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Michigan’s budding renewable clean energy sector has room to grow

By Vivian Underhill, Data and GIS Intern; and Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

California and New York are not the only states supporting the transition from harmful fossil fuels such as natural gas to more sustainable and less polluting clean, renewable energy sources. In collaboration with Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), FracTracker has produced a series of maps investigating current clean energy businesses, existing renewable energy infrastructure, and renewable energy potential. These maps show where growth of the renewable economies is growing and even identifies the many renewable contractors and projects that are planned and already active across the country.

Michigan’s Clean Energy Sector

According to the Clean Jobs Midwest Report, growth of the renewable sector has been a strong boon for local Michigan economies, in addition to reducing green-house gas emissions. Michigan increased clean energy jobs by 5.3 percent, or 4,655, outpacing other job sectors in the state by a factor of three. According to a new Union of Concerned Scientists Report, Michigan utilities could create 10 times more jobs in renewables than natural gas. Another report by the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that:

… using the latest wind turbine technologies, Michigan’s onshore wind resource has the potential to generate nearly five times the state’s 2012 electricity demand, even after a variety of competing land uses are accounted for. Solar photovoltaic (PV) resources in urban areas — including large ground-mounted and smaller rooftop systems — could provide another 71 percent of the state’s 2012 electricity demand.

FracTracker’s maps below show plenty of potential for additional renewable energy generation, and highlight where Michigan’s clean energy sector is already paving the way to a healthier future. But first, let’s give you some background on this story.

Legislation

In 2008, Michigan passed legislation requiring utilities to generate 10% of their electricity from renewables by 2015. In 2014, The Michigan Public Service Commmission (MPSC) reported that this legislation would save the state over $4 billion dollars; as the MPSC Chairman John D. Quackenbush wrote in conjunction with a 2014 report on the state’s energy optimization activities: “The cheapest energy is the energy never used… For every dollar spent on these programs in 2014, customers can expect to realize $4.38 in savings – more than any year since 2010.” In addition, the statute’s focus on renewables has brought nearly $3 billion in renewable energy investment to the state.

In 2016, legislators built on this track record and improved aspects of the state’s clean energy standards with Public Acts 341 and 342; among other things, these acts increase the percentage of renewable energy to 15% by 2021, and otherwise incentivize clean energy sources.

Just last week, Michigan’s two largest utilities committed to increase their renewable power generation to 25% by 2030 under pressure from a ballot drive launched by Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist.

Maps of Michigan’s Clean Energy Sector

Below we have embedded the maps FracTracker created with E2, showing clean energy potential, generation capacity, and the location of clean energy businesses in Michigan.

Map 1. Michigan Clean Energy Potential

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

As shown in the map above, solar and wind are the most dominant forms of renewable energy in Michigan, although there is also potential to take advantage of the geothermal energy. Approximately 75% of the state has potential for either wind, solar, or geothermal power.

Map 2. Michigan Clean Energy Generation Capacity

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Map 2, above, shows the current generating capacity in the state. Most of Michigan’s existing solar and wind infrastructure exists in the South and Southeast portions of the state, though not exclusively. Many schools also have solar capabilities on their roofs. Further, 32 counties already have large-scale renewable energy projects, and many more are in in the works.

Map 3. Michigan Clean Energy Businesses

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Finally, a vibrant industry of over 1,200 businesses has developed to support the clean energy revolution in Michigan. Map 3 (above) shows the locations of these entreprenuers in fields that include both energy efficiency and renewable energy generation (solar, wind, and geothermal). Businesses include a range of operations including design, machining, installation, contracting, and maintenance – covering all 38 state senate districts and all 110 state house districts.

Room to Grow

While Michigan has come a long way in recent years, the field of clean renewable energy generation is still in its infancy. This geographical assessment, in addition to the numerous economic reports showing the profitability of the clean energy sector, paint a brighter future for Michigan and the climate. However, much more potential remains to be tapped, across solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. It is imperative that policies are put in place to prioritize clean energy growth over natural gas.


Cover photo: MI Wind Farm. Photo by Michelle Froese | Windpower Engineering and Development

Explore additional state analyses: IL | MI | MONY | OHPA

A Hazy Future Report Cover

A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045

Report Calculates Impacts from PA’s Planned Natural Gas Infrastructure

FracTracker Alliance released the report: A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045 today, which details the potential future impacts of a massive buildout of Marcellus Shale wells and associated natural gas infrastructure.

Industry analysts forecast 47,600 new unconventional oil and gas wells may be drilled in Pennsylvania by 2045, fueling new natural gas power plants and petrochemical facilities in PA and beyond. Based on industry projections and current rates of consumption, FracTracker – a national data-driven non-profit – estimates the buildout would require 583 billion gallons of fresh water, 386 million tons of sand, 798,000 acres of land, 131 billion gallons of liquid waste, 45 million tons of solid waste, and more than 323 million truck trips to drilling sites.

A Hazy Future - Impact Summary

“Only 1,801 of the 10,851 unconventional wells already drilled count as a part of this projection, meaning we could see an additional 45,799 such wells in the coming decades,” commented Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology for FracTracker and lead author on the report.

Why the push for so much more drilling? Out of state – and out of country – transport is the outlet for surplus production.

“The oil and gas industry overstates the need for more hydrocarbons,” asserted FracTracker Alliance’s Executive Director, Brook Lenker. “While other countries and states are focusing more on renewables, PA seems resolute to increase its fossil fuel portfolio.”

The report determined that the projected cleared land for well pads and pipelines into the year 2045 could support solar power generation for 285 million homes, more than double the number that exist in the U.S.

A Hazy Future shows that a fossil fuel-based future for Pennsylvania would come at the expense of its communities’ health, clean air, water and land. It makes clear that a dirty energy future is unnecessary,” said Earthworks’ Pennsylvania Field Advocate, Leann Leiter. Earthworks endorsed FracTracker’s report. She continued, “I hope Governor Wolf reads this and makes the right choices for all Pennsylvanians present and future.”

A Hazy Future reviews the current state of energy demand and use in Pennsylvania, calculates the footprint of industry projections of the proposed buildout, and assesses what that would look like for residents of the Commonwealth.

About FracTracker Alliance

Started in 2010 as a southwestern Pennsylvania area website, FracTracker Alliance is a national organization with regional offices across the United States in Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, New York, Ohio, and California. The organization’s mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Its goal is to support advocacy groups at the local, regional, and national level, informing their actions to positively shape our nation’s energy future.

Questions? Email us: info@fractracker.org.

Drilling on PA state lands

Energy development is happening on your state lands, Pennsylvania

Decisions to drill or mine on public lands, however, are often extremely complicated.

By Allison M. Rohrs, Saint Francis University, Institute for Energy

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has historically been, and continues to be, home to an abundant array of energy resources like oil, gas, coal, timber, and windy ridgetops. Expectedly, these natural resources are found both on publicly and privately held land.

In Pennsylvania, the bulk of public lands are managed by two separate state agencies: The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which manages the state’s forest and park system, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), which manages the state’s game lands. Both of these state agencies manage oil, gas, and coal extraction as well as timbering on state property. Interestingly, neither of the agencies have utility-scale renewable energy generation on their land.

Some of Pennsylvania’s best wind resources can be found on the mountain ridges in the Commonwealth’s state forests and game lands, however, all proposals to build utility-scale wind farms have been denied by state agencies.

(Note: there are other state and federal agencies managing lands in PA, however, we focused our research on these two agencies specifically.)

Surprised to see that state lands have been greatly developed for different fossil industries but denied for wind energy, The Institute for Energy set out on a yearlong endeavor to collect as much information as we could about energy development on PA public lands. Using formal PA Right to Know requests, we worked with both DCNR and PGC to examine development procedures and management practices. We reviewed hundreds of available state agency reports, scientific documents, and Pennsylvania energy laws and regulations. We also worked with FracTracker Alliance to develop interactive maps that depict where energy development has occurred on state lands.

After a comprehensive review, we realized, like so much in life, the details are much more complicated than a simple yes or no decision to develop an energy project on state lands. Below is a brief summary of our findings, organized by energy extraction method:

Land/Mineral Ownership in Pennsylvania

One of the most significant issues to understand when discussing energy resources on state lands is the complexity of land ownership in Pennsylvania. In many instances, the development of an energy resource on publicly owned land is not a decision, but instead an obligation. In Pennsylvania, property rights are often severed between surface and subsurface ownership. In many cases, surface owners do not own the mineral rights beneath them, and, by PA law, are obligated to allow reasonable extraction of such resource, whether it be coal, oil, or gas. In Pennsylvania, approximately 85% of state park mineral rights are owned by someone other than the Commonwealth (severed rights).

Fee Simple - Mineral rights on state lands

Legal Authority to Lease

It is critical to note that DCNR and PGC are two entirely separate agencies with different missions, legal structures, and funding sources. This plays a significant role in decisions to allow oil, gas, and coal development on their properties. Both agencies have explicit legal authority under their individual statutes that allow them to lease the lands for mineral extraction. This becomes more of an issue when we discuss wind development, where legal authority is less clear, particularly for DCNR.

Oil and Gas Extraction

Oil and gas wells have been spudded on state parks, state forests, and state game lands. The decision to do so is multifaceted and ultimately decided by three major factors:

  1. Mineral ownership of the land,
  2. Legal authority to lease the land, and
  3. Potential impacts to the individual agency.

There is currently a moratorium on new surface leases of DCNR Lands. Moratoriums of such nature have been enacted and removed by different governors since 2010. Although there are no new lease agreements, extraction and production is still occurring on DCNR land from previously executed lease agreements and where the state does not own the mineral rights.

The Game Commission is still actively signing surface and non-surface use agreements for oil and gas extraction when they determine the action is beneficial to achieving their overall mission.

Revenues from the oil and gas industry play a significant role in the decision to drill or not. Both agencies have experienced increasing costs and decreasing revenues, overall, and have used oil and gas development as a way to bridge the gap.

Funds raised from DCNR’s oil and gas activities go back to the agency’s conservation efforts, although from 2009 to 2017, the State Legislature had directed much of this income to the state’s general fund to offset major budget deficits. Just this year, the PA Supreme Court ruled against this process and has restored the funds back to DCNR for conservations purposes.

All revenues generated from oil and gas development on state game lands stays within the Game Commission’s authority.

Along with positive economic benefits, there remains potential health and environmental risks unique to development on these public lands. Some studies indicate that users of these public lands could have potential exposure to pollution both in the air and in the water from active oil and gas infrastructure. The ease of public access to abandoned and active oil and gas infrastructure is a potential risk, as well. On the environmental side, many have argued that habitat fragmentation from oil and gas development is contradictory to the missions of the agencies. Both agencies have independent water monitoring groups specific to oil and gas activities as well as state regulated DEP monitoring. The potential negative effects on ground and surface water quality is an issue, however, mainly due the vast size of public lands and limited dwellings on these properties.

Use the map below to explore the PA state parks, forests, and game lands that have active oil and gas infrastructure.

Oil and Gas Wells on State Lands in PA


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Coal Mining

Thousands of acres of state forests and game lands have been mined for coal. Like oil and gas, this mineral is subject to similar fee simple ownership issues and is governed by the same laws that allow oil and gas extraction. DCNR, has not signed any virgin coal mining leases since the 1990s, but instead focuses on reclamation projects. There are coal mining operations, however, on forest land where DCNR does not own the mineral rights. The Game Commission still enters into surface and non-surface use agreements for mining.

In many circumstances, mining activity and abandoned mines were inherited by the state agencies and left to them to reclaim. Environmental and health impacts of mining specific to state land are generally attributed more to legacy mining and not to new mining operations.

Acid mine drainage and land subsidence has destroyed rivers and riparian habitats on these lands purposed for conservation.

The ease of public access and limited surveillance of public lands also makes abandoned mines and pits a dangerous health risk. Although threats to humans and water quality exist, abandoned mines have been noted for actually creating new bat habitat for endangered and threatened bat species.

Originally, we sought to quantify the total acreage of public lands affected by coal mining and abandoned mines; however, the dataset required to do so is not yet complete.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is currently in the process of digitizing over 84,000 hand drawn maps of mined coal seams in PA, an expected 15-year project.

Today, they have digitized approximately 30,000. The static map below demonstrates the areas with confirmed coal mining co-located on state lands:
Public lands and coal mining map - PA

Renewables

The discussion about renewable energy development in PA is almost as complex as the fossil industries. There are no utility-scale renewables on state owned land. Both DCNR and the Game Commission have been approached by developers to lease state land for wind development, however all proposals have been denied.

Even when DCNR owns the surface rights, they still cite the lack of legal authority to lease the land for wind, as their statute does not explicitly state “wind turbines” as a lawful lease option.

The Game Commission does have the legal authority to lease its land for wind development, but has denied 19 out of 19 requests by developers to do so, citing many environmental and surface disturbances as the primary reason.

Infographic regarding state land potential for wind energy

The development of wind projects in PA has slowed in the past five years, with only one new commercial wind farm being built. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the fact that many of windiest locations on private lands have been developed.

We estimate that 35% of the state’s best wind resource is undevelopable simply because it is on public land.

Like all energy development, wind energy has potential environmental and health impacts, too. Wind could cause habitat fragmentation issues on land purposed for conservation. The wind energy industry also has realized negative effects on bird and bat species, most notably, the endangered Indiana bat. Health impacts unique to public lands and wind development include an increased risk of injury to hunters and recreators related to potential mechanical failure or ice throw off the blades. Unlike fossil energies, however, wind energy has potential to offset air emissions.

We estimate that wind development on PA public lands could offset and estimated 14,480,000 tons of CO2 annually if fully developed.

Commercial wind turbines are currently being installed at hub heights of 80-100 meters where the annual average wind resource is 6.5 m/s or greater. The following map demonstrates areas of Pennsylvania where the wind speeds are 6.5 m/s or greater at 100 meters, including areas overlapping state lands, where no utility scale development has occurred.

PA Wind Potential on State Lands


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Additional Renewables

Biomass is organic material, such as wood, that is considered renewable because of its ability to be replenished. The harvesting of such wood (timber) occurs on both DCNR and PGC lands and provides funding for these agencies.

Small-scale wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass projects do exist on PA public lands for onsite consumption, however no renewables exist on a commercial or utility scale.

Both the fossil and renewable energy industries are forecasted to grow in Pennsylvania in the years to come. The complex decisions and obligations to develop energy resources on PA public lands should include thoughtful management and fair use of these public lands for all energy resources.


For more information and details, check out the entire comprehensive report on our website: www.francis.edu/energy.

This work was supported by The Heinz Endowments.

Lofoten Declaration heading

A Declaration of Independence – FracTracker signs the Lofoten Declaration

FracTracker Alliance is proud to be a signatory of the Lofoten Declaration. It is a global call – signed by over 220 organizations from 55 countries – to put an end to exploration and expansion of new fossil fuel reserves and manage the decline of oil, coal, and gas in a just transition to a safer climate future.

It is also a call to prioritize support for communities on the front lines of climate change and fossil fuel extraction, and ideally a helpful tool to rally our global movement around the worldwide grassroots efforts to stop fossil fuel projects.

Wealthy fossil fuel producers like the United States have an obligation and responsibility to lead in putting an end to fossil fuel exploitation. Support for impacted regions is imperative, and frontline communities are the leaders we must look to as we all work together for a safer future.

The recent inundation of southeastern Texas, raging fires in the west, and ravaging hurricanes in the Atlantic underscore the dangers wrought by climate change. We need more action and we need it to be rapid, comprehensive, and systemic. Countries can’t be climate leaders until they tackle fossil fuel production – not just consumption.

The Lofoten Declaration is a new affirmation of independence: a world free from the injustice of extractive energy. It is a bold, righteous pronouncement in step with the courageous and visionary traditions of our nation.

With more than 1.2 million active oil and gas wells and thousands more planned, now is the time for America to change its old, tired habits and flex its might through the virtuous power of example.

Full Declaration and Signatories: LofotenDeclaration.org

Stock photo - European Renewable Energy Tour 2018

Participate in a European Renewable Energy Tour with FracTracker & Ecologic Institute

Next spring, join FracTracker Alliance and Ecologic Institute on a unique and timely European Renewable Energy Tour. Witness the incredible – and essential – energy revolution happening in Europe in an immersive, holistic way.

Europe’s energy policies are set to reduce dependence on foreign providers of fossil fuels, and substantially reduce the region’s climate change footprint.  In addition to learning how select European cities are expanding their renewable energy portfolios, the goal of this trip is to stimulate and inspire new perspectives and connections that will accelerate a better energy future in the United States.

Save the dates: May 27, 2018 – June 2, 2018

The full price of the tour ($1990.00*) includes all site visits, meetings, admission fees, 14 meals (except alcoholic beverages), accommodations, and in-Europe travel from Copenhagen, to Hamburg, to Berlin, to Frankfurt. The fee includes a small donation to both partnering organizations. International flights to Copenhagen and from Frankfurt (back to the U.S.) are not included. Financial assistance may be available. Contact us for more information.

The deadline to buy your tickets has been extended to December 31, 2017. We hope you will join us for this unique, 7-day educational experience. 


Renewable Energy Tour Summary

  • Dates: May 27 – June 2, 2018
  • Stops: Copenhagen | Hamburg | Berlin | Frankfurt
  • Draft itinerary

Timeline

  • Deposit due December 31, 2017: $995 (Extended)
  • Balance due March 1, 2018: $995
  • Or – pay in full by December 31, 2017: $1,990
  • A $300 discount on the full price of the tour is available for people who would like to opt for double occupancy accommodations.

Price Includes

  • All lodging *
  • 14 meals
  • In-Europe train tickets **
  • Group taxi and bus fares
  • Guided services
  • Entry fees for all tours
  • Financial assistance may be available. Contact us for more information.

* Double occupancy receives a $300 discount. Select the Double Occupancy option when purchasing your tickets.

** Airfare to and from Europe is not included in the total price of the trip. Participants should book their flights to arrive in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 27th, departing for the US from Frankfurt, Germany on June 2, 2018.

Contact Information

Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance
lenker@fractracker.org or (717) 303-0403

The deadline to submit your deposit online is December 31, 2017.

Woody Biomass & Waste-To-Energy

By Ted Auch, Great Lakes Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

While solar and wind energy gets much of the attention in renewable energy debates, various states are also leaning more and more on burning biomass and waste to reach renewable energy targets and mandates. As is the case with all sources of energy, these so-called “renewable energy” projects present a unique set of environmental and socioeconomic justice issues, as well as environmental costs and benefits. In an effort to document the geography of these active and proposed future projects, this article offers some analysis and a new map of waste and woody biomass-to-energy infrastructure across the U.S. with the maximum capacities of each facility.

 

Map of U.S. Facilities Generating Energy from Biomass and Waste

View map full screen to see map legend, additional layers, and bookmarks
How FracTracker maps work

Woody Biomass-to-Energy

To illustrate the problems of woody biomass-to-energy projects, one only needs to look at Michigan. Michigan’s growing practice of generating energy from the wood biomass relies on ten facilities that currently produce roughly 209 Megawatts (an average of 21 MW per facility) from 1.86 million tons of wood biomass (an average of 309,167 tons per facility). Based on our initial analysis this is equivalent to 71% of the wood and paper waste produced in Michigan.

Making matters worse, these ten facilities rely disproportionately on clearcutting 60-120 years old late successional northern Michigan hardwood and red pine forests. These parcels are often replanted with red pine and grown in highly managed, homogeneous 20-30 year rotations. Reliance on this type of feedstock stands in sharp contrast to many biomass-to-energy facilities nationally, which tend to utilize woody waste from urban centers. Although, to provide context to their needs, the area of forest required to service Michigan’s 1.86 million-ton demand is roughly 920 mi2. This is 1.65 times the area of Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Toronto combined.

 

Panorama of the Sunset Trail Road 30 Acre Biomass Clearcut, Kalkaska Conty, Michigan

 

Based on an analysis of 128 U.S. facilities, the typical woody biomass energy facility produces 0.01-0.58 kW, or an average of 0.13 kW per ton of woody biomass. A few examples of facilities in Michigan include Grayling Generating Station, Grayling County (36.2 MW Capacity and 400,000 TPY), Viking Energy of McBain, Missaukee County (17 MW Capacity and 225,000 TPY), and Cadillac Renewable Energy, Wexford County (34 MW Capacity and 400,000 TPY).

 

The relationship between wood processed and energy generated across all U.S. landfill waste-to-energy operations is represented in the figure below (note: data was log transformed to generate this relationship).

 

Waste-To-Energy

Dr. Jim Stewart at the University of the West in Rosemead, California, recently summarized the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) costs of waste landfill energy projects and a recent collaboration between the Sierra Club and International Brotherhood of Teamsters explored the dangers of privatizing waste-to-energy given that two companies, Waste Management and Republic Services/Allied Waste, are now a duopoly controlling all remaining U.S. landfill capacity (an additional Landfill Gas Fact Sheet from Energy Justice can be found here).

Their combined analysis tells us that, by harnessing and combusting landfill methane, the current inventory of ninety-three U.S. waste-to-energy facilities generate 5.3 MW of electricity per facility. Expanded exploitation of existing landfills could bring an additional 500 MW online and alleviate 21.12 million metric tons of CO2 pollution (based on reduction in fugitive methane, a potent greenhouse gas). Looking at this capacity from a different angle, approximately 0.027 MW of electricity is generated per ton of waste processed, or 1.64 MW per acre. If we assume the average American produces 4.4 pounds of waste per day, we have the potential to produce roughly 6.9 million MW of energy from our annual waste outputs, or the equivalent energy demand created by 10.28 million Americans.

 

The relationship between waste processed per day and energy generated across all U.S. landfill waste-to-energy operations is represented in the figure below.

 

Conclusion

Waste burning and woody biomass-to-energy “renewable energy”projects come with their own sets of problems and benefits. FracTracker saw this firsthand when visiting Kalkaska County, Michigan, this past summer. There, the forestry industry has rebounded in response to several wood biomass-to-energy projects. While these projects may provide local economic opportunity, the industry has relied disproportionately on clearcutting, such as is seen in the below photograph of a 30-acre clearcut along Sunset Trail Road:

 

As states diversify their energy sources away from fossil fuels and seek to increase energy efficiency per unit of economic productivity, we will likely see more and more reliance on the above practices as “bridge fuel” energy sources. However, the term “renewable” needs parameterization in order to understand the true costs and benefits of the varying energy sources it presently encompasses. The sustainability of clearcutting practices in rural areas—and the analogous waste-to-energy projects in largely urban areas—deserves further scrutiny by forest health and other environmental experts. This will require additional mapping similar to what is offered in this article, as well as land-use analysis and the quantification of how these energy generation industries enhance or degrade ecosystem services. Of equal importance will be providing a better picture of whether or not these practices actually produce sustainable and well-paid jobs, as well as their water, waste, and land-use footprints relative to fossil fuels unconventional or otherwise.

 

Relevant Data

All US Waste-to-Energy Operations along with waste processed and energy produced (MW)

All US Woody Biomass-to-Energy Operations along with waste processed and energy produced (MW)

Energy-related story maps

Energy-Related Story Maps for Grades 6-10

Over the past half year, FracTracker staffer Karen Edelstein has been working with a New York State middle school teacher, Laurie Van Vleet, to develop a series of interdisciplinary, multimedia story maps addressing energy issues. The project is titled “Energy Decisions: Problem-Based Learning for Enhancing Student Motivation and Critical Thinking in Middle and High School Science.” It uses a combination of interactive maps generated by FracTracker, as well as websites, dynamic graphics, and video clips that challenge students to become both more informed about energy issues and climate change and more critical consumers of science media.

Edelstein and VanVleet have designed energy-related story maps on a range of topics. They are targeted at 6th through 8th grade general science, and also earth science students in the 8th and 10th grades. Story map modules include between 10 and 20 pages in the story map. Each module also includes additional student resources and worksheets for students that help direct their learning routes through the story maps. Topics range from a basic introduction to energy use, fossil fuels, renewable energy options, and climate change.

The modules are keyed to the New York State Intermediate Level Science Standards. VanVleet is partnering with Ithaca College-based Project Look Sharp in the development of materials that support media literacy and critical thinking in the classroom.

Explore each of the energy-related story maps using the links below:

Energy-related story maps

Screenshot from Energy Basics story map – Click to explore the live story map

This unique partnership between FracTracker, Project Look Sharp, and the Ithaca City School District received generous support from IPEI, the Ithaca Public Education Imitative. VanVleet will be piloting the materials this fall at Dewitt and Boynton Middle Schools in Ithaca, NY. After evaluating responses to the materials, they will be promoted throughout the district and beyond.

New York: A Sunshine State!

Photovoltaic solar resources of the US (NREL)

Photovoltaic solar resources of the US (NREL)

It’s difficult to talk about the risks of oil and gas extraction without providing data on energy alternatives in the conversation. Let’s look at New York State, as an example. There, solar power is taking a leadership position in the renewable energy revolution in the United States. Although New York State receives far less sunshine than many states to the west and south, the trends are bright! Currently, New York State ranks seventh in the nation in installed solar capacity, with over 700 MW of power generated by the sun, enough to power 121,000 homes.

Despite common assumptions that solar power only makes sense where the sun shines 360 days a year, we’ve been seeing successful adoption of solar in Europe for years. For example, in Germany, where even the most southern part of the country is further north of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, close to 7% of all the power used comes from combined residential and commercial scale photovoltaic sources–35.2 TWh in all. Munich, one of the sunniest places in all of Germany, has a lower average solar irradiation rate of 3.1 kWh/m2/day than most cities in New York State; compare it with locations in New York like Rochester (3.7 kWh/m2/day), New York City (4.0 kWh/m2/day), and Albany (3.8 kWh/m2/day). At present, Germany still leads New York State by more than double the electrical output from solar for equivalent areas.

cumulative_capacity

Cumulative Solar Capacity in New York

The cumulative capacity for completed photovoltaic systems in New York State has risen steeply in the past three years, with ground-mounted and roof-top residential capacity outpacing commercial capacity by a wide margin.

Nonetheless, commercial and industrial scale installations in New York account for over 100 MW of power capacity in the state.

Large-Scale Solar Installations Map

This map shows the location of those large-scale solar installations in the US (zoom out to see full extent of US), as of March 2016. Here is our interactive map:

View map full screen | How FracTracker maps work

In the past fifteen years, the increase in small to medium-sized solar installations in New York State has been significant, and growth is projected to continue.  The following animation, based on data from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), shows that increase in capacity (by zip code) since 2000:

solar_animation_cumulative_2000-15

Solar Installations by Zip Code

NYSERDA also provides maps that show distributions of residential, governmental/NGO, and commercial solar energy projects (images shown below). For example, Suffolk County leads the way in the residential arena, with nearly 8200 photovoltaic (PV) systems on roofs and in yards, with an average size of 8.3 kW each.

Erie County has 128 PV systems run by governmental and not-for-profit groups, with an average size of about 27 kW each. Albany County has over 320 commercial installations, with an average size each of about 117 kW.

New York State’s Future Solar Contribution

pricing

Price of Completed Solar Systems 2003-2016

The prices of solar panels is steeply declining, and is coupled with generous tax incentives. The good news, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), is that over the next five years, New York State’s solar capacity is expected to quadruple its current output, adding over 2900 MW of power. This change would elevate New York State from seventh to fourth place in output in the US.


By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

OES Workshops

Our Energy Solutions

14 workshops in 7 countries on 3 continents

A FracTracker team has just returned from North Carolina where fracking has been given the green light by the state’s government. Time may tell what reserves are contained within the Mesozoic basins but already landmen are knocking on doors and striking deals with willing landowners. Offshore drilling is also under consideration in a state where tourism – fueled in part by renowned beach destinations – is a $20 billion a year industry.

OES Panel in Asheville

OES panel answering questions in Asheville, NC

The visit was for Our Energy Solutions, a project bringing 14 workshops to seven countries on three continents. The aim is to help build a global community of engaged citizens and stakeholders who are informed of the risks of fossil fuels (like oil and natural gas), enlightened about renewable energy opportunities, and inspired to share ideas for a more sustainable planet.  The attendance, interest, and dialogue at the North Carolina workshops were inspiring. People young and old came out to prove there is great concern about these issues. While acknowledging the complexities of energy and climate challenges, they seemed willing to dig-in, reach-out, engage, and act. The audiences owned the “Our” in Our Energy Solutions.  Just weeks earlier, another team from FracTracker and the Ecologic Institute – the lead collaborators in Our Energy Solutions – launched the project with workshops in Florida, hosted by the South Florida Wildlands Association. In North Carolina, our partners were Environment North Carolina and MountainTrue. These regional and statewide groups offer abundant ways to get involved and illuminate a better path forward.

BackPageAlt2_windmillsBoth states are at risk from accelerated and more extreme hydrocarbon extraction, but both also bear significant potential for broad success with renewable energy. While only 0.1% of Florida’s current generating capacity comes from solar, it has some of the strongest incoming solar radiation in the country. North Carolina sports the best conditions for offshore wind energy on the east coast. The Tarheel State ranked 2nd in the nation for new installed solar capacity in 2014, and the same year, over 4,300 North Carolinians worked in the solar power industry. Already, 4,800 Floridians work in the solar industry.

Wellsbycounty-Feature

Well density by county in the U.S.

The volatile economics of oil and gas, the effects of fossil fuel combustion on the planet, and the impairment of human health and the environment caused by extraction necessitate other approaches to meet our energy needs. Our Energy Solutions will strive to showcase brighter possibilities – one workshop at a time. Next stop, Argentina – May 5-12th.

Check out Our Energy Solutions on Facebook and join the conversation!

Missing from the Conversation - Renewables

Missing from the Conversation

By Mary Ellen Cassidy, Community Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

After spending the afternoon travelling to drilling pads and compressor stations for the extraction and processing of unconventional oil and gas in our nearby communities, I travelled to the Niehaus Farm in the beautiful hills of West Virginia to visit with Rich and Felicia Niehaus. As the discussion centered on energy issues, it became evident that there is something crucial missing from the conversation about unconventional oil and gas issues:

energy conservation, energy efficiency, or renewable energy.

Conversations usually cover either fracking or energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables (ECER). It’s the exception for both to be covered in tandem even though they are the two sides of the same coin (Here, and here are examples of that exception). So, how did our conversation at the farm end up turning to ECER? Well, it turns out that this particular farm in West Virginia is entirely solar powered (photo above). Energy for the two barns and a beautiful home comes from rooftop panels installed in May of 2011. After finding funding and rebates to help with the upfront installation costs and participating in a renewable credits program, as of last year the Neihaus family spent $0.00 on utility bills. Their farm even generated a surplus of electricity, which they sold to the utility company as Solar Renewable Energy Credits – or SREC.

Missing from the Conversation

Solar farm tour in Cameron, WV

Missing from the Conversation

Reviewing the energy produced

Missing from the Conversation

Inside the barn

Missing from the Conversation

Discussing renewables with Rich

Perceived Barriers to Renewables

Why don’t more people follow this route? I only have anecdotal answers right now. When discussing fracking or unconventional oil and gas with folks, I ask why they haven’t considered solar as an energy source. Their responses vary but generally look like:

  • It never even entered my mind.
  • I’ve heard about solar and wind but heard they are really expensive.
  • No one sells or installs them around here.
  • Seems like a lot of work and expense.

Unlike the landman from the oil and gas company who calls or visits your home to talk to you about the benefits of selling your mineral rights for fracking or pipelines, no “sunman / windman / efficiencyman” calls or comes to your home to share the benefits of ECERs. There are few billboards or stories in our local or national media telling us how renewables can power the nation and keep the lights on. However, there are few or no print advertisements for solar, no polished TV ads on the clean energy of solar, wind or geothermal.

Basically, while coal, oil and gas are promoted – and receive generous federal incentives – at every turn or click, the benefits of ECER are truly missing from our conversation, locally and nationally.

Dependability

What if we decided to include the benefits of ECER in all of our conversations about fracking and fossilized sources of energy? Here are just a few items to keep in mind when sharing information that would move us to a more positive energy system future.

First, remember that coal, gas and, nuclear plants are highly intermittent over long time periods, such as their operating year or life span, requiring planned and unplanned maintenance and repair. An article in Cleantechnica tells us that as a result of this downtime, nuclear plants only generate electricity 83% of the time; combined cycle natural gas plants, 86% of the time; and coal plants, 88%. “Coupled renewable systems, like wind with solar tied to baseload power like hydropower, geothermal and solar thermal (with molten salt energy storage) are examples of reliable, dependable energy systems. Solar thermal plants are up and running 98% of the time; hydroelectric dams, 95%, and geothermal plants, 91%.1 According to a FracTracker analysis of Ohio wind potential:

If OH were to pursue the additional 900 MW public-private partnership wind proposals currently under review by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), an additional 900,000-1.2 million jobs, $1.3 billion in wages, $3.9 billion in sales, and $102.9 million in revenue would result. If the state were to exploit 10% more of the remaining wind capacity, the numbers would skyrocket into an additional 5.5-7.1 million jobs, $8.1 million in wages, $23.8 billion in sales, and $627.9 million in public revenues.

Enough Energy to Power a Nation

Sustainably harnessing enough power to fuel a nation requires conservation and efficiency. According to a recent analysis by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the US actually wastes 61-86% of the energy it produces. This figure is especially outrageous because the tools and technology needed to save a significant portion of this wasted energy are available right now and would easily fall under President Obama’s “shovel ready” label. For instance, in the past few years, net-zero buildings — those that produce as much (or more) clean energy on site as they use annually — have been gaining momentum. More than 400 such buildings are documented globally, with about one-fourth in the U.S. and Canada.

Knowing the considerable negative impacts of fracking, it is incomprehensible that a targeted national energy conservation and efficiency conversation has yet to take place, and that state policies promoting ECER like those in Ohio are actively being undercut. Energy conservation and efficiency, when coupled with renewables have the capability to power the nation.2

Gas – Nonrenewable, Finite, Declining

Missing from the Conversation: Renewables

Unlike ECER, oil and natural gas are finite resources. Additionally, highly productive, economically recoverable shale wells have very high geological depletion rates and will become more difficult and more expensive to access.3 “The average flow from a shale gas well drops by ~50-75% in the first year, and up to 78% for oil”, said Pete Stark, senior research director at IHS Inc (a global information company with expertise in energy and economics). In neighboring Ohio, first-year oil and natural gas production declined by 84% (21-48 barrels of oil per day), with respective declines of 27% and 10% in subsequent years, while freshwater usage increases by 3.6 gallons per gallon of oil. Even the United States’ most productive Bakken shale requires 2,500 new wells per year to maintain 1 million BDD, while traditional fields in Iraq require a mere 60 new wells per year. ECERs, on the other hand, are renewable systems with decline rates calculated in the billions-of-years time frame.

Fossilized Energy – Costs Exceed Benefits

Water Pollution Control Permit

Often you will hear that fracking and fossilized energy are “cheap and affordable.” According to a report by Environment America, the reality is that externalized costs of fossilized energy, were they included on the balance sheet, would make gas, oil and coal costly and unaffordable. Alternatively, 53 Fortune 100 Companies report savings of $1.1 billion annually through energy efficiency and renewable energy.4

Some reports indicate that due to the nature of fossil fuel extraction compared to renewables, there are more jobs to be had in renewables.5 There is also the [significantly higher job, tax revenue, and income] multiplier effect associated with renewable energy technologies. The Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us that,

In addition to creating new jobs, increasing our use of renewable energy offers other important economic development benefits. Local governments collect property and income taxes and other payments from renewable energy project owners. These revenues can help support vital public services, especially in rural communities where projects are often located.

Along with externalized costs, natural gas also gets a preferred boost from our nation’s R&D funding compared to ECER research. This issue does not even include the de facto subsidies provided by our military escapades, which Joe Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently put at $3 trillion. In Scientific American’s article, Fracking Hammers Clean Energy Research, David Bello looked at the budget of the ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) and found that five years in, “the gassy revolution was becoming apparent,” with funding going to natural gas research rather than ECER breakthroughs. Bello is of the opinion:

It is also exactly in times of overreliance on one energy source that funding into alternatives is not only necessary, but required. ARPA–E should continue to focus on transformational energy technologies that can be clean and cheap even if political pressures incline the still young and potentially vulnerable agency to look for a better gas tank.

Also, globally, the UN Environmental Program reports that the world spends six times as much money subsidizing fossilized energy as they do renewables. Despite having less government support, renewables have achieved record growth since 2000. The EIA reports that renewables are the fest-growing power source based on percentages, and in 2018 is estimated to rise to 25% of the global gross power generation. The EIA reports that, “On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source… Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018.” Germany alone generates 27% of its energy demand from renewables.

MailPouch

Climate Change – Sources & Solutions

Recent NOAA research suggests fugitive methane leaking from natural gas activity may be substantial, with leakage rates of 4-9% of the total production. This figure is significantly above the 2% recommended level for potential climate change benefits. Ken Caldeira, atmospheric scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science recently noted:

We have to decide whether we are in the business of delaying bad outcomes or whether we are in the business of preventing bad outcomes. If we want to prevent bad climate outcomes, we should stop using the atmosphere as a waste dump. If we build these natural gas plants, we reduce incentives to build the near zero emission energy system we really need. It is time to start building the near zero emission energy system of the future. Expansion of natural gas is a delaying tactic, not a solution. A switch to natural gas would have zero effect on global temperatures by the year 2100.

Caldiera and Myhrvold’s paper on transitional energy concludes, “If you take 40 years to switch over entirely to natural gas, you won’t see any substantial decrease in global temperatures for up to 250 years [due to the CO2 inertia effect]. There’s almost no climate value in doing it.”

No Longer Missing

To make a short story long, that is what’s missing from the conversation – the great story of the benefits and solutions of ECER. How can we move towards a more positive and diversified energy future if we continue to bury the lead? The real solutions to our energy challenge cannot be relegated to a sidebar conversation. A disconnect between what is and what can be will keep us on the path to dire economic and public health impacts.

Back to the Niehaus farm…

As we were enjoying the fresh air, the pastoral beauty and soft sounds of nature that evening, I tried to picture what this landscape would look like, smell like, sound like, feel like, if instead of enjoying this farm fueled by solar, we were sitting back at one of the many homes bordering a drilling pad or processing facility that I had visited earlier in the day. I tried to envision what the wildlife, streams and skies would look like, what the children’s legacy would be, wondering if we were perhaps too distracted calculating costs instead of values.

When speaking of his investment in solar and his approach to life, Rich shares with us that he subscribes to the ancient Indian proverb, “We do not Inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we Borrow it from our Children.”

After this “renewed” experience at the farm that evening, I reaffirmed my efforts to not miss any more opportunities to raise the profile of ECERs when people are debating the pros and cons of fracking and fossils. Energy Conservation, Efficiency and Renewables can no longer go missing from our conversations or we allow the myth to flourish that only fossils can “keep the lights on.” With ECERs in the conversation we may actually transition from this “transition fuel,” to a truly transformational future.

As Buckminster Fuller once said:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. 
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.


Additional References

  1. To learn more, go to the Rocky Mountain Institute website.
  2. Mark Jacobson, a founder of The Solutions Project continues to crunch the numbers to demonstrate, How to Power the World without Fossil Fuels.
  3. According to the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies
  4. report by WWF, Ceres, Calvert Investments and David Gardiner and Associates finds that
  5. Addressing the issue of job creation, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports, “Compared with fossil fuel technologies, which are typically mechanized and capital intensive, the renewable energy industry is more labor-intensive. This means that, on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.”

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