Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts

August 10, 2011

Done with AmeriGas, I Hope

On July 11th, having switched to a local propane provider, I sent a letter to the AmeriGas manager in Colorado Springs, Rick Rivers, requesting that the rented tank be removed from our guest cabin.

Coincidentally, one of the neighbors also abandoned AmeriGas over pricing issues and switched to a different local propane provider.

That meant that two tanks were sitting in the tall grass waiting to be picked up. Some time last week they disappeared. Wonderful. If they try to charge me for that service, I may have to point out that I do not have a signed agreement with them. I don't think I had a signed agreement with the predecessor company either.

So is this the end of our saga of trying to get free from AmeriGas? I hope so.

Previous AmeriGas entries from last winter:

AmeriGas: We'll Let You Freeze

AmeriGas: Poor Customer Service—Nationwide! 

AmeriGas's Phony Fran Found This Blog

July 05, 2011

We May Hear More Claims Like This over Wind Turbines

An English farming family is going to court over the noise from wind turbines near their home.

Granted, North America has more wide-open spaces for turbines, but I could see something similar happening here too.

Meanwhile another  British study shows that the real money in wind farms is not so much selling electricity as it is selling the "renewables obligation certificates" to owners of fossil fuel-burning power plants.
Quite often windy periods come when demand is low, as in the middle of the night. Wind power nonetheless forces its way onto the grid, as wind-farm operators make most of their money not from selling electricity but from selling the renewables obligation certificates (ROCs) which they obtain for putting power onto the grid. Companies supplying power to end users in the UK must obtain a certain amount of ROCs by law or pay a "buy-out" fine: as a result ROCs can be sold for money to end-use suppliers.
And that comes from a study funded by the John Muir Trust.

Mega-renewable energy projects seem to be mostly about gaming the system, whether it's wind turbines in Scotland or huge solar projects in American deserts, built because the voters demanded "green energy," and big utility companies build big projects.

Solar panels belong on the end users' rooftops.

May 04, 2011

76 Trombones—and a Nuclear Reactor

When we evacuated our house last Friday afternoon, M. scooped some new sequined, strappy dress sandals that she had not yet worn outside the store.

She is not big on "retail therapy," but these were purchased partly to celebrate the denial of a zoning request in Pueblo County for a vaguely proposed nuclear power plant—or something.

Although the proposer, lawyer Don Banner, was not from out of town, the whole scenario kind of reminded me of the Broadway musical (and later movie) The Music Man.

The film's protagonist travels from town to town, telling the residents that he will organize a boys' marching band. Then he takes the money meant for instruments and uniforms and catches the next train to Somewhere Else.

Banner wanted the county to give him a planned unit development zoning on land he did not own (although he had some options), to build a nuclear power plant with financing and partners that did not yet exist, said power plant to be cooled with water to which he did not have any rights.

And this is Colorado, where water rights are everything.

Oh, and his proposal went before the Board of Commissioners right when the nuclear-plant disaster in Japan was at the top of the news.

But he promised jobs. And you could just imagine a zombie-fied board of commissioners shuffling forward mumbling, "Jobs ..." Right here in River City, as the song goes.

But then, in the words of the Pueblo Chieftain, it all "melted down."
For themselves, the commissioners expected to hear a bitter argument over the safety of nuclear power. Where the ground shifted away from Banner was on the fundamental questions of why was he asking the county to fast-track his project by considering it as a request for a simple planned-unit development instead of a more comprehensive review?

Also, how could he ask the county to approve zoning for a nuclear plant when Banner had no actual power plant for consideration? The controversial details of size, water use and waste storage all would be delayed for future consideration if Banner could find a developer. . . .
For his part, Banner acknowledged that there were many unknowns in his proposal. He was trying to get a site zoned for a power plant without having a utility interested in building it. It was a "build it and they will come" approach that he justified with his enthusiasm for nuclear power.
No water, no land, no partners, no plan. As The Denver Post put it,
But here's the hitch, one that Banner freely concedes: There is no money, developer, committed transmission line or customer for the nuclear power plant.
But he's a visionary!
Banner, who has described himself as "overly zealous" on occasion, accepted the verdict with the same certainty that made him champion the power plant in the first place.
"This was a short-sighted decision," he told The Chieftain after the vote. "And I am a visionary."
Xcel Energy has a coal-fired power plant in Pueblo, and Black Hills Energy is building a natural gas-fired plant as well. So it was not like the area needed a power plant; this was strictly for export, so to speak.

In the end, the commissioners cited the lack of water as perhaps the least-controversial way of saying no to Banner's request. Nuclear reactors require a huge amount of cooling water, which is why they are often located next to rivers or oceans.

Banner is not an out-and-out con man like "the professor" in The Music Man, but his approach likewise was based on telling people down in Pueblo that they had a problem that he could cure. All they had to do was believe in him.

April 14, 2011

Medical Marijuana's Claimed Contribution to Climate Change

An article in the San Francisco Business Journal links medical marijuana to climate change, via the energy costs of the crops.
People growing marijuana indoors use 1 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and they create 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year (not counting the smoke exhaled) according to a report by Evan Mills, an energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

After medical pot use was made legal in California in 1996, Mills says, per-person residential electricity use in Humboldt County jumped 50 percent compared to other parts of the state.

In order to produce some 17,000 metric tons of marijuana this year, Mills estimates authorized growers will use $5 billion worth of energy. That works out to the output of seven big electric power plants.

But since Colorado also permits medical marijuana, I am waiting for one of the many clinics advertising in the Colorado Springs Independent, for example, to trumpet their "solar-powered MMJ."

(Via Ann Althouse.)

February 09, 2011

AmeriGas's Phony Fran Found this Blog

GWherever people post complaints on the Web about AmeriGas's poor propane service, "Fran" is not far behind.

Fran wants you to contact her directly, and she will take care of things.

As if.

Fran is a fake.

Today she found my two recent posts about problems with AmeriGas: "AmeriGas: We'll Let You Freeze" and "AmeriGas: Poor Customer Service—Nationwide!"

"Fran" posted her usual cut-and-paste offer to help. "Hello, my name is Fran and I work for AmeriGas . . ."

But phony Fran fouled up. She signed in with her Blogger account, revealing that she is not "Fran," a competent, take-charge, fix-the-problem sort of gal, but one Stasia DeMarco from the Philadelphia area.

She is listed as blogger or co-blogger on no fewer than eight Blogspot blogs, none of which have been updated since 2010, and some not since 2008 or 2009. (I smell some kind of search engine-optimization scheme here.) Some are (were) co-blogged with one Bob DeMarco, identified as a "veteran Wall Street executive."

She hosts podcasts for Drexel University in Philadelphia. She has a Web site. She Tweets (but not about Amerigas.) She does radio work. And so on.

And she is the phony face of Fran for AmeriGas, part of their pitiful excuse for customer service on the Web.

Times must be tough. Maybe she fell victim to some kind of "work at home, make big money misusing social media" pitch from AmeriGas.

I expect that she is merely one of a group of phony Frans.

And that is how AmeriGas treats its customers—with phoniness and fake concern.

February 08, 2011

Amerigas: Poor Customer Service—Nationwide!

Since my post last month about problems with Amerigas propane service, I discovered that I am not alone, not at all.

Just one of several Web sites for retail-business complaints lists pages of complaints about Amerigas.

And here's the thing: Propane is propane. There is no significant difference between propane delivered in an Amerigas truck and propane delivered by Joe's Propane Service.

The difference is in service, which Amerigas appears to be lacking nationwide, based on what a little Web-surfing has shown me.

So be a "locavore" propane customer.

When you do get your tank filled, it's a Good Thing. A friend living near Taos, New Mexico, wrote that she appreciates propane more after last week's natural-gas emergency in that state, which led to thousands of households losing gas service.

"We are among the luckiest in town right now with our propane heat," she wrote.

Of course, wood heat with propane backup is my favorite: the lambent glow of a wood stove plus a gas-fired furnace to keep the pipes from freezing when we go away.

January 22, 2011

'Amerigas: We'll Let You Freeze'

That's my new advertising slogan for Amerigas, offered free gratis for corporate use. It can be an alternative to "reliable, safe, responsive," which is, frankly, a little dated.

"We'll keep you guessing" might work too.

Although we heat part of the time with wood, like most rural folks, we depend on propane as fuel for cooking, heating water, and heating the house at night or when we are away.

From 1992 through 2007, our propane needs were supplied by All Star Propane of Cañon City. Their drivers were almost as unstoppable as Herodotus’ Persian couriers, except that they did not deliver during “gloom of night.”  They came on a regular basis and topped off the tanks at both houses—ours and the rental cabin.

Then All Star was bought by a national company, Amerigas, and customer service immediately got much, much worse. They consolidated operations into Colorado Springs and claimed  that through some kind of computer wizardry, they knew when you needed gas and when you did not, so as the tank dropped past 15 or 10-percent full, you could call them up and complain, receiving vague, meaningless promises in return, and just wait until they filled you up on their timetable.

What is worse, they put both of our tanks on one account. Although the tank at the cabin is leased from them (the normal arrangement with propane suppliers), the tank at our house is owned by us.

Every winter, you could count on the driver to stop by, fill the tank at the cabin, which is closer to the county road, and drive away, assured that he had taken care of that account—but forgetting all about our tank.

More phone calls, more promises, more waiting, more anxiety.

Lucky for us, we can heat with wood during the day, keeping furnace usage to a minimum. I called Amerigas in Colorado Springs and suggested splitting the one account into two—but what do I know? I’m just the customer. Manager Rick Rivers and his merry crew do things their way. (No doubt they have a 40-slide PowerPoint training presentation about all this.)

It happened again this winter—the driver filled up the cabin tank on Dec. 15 and ignored ours. When we came back from our New Mexico trip, it still had not been filled. Then I started with the phone calls again.  Suzanne in the Colorado Springs office promised a fill-up by Friday, Jan. 14.

Of course, no one came. When I tried to call back the next week, they did not even answer the phones or an email to the residential service manager, Mila Sacket, so I had to try the national customer-service number. More promises of immediate action.

Finally on Jan. 20th the Amerigas driver arrived. By then, however, I had given up on them, and with the tank sinking towards 5 percent full (when do we lose vapor pressure and the pilot lights start going out?), I had called a Cañon City supplier, Enxx Propane, where the owner answers the telephone, and they do not even have a Web site

Nevertheless, since the Amerigas driver was on the scene, and the screw-up was not his fault, I asked him if he could top off the cabin tank—it ought to have taken about 100 gallons. “All the drivers carry blank tickets,” Suzanne had said.

No, he could not. He did not have any blank tickets. He could only go to addresses that the computer told him to go to. No individual initiative here at Amerigas!

With propane as with food, it seems better to seek out a local supplier, but in some places that switch is getting to be harder and harder.

July 10, 2010

The Case Against Oil Shale--and For Other Alternatives to Oil

Popular Mechanics debunks ten "pernicious" energy myths "that could derail our progress—and one of them connects with Colorado:

Myth No. 8: U.S. Shale can Provide Energy Independence

Shale oil hasn't gotten too much attention since the oil crisis of the 1970s. But today, proponents are once again pointing out that there are more than a trillion barrels of oil locked in the shale deposits of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, more than all the proven crude-oil reserves on the planet. That would be enough to meet current U.S. oil demand for an entire century.

The problem, then and now, lies in the financial and ecological costs of extracting the oil. Shale oil naturally occurs in the form of kerogens, solid, waxy substances with a texture similar to that of ChapStick. Once the kerogens are heated to over 500 F, they exude hydrocarbons, which must be treated with hydrogen in order to be processed into usable fuel—a highly energy-intensive process that releases large amounts of CO2.

And just to get at these kerogens, energy companies would have to mine and process millions of tons of shale from the earth—leaving behind toxic heavy metals and sulfates that could seep into groundwater. "There's a water contamination issue," says Olayinka Ogunsola, an engineer at the Department of Energy. "There's also a land reclamation issue—[mining] would create a lot of disturbance in the area." Mining and processing shale also require vast amounts of water—producing 2.5 million barrels of shale oil per day would require 105 million to 315 million gallons of water daily. That might be the biggest deal breaker of all for parched western states.

I have had a hard time making that argument to people from the wetter end of the country, who see the numbers on potential barrels of shale oil and simplistically say, "Problem solved"

But read the whole thing—these are not green vs. growth choices. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

June 07, 2010

Blog Stew with Oily Slime

• Before there was a projected Peak Oil, there was a real Peak Wood. [!]

• Galen Geer writes poignantly about helicopters, oil platforms, Agent Orange, and the price we pay. 

• We may stipulate that BP chief executive Tony Hayward is as slimy as a Gulf Shores, Alabama, beach. The BP television ad that he appears in does not even mention lost animal life. When he says, "We will make this right," he probably means only quantifiable lost human income--and even then, I don't believe him.

• Tongues, not tails, are wagging: celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan and his wife, Ilusion, are no longer a pack.

May 23, 2010

Blog Stew, the Solar Version

• Our Division of Wildlife has expanded its Colorado Birding Trail.

The web site provides a variety of helpful information, including: species you're likely to see, habitats you'll encounter, location maps, directions, availability of public and private facilities, latitude/longitude coordinates of sites and a general description of each site. The web site also explains techniques and etiquette for watching birds, descriptions of other wildlife you're likely to see, and resources for learning more about birds and the environment of Colorado. 

• An AP wrap-up of the settlement in the Indian trust settlement lawsuit, oddly not mentioning Interior Secretary Salazar. (I think he was one of Obama's better Cabinet picks, so far, although the Gulf oil spill is going to rub off on everyone connected.)

• Venture capitalist David Gelbaum, a major investor in solar-energy projects, is also suspicious of the Big Corporate Projects in the Desert approach.

“There are other areas [than the Mojave Desert] appropriate for solar plants,” says Mr. Gelbaum, kicking off his shoes and walking barefoot along a riverbank. “As distributed solar becomes lower-priced, there are plenty of roofs to put solar on.”

We Colorado voters helped that trend by requiring power companies to produce x-amount of renewable energy. Big Companies think chiefly in terms of Big Projects using up Big Amounts of Land and requiring Big Transmission Lines. That whole approach is contrary to the idea of solar energy, if you ask me.

What's the opposite of NIMBY? PIIMBY (Put it in my backyard)?

April 07, 2010

Wind Turbines Interfere with Radar, Solution Promised

Wind-turbine blades can interfere with radar that tracks airplanes, an Air Force general says.

Turbine builders, including Vesta, which has a plant underway in southern Colorado, say they "are working on it."

We now await the environmentally friendly Mark 3 Stealth Turbine with radar-absorbing blades.

October 14, 2009

Firefighters Contemplate Rooftop Solar Panels

Although I have no plans to put them on my house, I like the idea of rooftop solar shingles--especially if they can be integrated with the grid to pick up some of the daytime load.

Firefighters, however, have a different set of concerns. For example:

If there is a solar electric system involved, "pulling the meter" will only kill power coming in from the utility grid. Other circuits may remain live — household circuits if the system has battery backup or an auto-start gasoline generator, and PV circuits whenever the sun is shining. Multiple disconnects for various parts of the system are very common.

Some people in this county have roof-top solar panels. I am not aware of any in my little volunteer department's primary service area, but that is perhaps because I have not seen every single house.

September 18, 2009

Tracking Trash Electronically

When I taught nature writing, I used to have students take the "Where You At?" quiz originally published in CoEvolution Quarterly and reprinted in Stephanie Fox's Whatever Happened to Ecology?

Question 8 reads, "Where does your garbage ultimately go?"

Now researchers are using tracking-chip technology to answer that question on a bottle by paper cup by aluminum can level.

“There is this hidden world of trash, and there are ramifications to the choices that people make,” [Brett] Stav [of Seattle Public Utilities] said. “People just take their trash and put it on the curb and they forget about it and don’t think about all the time and energy and money put into disposing of it.”

January 17, 2009

News from the Recycling Front

Pushing some faux-green conspicuous consumption, Thursday's Denver Post "Room" section announced the Mode Premium All-In-One Recycling Center.

It reminds you when pick-up day is coming. The cheaper model is only $180.

But when it breaks, M. asks, can it be recycled too?

A follow-up to an earlier article on the economics of recycling: Apparently some glass recycles well.

December 03, 2008

What East Coast Pundits Miss about Oil Shale

Have you noticed how most of the pundits touting Colorado oil shale as our energy salvation live east of the Mississippi River?

I'm talking about you, Glenn Reynolds, there in soggy Tennessee.

They just do not understand the water issues wrapped up with the shale issues. You can't just snap your fingers and create more than 300,000 acre-feet of water in the over-appropriated upper Colorado River basin, as the Colorado Independent explains.

“A dominant finding is oil shale development, along with its associated power production, could require tremendous amounts of water, up to 378,300 acre-feet annually,” concludes the Energy Development Water Needs Assessment, which was funded by grants from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

So if you take the water for shale development, which ox gets gored? Denver? Las Vegas? Los Angeles? Phoenix?

UPDATE: Welcome, View from the Porch readers. For more education on Western water issues, visit Coyote Gulch. To see what we mean by "river" in the Southwest, go here.

November 06, 2008

Enviro Ballot Issues Do Poorly Nationwide

Wall Street Journal blogger Keith Johnson notes the poor showing for environmental initiatives in Tuesday's election.

I was surprised to come home Wednesday and discover that Colorado's ballot measure to raise severance taxes on oil and gas to something approaching Wyoming's rates (#58) was defeated. The industry-funded campaign falsely cast it as a direct tax at the gas pump, which is so wrong. But their ad guys realized that "it's a tax" was a scary line for a recession election.

Only in Missouri did a green-energy ballot initiative have any success. Proposition C set out to gradually increase the use of renewable energy to 15% by 2021, mandating slow-but-steady yearly increases. That’s the kind of measure that power companies and electricity grid operators like, because it gives them time to absorb the new power into the system without disruptions. Alone among the five environmental ballot initiatives, Proposition C had almost no opposition.

August 23, 2008

Wind Tower Plant for Pueblo

The economic-development crew in Pueblo is happy to have landed the Vestas wind-tower plant. (Warning: link contains self-back-patting and ethnic pandering.)

Let's hope no Pueblo-built towers collapse like this earlier Vesta model did last February.

UPDATE: Corrected headline to clarify that the Pueblo plant will build the towers, not the entire mechanism.

July 22, 2008

How Oil Shale is like Argentina

Senator Ken Salazar's recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post about oil shale reminds me of the cynical old saying about Argentina: It will always be a country with a brilliant future.

I am still waiting for some bright (or Bright) person to re-invent Project Rulison and apply it to oil shale.

For an interesting rant on energy issues, go here. As LabRat, the writer, makes clear, the big problem (in rhetorical jargon) is that we have not "achieved stasis." There is no agreement on what the argument is actually about.

June 29, 2008

Blog Stew in the Wind and Sun

¶ Yes, it has indeed been a windy year. But Jamison isn't bothered any more.

The evolution of elephants.

¶ Britain's Daily Telegraph's take on environmental hurdles to large-scale solar-energy projects in the American Southwest.

I have been wondering about the value of such projects -- with the associated cost of transmission lines, etc. -- versus putting solar energy next to where it will be used, such as on the roofs of office buildings (all those acres of tar and gravel!).

¶ You can try this solar power esimator to see how residential solar power would pay off for you. For my house they showed a 21-year amortization on a system with an assumed 25-year life span. So four years of "free" power, and then I would have to start over again. Hmmmm

March 20, 2007

What's wrong with corn-based ethnanol?

Conservation writer Ted Williams has it here.

First, no crop grown in the United States consumes and pollutes more water than corn. No method of agriculture uses more insecticides, more herbicides, more nitrogen fertilizer. Needed for the production of one gallon of ethanol are 1,700 gallons of water, mostly in the form of irrigation taken from streams either directly or by snatching the water table out from underneath them. And each gallon of ethanol produces 12 gallons of sewage-like effluent.

And then there is the question of whether we get a net gain or net loss in energy from ethanol. I'm still dubious.