Brief notes about energy stories in the news.
- Flywheel energy storage company Beacon Power has filed for bankruptcy. News stories have highlighted the point that Beacon was a recipient of federal energy technology loan guarantees, which will give an additional boost to Solyndra critics, but I predict the apparent lack of high-level political involvement will prevent Beacon from turning into a second scandal. I hope the problem wasn’t skepticism about the value of their flywheel patents.
- In Boulder, Colorado, citizens are contemplating creation of a municipal power utility to displace Xcel in the city. Xcel’s problem is, apparently, not moving fast enough on renewable power and other environmental issues for some residents of the famously eco-aware college town. Boulder’s problem may be that their affinity for renewable power has heretofore been subsidized by less-enthusiastic Xcel customers elsewhere in the state.
- Cheniere Energy, owner of an expensive and not too useful facility to import LNG into the gas saturated U.S. market (the modern natural gas equivalent of “carrying coal to Newcastle“) has entered into a long-term contract to export LNG, a seemingly more sensible goal at the moment. More sensible because currently world LNG prices are much higher than U.S. domestic gas prices, but I wonder whether that price difference will persist long enough to justify the time and expense of retooling the import facility?
- In a related matter, Daniel Yergin sums up some changes in the world energy market for the folks that read the Washington Post. Readers here should be familiar with the pieces of his story: Improving drilling technologies and better data analysis have conspired to yield increasing oil production in Alberta, oil production growth in Texas and a real boom in North Dakota, and significant off-shore oil discoveries off of Brazil.
- The wind power lobby is becoming concerned about the the forthcoming 12-31-2012 apocalypse (i.e., expiration of the production tax credit for new wind power projects), especially in a political environment in which some politicians are willing to pull the plug on all energy subsidies. Maybe it is just the issues that the reporter focuses on, but all of the wind lobby arguments in favor of the subsidy sound like no more than the obvious claim that the industry would grow more with the subsidy than without it. Of course existing projects with a PTC would continue to enjoy the subsidy for their first 10 years of operation, and the growing wind-on-wind competition in some of the better wind resource locations may tip existing wind project owners toward not being in favor of continued subsidies for new competitors.