSR) requirements of the Clean Air Act, the best available technology to minimize emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides — pollutants that harm human health by contributing to heart attacks, breathing problems, and other health, the suit alleges. The lawsuit alleges the Monroe plant is already the largest individual source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the state and “this modification resulted in significant net emission increases.”
. stated:

The government said DTE conducted a $65-million overhaul of Monroe Unit 2, one of four generators at the facility, earlier this year without obtaining the necessary pollution permits or installing the best pollution controls. As a result, large amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide will be released into the air, the agency said in the suit. It asked U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman to enjoin DTE from operating Unit 2 until it complies with the Clean Air Act and fine the firm up to $37,500 per day for violations.

According to Michigan Messenger: “The EPA suit charges that in March of this year DTE began a months-long project to refurbish the boilers in use at the plant since the 70s. The EPA says that the boiler replacements amount to a major overhaul that cost about $65 million and was “unpredicted” in the life of the plant.”

Part of the alleged problem with the Monroe Plant expansion stems from the same thing I blogged about back in April, 08. I complained that Michigan had lax CO2 laws. Back then Michigan would still issue a permit to a utility company to expand or build a new coal fired plant if it met requirements to capture a percentage of pollutants in its existing plant. My complaint was that pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and CO2 were all lumped together as pollutants. To get around the permitting process all a coal plant needed to do was lower their sulfur and NOX emissions. My words:”Why the rush to put scrubbers on coal plants now if not to apply for permits, and before the rules change?” Considering the Monroe plant was completed in 1974 and scrubber technology was around since the 70’s one has to wonder. It appears the installation of the scrubbers at such a late date on an old plant was an attempt to grandfather the legal right to keep emitting CO2 before new pollutions controls for coalburners went into effect in 2009.

The Sierra Club came to the same conclusion, “Weak regulations and expected federal limits on the emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have led to a rush to get coal plants approved in Michigan now, even though the state won’t need any additional electric generating capacity for many years.”

The grandfather rights to pollute may not be ironclad. New rules apply and first off is a problem with retrofitting older plants. Based on an analysis of EPA data, the study finds:

The nation’s power plants are dirty as well as old — and that those two characteristics tend to go hand in hand. Two-thirds of the nation’s fossil-fuel-generated electricity comes from plants built before 1980. At the same time, those older facilities produced 73% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The report found that for each year older a coal generator is on average, it created 0.001 more tons of CO2 for each Megawatt-hour of electricity it produced in 2007.

Another problem is proving need for more electricity before expanding or building a new coal burner. The state’s Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is allowed to determine this thanks to our House of Reps. The MI Senate proposed a bill to block that right by the DNRE. The permit for denial of the Bay City project is an example that there is no need for more electricity in MI. The project is now on hold due to lack of electricity need. DTE’s own research revealed no increase in electricity supply through 2012. But other studies put it at a much later date considering loss of population in Michigan. A report by a state agency says there will be no new demand for electricity in Michigan until 2022.

There is also the stated problem of not using the best available technology (BACT) to minimize emissions of sulfur and nitrogen dioxide as part of the requirements of the Clean Air Act. DTE claims the scrubbers are top notch, however, they evidently do not fall within the standards set by the top 12% of coalburners in its class. An article on Financial Times/

The legal instrument for this is the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) provisions of the CAA. Essentially, they will require coal utilities to reduce their emissions of hazardous pollutants, as defined by the EPA, to the levels achieved by the best 12 per cent of plants in their class. Once an industry rule comes down, each “source”, or plant, has three years, with one year of allowed extensions, to bring their emission levels down to the standard.

The Michigan Messenger reported: “Monroe’s unit 2 emitted 27,320 tons of sulfur and 8,205 tons of nitrogen oxide just last year and predicts that by 2013, unit 2 will emit 33,816 tons of SO2 and 14,494 tons of NOX.”

Monroe Power Plant began operating two flue gas desulfurization systems, the first in June and the second in November 2009. DTE Energy said the scrubbers reduce Unit 3’s sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 97 percent and mercury emissions by 80 to 90 percent. Unit 4 had similar reductions when the first FGD began operating. Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology was also installed on three of the plant’s generating units, reportedly reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 90 percent. Two more scrubbers and a fourth SCR will be installed at the plant. Allowed to escape–3% of sulfur, 10% nitrogen dioxide, and 10-20% mercury.

It’s a math ratio problem. Increased output by the new expansion results in an increased amount of pollution that is allowed to escape. So 23-33% worth of pollutants overall will be escaping indefinately if the grandfather clause stands. The biggest caveat is that the CO2 is not scrubbed at all. It is just flying freely at an increased rate. This explains why the EXPANSION will worsen air pollution in Michigan.

A Grist article explains the grandfathering, the math ratio, etc., quite well:

The Michigan Messenger article continued:

S02 and NOX can combine with other elements in the air to form particulate matter known as PM 2.5. These pollutants cause harm to human health and the environment once emitted into the air, including premature death, heart attacks and lung problems.

EPA has long warned that DTE was operating its coal plants without required pollution control equipment.
In a July 24, 2009 Notice of Violation, EPA told DTE that it was failing to meet Clean Air Act regulations at its Monroe plant, and at plants in St. Clair, River Rouge, Belle River and Trenton Channel.

‘Unless restrained by an order of this Court,’ EPA charged in its complaint against DTE, ‘these and similar violations of the Act will continue.’

Finally, Michigan’s DNRE also has the right to determine if there are viable alternative sources to the electricity generated by the coal plant.

These criteria have been used to deny permits to both the Holland and Rogers City proposed coal burners. DTE will have to defend its grandfathering. DTE asserted it didn’t need permits. According to, DTE did not seek necessary approvals and “mailed a notification letter to the state of Michigan the day before starting the project.”

DTE also asserts the Monroe Plant is among the cleanest when there are plenty of studies that place it in the top 20 dirty plants in the country like Our air quality in Monroe doesn’t reflect a clean plant either especially when it had no scrubbers for close to 40 years. If the plant is indeed among the dirtiest and the scrubbers aren’t up to par, it may have to revamp the plant.

DTE cautions that the down time will cost customers. I complained in Feb. 08 about passing costs along—”I [] predicted that the utility companies would continue too long on their same course and then whine about the cost to reverse things and comply with new clean air policy. How soon before we hear the sob stories? So predictable. When companies have a big lobby, they throw all foresight to the wind. They don’t need to stay on the ball. They pay to change the play instead. And the taxpayer bears the brunt.”

Customers should not bear the brunt. DTE’s union members authorized a strike just last year: “The union called for the strike authorization citing ‘out of control executive pay, profits at the expense of the consumers and bad faith bargaining.’” This sounds like the bulk of wealthy corporations with big profits that fail to create jobs but look to cut the little guy even more. reported:

Jim Harrison, Local 223 president, told union members DTE is trying to take its workers retirement while the company posts financial gains.

DTE is attempting to raise health care costs to union members, cut or eliminate health care coverage to retirees, and strip employment security for Local 223 workers, the union said.

‘DTE is posting huge profits. It only had to share its success with its union workers,’ Harrison said in a statement.

Some sort of settlement was reached between workers and DTE.

Michigan imports most of its coal at a high price. A study by Union of Concerned Scientists ranked states relative to importing coal and compared with other states, Michigan:

Imported the 5th most in net weight: 36 million tons

Spent the 7th most on net imports: $1.36 billion that went outside of the state

Is the 9th most dependent on net imports as a share of total power use:
60 percent

And building or even expanding a plant that is unnecessary because electricity demand has dropped in MI ends up costing us plenty for nothing both moneywise and to our health.


Germany Sets Goal High; 100% Renewable Energy for Electricity by 2050

Remember when I wrote about the incentives the German government offered to its citizens to get solar panels? It was such a success that people in apartments wanted to know how they could get in on the deal. Plus the government itself lined the autobahn highway with miles of solar panels too. This effort by Germany paved the way for their latest push to power all their electricity needs with alternative energy by 2050. That may sound far away, but hey we’re going into double digits in the 21st century already.

An article on stated:

Thanks to its Renewable Energy Act, Germany is the world leader in photovoltaics: it expects to add more than 5,000 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity this year to reach a total of 14,000 megawatts. It is also the second-biggest wind-power producer after the United States. Some 300,000 RENEWABLE ENERGY JOBS have been created in Germany in the last decade.

The government has set goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2020, and by 80-85% by 2050. That goal could be achieved if Germany switches completely to renewable sources by 2050, Flasbarth said.

About 40% of Germany’s greenhouse gases come from electricity production, in particular, from coal-fired power plants.

Flasbarth said the Environment Agency’s study found that SWITCHING TO GREEN ELECTRICITY by 2050 WOULD HAVE ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES, especially for the vital export-oriented manufacturing industry. It would also create tens of thousands of jobs.

Well so much for the free market system here that is supposed to spur innovation and progress and create jobs ey? It’s not a theory anymore that new ways of doing things can indeed create more jobs while being good for the environment. Germany is actually doing it.
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The Oil Spill + Record Heat Wave = More Energy Tax Commercials = Lies

I’ve noticed energy tax commercials on TV have increased in frequency. I figure the ads are a response by the oil industry to the bad publicity it continues to receive relative to the gulf oil spill, not to mention the incredible heat wave that stretches across America affecting a quarter of our total population this week. The news is calling it “Nature’s Blast Furnace.” Yesterday it was 106 in Baltimore, 104 in Newark, and 103 in Central Park, near 90 in Seattle, and 98 in Boise, Idaho. The Northwest is not used to high heat, and many homes don’t have A/C. In the mid-Atlantic states, it is so hot that construction sites are sending workers home early, and commuter trains are moving slower because the tracks are so hot they bend. There are 500 cooling centers set up in New York City alone. The heat evidently made it as far north as Toronto where they suffered a blackout yesterday. Our old grids are on the line too. Talk about job creation, building a new transcontinental smart grid that can accommodate a variety of energy sources. But that’s another story. With a huge disaster like the spill that continues to spread and now the heat wave, it’s not surprising that more Americans might think mankind does indeed affect the environment and we may be creating a nightmare for ourselves. To continue the same fossil fuel path is self destructive. Enter more frequent energy tax commercials, which is basic “Fear Mongering 101″ among an already income strapped citizenry.

I began to wonder just how much those commercials cost the petro industry, and also if they paid the people that appear in those commercials? The fact is that there is no new energy tax being considered for us. There are, however, new taxes being considered on oil production in the wake of the spill, in order to help clean it up. But what’s really on the line here is $36 billion dollars in government subsidies to the petro industry. That’s right, $36 billion dollars of taxpayer money goes to help one of the wealthiest industries do what it’s going to do anyway.

According to the New York Times, the president of the American Petroleum Institute likes to pit jobs against clean energy progress, something we’ve heard before from the likes of Big Coal that goes like this:

These companies evaluate costs, risks and opportunities across the globe. So if the U.S. makes changes in the tax code that discourages drilling in gulf water, they will go elsewhere and take their jobs with them. (Fear mongering at its finest in the economic state we’re in).

But some government watchdog groups say that only the industry’s political muscle is preserving the tax breaks. An economist for the Treasury Department said in 2009 that a study had found that oil prices and potential profits were so high that eliminating the subsidies would decrease American output by less than half of one percent.

Let’s see. I distinctly remember that Exxon Mobil had a net profit income in just one quarter that amounted to 40.1 billion dollars. So Exxon Mobil alone could literally eat the $36 billion from subsidies stretched across all of our petro industry annually in one lousy quarter and still profit 4.1 billion dollars in that same quarter.

But our petro industry doesn’t want to do that. Instead they threw 340 million dollars at lobbyists in Washington since 2008 to do what lobbyists do best; thwart any kind of progress to move forward to cleaner energy until the oil industry decides.

It’s looking to me like maybe Mother Nature will move us to cleaner energy in the long run, and more than likely too late, but for now we’re being bombarded with commercials meant to scare us by what looks like normal everyday people. From what I’ve seen of a lot of groups these days, we are grossly misinformed altogether, so to see these astute, middle class people give what appears to be an informed opinion without a stutter is a wonder.

Well, I started to dig around to see how much commercials cost, and if the everyday people who appear to be off the street are indeed paid for their “honest” opinion. Geez, I think it’s worse than that. What I found was that the petro industry’s non-video ad copy about impending energy taxes use stock images of middle class Americans supplied by Getty Images. Anyone who has ever imported stock photos for a blog knows what I mean. I’m digressing here, but I used a free stock photo of a coalburner stack for one blog elsewhere and got hit with the worse PC virus I’ve ever encountered. So a heads up on doing that. exposed the petro industry for using these stock photos with the implication they are really average Americans. Treehugger shows the photos side by side from the anti-energy tax ads and Getty Images. It says a lot about what the petro industry thinks of the American public—we’re dummies that won’t remember that Big Coal was tagged for using the very same stock photos last year.

So who knows who the people are in the actual video taped commercials and whether or not they were paid for their negative response. We certainly know they are not well informed. The next time you see one of those energy tax commercials, don’t let it strike fear in your wallet. It’s not us being considered for a new tax . It’s just unsubstantiated fear mongering, something we should be used to by now. The commercials are really the petro industry’s attempt to transfer their own fears of losing those lucrative subsidies from the American public.

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U.S. South Could Save Billions in Energy Costs Over the Next Ten Years

According to an ENS article, (Environmental News Service), research from Duke University and Georgia Institute of Technology reports: “Energy-efficiency measures in the southern United States could save consumers $41 billion on their energy bills, open 380,000 new jobs, and save 8.6 billion gallons of water over the next 10 years. []On average, each dollar invested in energy efficiency over the next 20 years will reap $2.25 in benefits, concludes the study, which also shows that the construction of dozens of new power plants could be avoided.” It’s that last part that’s important. Less coalburners, less greenhouse gas emissions. Conservation should be Part One relative to efforts to stop global warming and are the least costly. The article added: “Almost 25 gigawatts of older power plants could be retired and the construction of new power plants generating up to 50 gigawatts of power could be avoided.”

The researchers listed the following as overlapping processes that reap greater benefits than if implemented alone:

New appliance standards

Incentives for retrofitting and weatherization

Upgrades to utility plants and process improvements

The report said implementing the above was cost effective that would reap benefits for the consumer and help the environment. It said: “The average residential electricity bill would decline by $26 per month in 2020 and $50 per month in 2030, the study projects. In total, the study concludes that investing $200 billion in energy efficiency programs over the next 20 years could return $448 billion in savings.

It pays to invest in energy efficiency and should be the first line of fire. If we use less energy overall, our ability to cover what we do need by alternative energy sources is more attainable. Unfortunately, the U.S. South is slow to grasp energy efficiency. The report shows “energy-efficient products have a lower market penetration in this region than elsewhere in the country, and these states spend less per capita on efficiency programs than the national average.”

One of the researchers from GIT, Dr. Marilyn Brown said, “An aggressive commitment to energy efficiency could be an economic windfall for the South.” Whether the south grasps these ideas, we’ll see. The South is classically conservative and conservatives don’t tend to believe there is a need for environmentalism. Hopefully, saving consumers money will nudge the south in the right direction.

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Ford Motor Co. Looks to Save Over One Million Dollars in Annual Energy Costs

Ford Motor Co. looks to save 1.2 million dollars by simply shutting down its PC’s and desktops when they are not needed. Ford is employing a new program called PC Power Management to centrally control the power settings on all their computers after finding that 60% of them are never shut down, draining electricity, which is called “vampire energy.”

According to an article on PR Newswire website, Ford’s PC Power Management system was developed with NightWatchman software from 1E Inc. 1E Inc. reports, “In the U.S. alone, 2.8 billion of PC power is being wasted every year.” That’s a lot of dough that could certainly be put to better use in this economic environment.

The same article explained further, “The cost savings and reduced carbon footprint are obtained by developing “Power Profiles” for each PC in the company. With its power profile enabled, each PC monitors its usage patterns and determines when it can be turned off. If the user is working late, he or she will be alerted of the approaching power down and given the opportunity to delay it. In addition, the PC is able to detect when a Microsoft Office product is active and is able to save open documents before shutting down in case the user is not present.” I’m impressed.

The EPA was impressed too. Ford received the “ENERGY STAR Award for the fifth consecutive year. In 2008, Ford improved energy efficiency in the U.S. by 5 percent resulting in savings of approximately $16 million. Since 2000, Ford’s U.S. facilities have improved energy efficiency by nearly 35 percent. That’s equivalent to the annual energy consumed by more than 150,000 homes.”

And Ford is urging its employees to reduce their carbon footprint at home for savings too. One begets the other. Why is it other companies whine that they can’t afford to reduce their carbon footprint? Fords was a company in financial trouble in the recent past, and they managed to improve their energy efficiency by 35% over a decade anyway. The fear of going under forces ways to cut costs that usually includes energy as a big piece of the pie relative to usage and waste. Cutting out the waste and reducing energy usage is conservation/environmentalism while saving money.

The association between economic downturn and green innovation is apparent then—the need to cut costs to save money. The 2.8 billion figure above represents money back in my pocket, yours, your employer’s and it’s billions. A shame since some the fixes are so simple.

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Project Frog Building Systems for the Future

I caught a small segment of an Anderson Cooper 360 show that highlighted the first energy efficient building in New England. It’s also the only independent school in Hartford Connecticut. Watkinson School – Center for Science and Global Studies is a Project Frog design. Project Frog’s website states it “makes the most technologically advanced, energy-efficient building systems on the planet. Employing innovative clean technology across the construction spectrum.” I was impressed, but than again I’ve always been in the modern, contemporary mode, what is Project Frog’s style.

Watkinson School needed a new building and fast. So in keeping with the theme of science and global studies that surely covers global climate change, the school went with Project Frog’s building plans/concepts, and 7 months later the school was ready. It leaves no carbon footprint and cost far less to run than a conventional building.

Check out the segment I saw on CNN and Project Frog’s website for more information. To me this looks like the way to go for charter Schools, new office buildings, retail, and hopefully homes of the future. And the biggest news here, it’s cheaper than standard building structures. Project Frog’s website lists the qualities of it’s buildings:

Healthier-low VOC, high air quality, abundant daylight
Higher Quality-engineered, factory built, premium materials
Safer-2008 IBC, zone 4 seismic, 110+mph wind
Materials-high recycled content
Operations-50-70% less consumption
Waste Reduction-near zero on site construction waste
Purchase-single integrated point of purchase
Permit-weeks not months
Build-5X faster than traditional construction
Purchase-25-40% less first cost
Operate-50-75% less operational cost
Recycle-100% recycle potential

I think we’re going to hear a whole lot more about Project Frog. Finally a company that presents a win, win situation for new building construction. Oh forgot to include that local contractors put up the buildings too.

Watch the video

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Texas, the Biggest U.S. Polluter, Challenges EPA/Clean Air Act

Texas produces 35% of our entire nation’s toxic emissions and doesn’t want to change. So Texas has just challenged the EPA relative to regulating greenhouse gas emissions. From what I’ve read it’s state’s rights versus federal according to Texas governor Rick Perry. He claims Texas is doing a fine job of monitoring emissions and getting them under control, and for the EPA to suddenly come down on Texas will cost the state jobs and the involved industries millions that will be passed down to the consumer. He and others also “site ‘scientifically flawed studies’ as their basis for challenging the agency’s decision.” Sorry climate change aside, CO2, SO2, and other greenhouse gases have been found to be detrimental to respiratory health by our own government agency. This challenge is nothing but a stall.

The Dallas Morning News website reported that the other challengers are “the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank and conservative advocacy outfit; the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an organized group of climate-change skeptics; and the Science and Environmental Policy Act, which has challenged the United Nations over findings that buttressed previous climate-change treaties. Greenwire says in its story yesterday that Freedomworks, the advocacy group headed by former Rep. Dick Armey of Denton County, is also involved in the challenge.”

Let’s look at the assertions the governor made. Is Texas doing a fine job of taking care of its pollution? Well not so much. According to an article on Center for Public Integrity’s website, Texas has been caught doing a lot of dirty stuff to their citizens for years.

In October, 2003, in the space of three hours, while the 94,000-plus inhabitants of Tyler slept nearby, Martin Lake [Steam Electric Station] pumped more than 150,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the East Texas air. The pollution was more than eight times the plant’s hourly emissions limits under federal regulations. Sulfur dioxide air pollution, as environmentalists, regulators, and TXU officials have known for many years, helps trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases.

After the October 2003 event, TXU reported the emissions overage to TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). But a comparison between EPA and TCEQ records shows that the company gave a far lower emissions figure to state officials than the smokestack monitor registered.

Hmmm. They lied. The same article continued:

[]A three-month review of federal and state records by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit journalism organization, suggests [the above wasn’t a one time incident]. The review, encompassing 25 million data entries spanning 10 years, shows that between 1997 and 2006, TXU’s coal-fired plants exceeded federal sulfur dioxide emission limits nearly 650 times, spewing more than 1.3 million pounds of excess sulfur dioxide into the Texas air.

Read what the USGS, a government agency, has to say about excesses of SO2, CO2, and hydrogen fluoride relative to volcanic eruptions and regardless of climate change:

The volcanic gases that pose the greatest potential hazard to people, animals, agriculture, and property are sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen fluoride. Locally, sulfur dioxide gas can lead to acid rain and air pollution downwind from a volcano. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a colorless gas with a pungent odor that irritates skin and the tissues and mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat. Sulfur dioxide chiefly affects upper respiratory tract and bronchi. The World Health Organization recommends a concentration of no greater than 0.5 ppm over 24 hours for maximum exposure. A concentration of 6-12 ppm can cause immediate irritation of the nose and throat; 20 ppm can cause eye irritation; 10,000 ppm will irritate moist skin within minutes.


TXU went over 8 times the hourly emissions limit for the Martin Lake plant

The Center for Public Integrity website also stated: “Childhood asthma affected about 3 percent of the population in the 1960s, but that figure has climbed above 9 percent, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. In Fort Worth, a 2003 city health department survey found that asthma rates here were more than double the statewide average, and even higher for children.”

Governor Rick is wrong. Texas is not doing a good job of self regulation. Self regulation is nothing better than the fox guarding the henhouse because industry has no ethics anymore. For instance: “TXU was by no means the only polluter given a free pass by TCEQ. The records gathered by the Center show that, again and again in Texas, air quality enforcement came at the point of a citizen lawsuit, not from the agency.” Texas needs regulations from a higher place because I don’t think things are about to change in the near future in Texas:

As the largest energy provider in Texas, TXU has established an exceptional degree of influence in the Texas statehouse, through a network of high-profile lobbyists and political connections.

In spring 2007 when legislation to increase public oversight over the TXU buyout process was pending in the Senate, TXU and its buyers unleashed a powerhouse lobbying team including former state legislators Curtis Seidlits, Jr., Rudy Garza, Eddie Cavazos, Paul Sadler, and Stan Schlueter, and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk.

According to Texans for Public Justice, TXU and two investor groups spent approximately $17 million during the 2007 Texas legislative session on lobbyists, advertising, food and beverages, entertainment and gifts – including sending 2,400 tacos to legislators and their aides on the first day of the session.

There you have it, polluters spending millions to keep polluting, and whining at the same time that it will cost them millions to curb it. Again, what is known as “scrubbers” for coalburners were around in the 60’s. These scrubbers don’t do a thing for CO2 but do reduce SO2 emissions. And there was a Clean Coal Technology Program launched by the DOE in 1986.

It was a cost-shared effort by government and industry to demonstrate innovative coal-burning processes at a series of full-scale facilities around the country and was expected to finance more than $5 billion in projects before it was completed later in the decade. Under the program, the federal government provided up to 50 percent of the total cost of the demonstration projects. In the first two rounds of solicitation for proposals, the DOE selected 29 projects for funding. In the second round, held in the summer of 1988, seven of the 16 successful proposals involved the use of both wet and dry scrubber systems.

Where was TXU? It obviously didn’t take advantage of that program. I think I read somewhere that now it costs around 650 million dollars on average to put scrubbers on coalburners. It’s industry’s problem for not moving faster on behalf of the health and safety of citizens. Does a little over a half billion dollars constitute hardship for big industry that nets billions per quarter?

Analysts like Al Armendariz, a chemical engineering professor at Southern Methodist University who is an expert on air pollution and an environmental advocate, said smaller and older facilities could face hefty costs, but major companies won’t feel a thing.

“They’ll say, ‘Look, if we have to spend half a million dollars to re-permit, big deal.’ They probably spend more than that on toiletries for those facilities,” he said, noting that even multimillion-dollar expenses would be a “one-time capital blip” for major companies. Armendariz also said he doubts industry claims that consumers could feel any pain.

Al might doubt consumers will feel the pain, but it looks like in Texas and everywhere else the cards are already stacked against the average citizen’s health concerns. As for taxes, have you noticed all the petro commercials airing lately using the fear card…”Prices for consumers will go up. Consumers will be taxed more if the big bad government cracks down on industry pollution and tries to further alternatives.” Industry is already on the move to make Al eat his words.

Taxes and our health and well being should not be pitted against each other like a threat. We’ve been plied with fear for a decade. Consumers should not bear the expense to finance the changes polluting industries will have to make in the future to “clean up” because they failed to make them long ago when it would have been far less expensive. Likewise the consumer should not bear the guilt of any of the health problems that could have been avoided especially in children. Gotta laugh at that one since TXU, the governor of Texas, and anyone else who challenged the EPA obviously feels no remorse for anyone suffering respiratory illnesses at their hands. After all they provided jobs where workers could breathe a toxic brew everyday.