Municipalizing Green Energy

In this Forbes article, Boulder, Colo. is fighting for the control to provide its people with renewable, green energy slated to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, according to Boulder City Council.

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The city is attempting to wrestle control out of the hands of Xcel Energy, one of Boulder’s chief energy suppliers. By “municipalizing” utilities, meaning the city would calculate the fair value of assets as well as setting pricing, the city hopes to reach its projected goal to provide 90% of the power with renewable green energy by 2020. Today Boulder gets about 11% of its electricity from green sources.

Xcel is proving hesitant to go forth with the agreement, saying that the city council is largely underestimating the costs and complications of municipalization. Boulder hopes to not raise utility prices to their citizens under the new plan, however a bid is yet to be met with Xcel.

The city has hired an independent consultant to check their numbers, however a short time frame of just 2 months of evaluation might impede accurate results.

Do you think cities should municipalize energy sources? What are some of the risks and/or benefits of doing so? Would you want it to be done in your own city, if it meant more renewable, green energy?

 

Lindsay Finan

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Life on Other Planets?

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According to an article on CNN.com, Scientists at NASA announced last week that they found what they believe to be three habitable planets much like our planet Earth. The planets orbit a star just like our Sun. Digital images of the planets released with last week’s announcement show a clear atmosphere like Earth’s as well as visible bodies of water.

Earthlings won’t be invading the new planets any time soon though, as they are about 2,700 light years away, which is the equivalent of about 6 trillion miles.

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 Scientists are still studying these planets and plan to find out even more about them. Right now they have a possible three habitable planets in sight. Two of the planets are close enough to their star that they know they would have similar climates to our planet, and the third is a little far but not far enough to rule it out.

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The article raises an interesting question to think about: Could this be the place we flee to when Earth’s final days come? The planet that scientists have named Kepler-62f seems to be the most like Earth among the three. According to the article, scientist William Borucki, the smaller the planet is, the more likely it’s comprised of rock and not gas. Kepler-62f is estimated to be about 40% larger than our home planet, and is probably rocky with polar caps, landmasses, and bodies of water just like Earth. Kepler-62f rotates around its star once every 267.3 earth days, making the similarities even greater between this strange new planet and our beloved earth. With all the similarities seen between Kepler-62f and our planet Earth scientists are raising questions of whether we could migrate to another solar system sometime in the future.

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Humans on Earth are forever afraid of the ultimate “Dooms Day;” the dreaded day when life on Earth ceases to exist. Some speculate that it will come when natural disasters suddenly engulf our planet, others think it will come when something finally collides with our planet knocking us out of orbit and flying through space, some say the day will come when our life source The Sun finally reaches its timely death. Planets and stars die all over the universe all the time, its part of the natural cycle of the celestial bodies.

 

So is it possible? What if we could somehow in the future predict which of these Dooms Day situations will be the real one? If we could predict the end of days soon enough, we could theoretically flee this planet and seek shelter on Kepler-62f.

 

No one can know for sure when the Earth will meet its maker or what could even be waiting for us on Kepler-62f once we arrived. There could be a whole planet full of living beings just like we have here on this planet.

 

All speculations aside, this is a major discovery in the world of science. The ago old debate of whether or not Earth is the only life-sustaining planet in our universe could finally be answered!

 

Recent Solar Panel Improvements

According to this Forbes article by contributor Ucilia Wang, a Swedish solar start-up company has devised a way to get more energy out of solar panels.

Solar panels must become more efficient in this buyer's market.

Despite the U.S. solar market growing 76% in 2012 (source), an oversupply of panels has made the market difficult to grapple with. Consumers have a large gamut of choices, thus putting competitors out of business easily. This new technology from Sol Voltaics has made the start-up a potential forerunner.

Called SolInk, the technology includes adding a layer of gallium arsenide nano wires on top of normal solar panels. Gallium arsenide, an expensive material that excels in generating more energy, will make Sol Voltaics’ panels 25% more efficient than competitors’. 25% increased efficiency means a normal 250 watt panel will generate 250 watts with the nano wires.

According to Sol Voltaics’ CEO David Epstein, the only way for solar companies to win over competitor’s in this buyer’s market is to cut down costs and improve efficiencies.

Recently in the U.S., Silicon-Valley based SunPower revealed a new line of efficient panels. With more efficient panels, consumers will have to use less, thus making it ideal for homeowners with limited roof space.

With the solar energy beginning to adjust, do you think more consumers will purchase panels for their homes? Where do you see the solar energy industry going?

By: Lindsay Finan

Can We Avoid Natural Disasters?

The topic of climate change and global warming has become increasingly more important in the last few years. Many debate whether global warming is a thing that we are causing or a natural thing or even a real thing at all. Differing opinions about global warming has made it a rather controversial topic to say the least. However, the changing of weather patterns and the increase in more severe storms with the passing of each year has pushed this topic into the category of hot button issues.

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The recent and devastating hurricane Sandy has brought the topic of climate change and global warming front and center. Hurricane Sandy destroyed entire coastal areas all up and down the eastern seaboard leaving many homeless and towns devastated. A hurricane like this makes everyone wonder how it can be avoided in the future. The hurricane wasn’t entirely a horrible thing, the devastation suffered by the East Coast has sparked efforts by other people to start making climate change preparations.

 A recent poll taken by Stanford University asked Americans if they thought the United States should start preparing for climate changes and global warming. According to the poll, 82% of Americans say yes…as long as the government doesn’t pay for it. This poll inspired an article for USA Today that broke down Americans mixed feelings on preparing for global warming.

 Many people think that preparations should include higher standards for costal structures and an end to new developments along coastlines. The bigger question is not what preparations we should take but who should be paying for these preparations. Many people thought that the government should not be responsible for these changes, but then who should be?

Most think that living people in high-risk areas should be the ones responsible for paying to rebuild and restructure their homes. 

 Completely restructuring entire towns full of buildings would be a very costly task that’s for sure, but if it could help prevent another devastating natural disaster just like Sandy then it seems to be a necessary expense.

 

Sources: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/28/poll-climate-change/2028223/ 

Christen Bertolotti 

Getting Socially Responsible on Oil Companies

In this AP article by Matthew Brown via Yahoo! News, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed $1.7 million in civil penalties against Exxon Mobil. Corp for a pipeline rupture that spilled approximately 63,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana’s Yellowstone river.

Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette, via Associated Press

“The July 2011 rupture of the 12-inch pipeline under the river near Laurel fouled 70 miles of the Yellowstone River’s banks, killing fish and wildlife and prompting a massive, months-long cleanup.”

According to the DOT report, Exxon employees failed to close an upstream safety valve, which caused oil to run into the river for nearly an hour before noticed by pipeline controllers. The rupture of the 12 inch pipeline spread 70 miles of the Yellowstone’s banks, killing wildlife and fish. The cleanup was months long, conducted largely by Montana officials.

Exxon spokesperson Patrick Henretty said Exxon is disappointed in the government’s findings, citing a separate internal December investigative report by the company that determined Exxon took “reasonable precautions to address flooding.”

The spill fines have prompted new, stricter legislation on underground pipeline construction in the U.S. However, this accident and others have raised more socially responsible concern over oil giants like Exxon.

While Exxon has reportedly spent $135 million on its response to the spill, the question remains: What can environmentally staked companies like oil refineries do to aid the actual damage in affected areas like Montana? A $1.6 million settlement was reached earlier in this year between the state and Exxon over the company’s water pollution violations. A little over $1 million pales greatly in comparison to a corporation like Exxon, valued at $418.2 billion (according to Reuters).

Something is missing here. This Exxon spill exemplifies one of the biggest and most controversial issue with oil giants. “Large” settlements are not going to bring back the wildlife or national park revenues. Laurel will be repairing itself long after Exxon leaves Montana for pipeline work in another state. We need corporations like Exxon to set an example as socially and environmentally responsible companies, invested in not just the finances of oil spill cleanup. Exxon employees should be 100% involved in the restoration process, and understand the gravity of their mistakes. Our communities, rivers and parks don’t benefit directly from the politics of an oil spill; shouldn’t the most affected deserve more?

Sources: http://news.yahoo.com/apnewsbreak-1-7m-penalty-proposed-222314895.html;_ylt=AgxTsnMwhSyVE64IxCJSecwS.MwF;_ylu=X3oDMTQ2aGQ4dGJtBG1pdANUb3BTdG9yeSBTY2llbmNlU0YgRW5lcmd5U1NGBHBrZwM2ZDEyODczYi1hZGM4LTMwNWItODA1ZC03ZTBiM2RiMjc2YTAEcG9zAzMEc2VjA3RvcF9zdG9yeQR2ZXIDNTA5YjcxNzAtOTVlNS0xMWUyLWI3OWItOTkwZTE4MmE1ZDZm;_ylg=X3oDMTFzMnBqYnA4BGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANzY2llbmNlfGVuZXJneQRwdANzZWN0aW9ucw–;_ylv=3
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/us/03oilspill.html?_r=0 (photo)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/25/us-apple-exxon-value-idUSBRE90O0TS20130125

Lindsay Finan

Was the Iraq War One Huge Mistake?

According to an article on cnn.com written by Hans Binx, yes, invading Iraq was a big mistake. Binx was the head of the U.N. Weapons Inspections in Iraq (UNMOVIC) in the years leading up to the invasion of the country in 2003. Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the day that we engaged in war with Iraq.

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Binx explains in his opion piece for CNN the reasons he thinks the war was not only a big mistake, but also against policies and regulations.  Binx says this declaration of war violated not only U.N. rules but also United States laws and British laws as well.

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Binx first points out that the war was aimed at destroying weapons of mass destruction but there are no weapons. There have been no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. Binx blames the war on the government being under pressure after the terror attacks on 9/11. He says the government was being pressured by the people to and the world to make someone pay for the super power of the world being made to look vulnerable and weak.

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The war was also supposed to get rid of Al Queda presence in Iraq and yet according to Binx, the war was commonly refered to by our fearless leader George W. Bush as the “war on terror.” But according to Binx, the terrorist group was not even present in the country until after the invasion.

 Other excuses we heard for invading Iraq included trying to set up a democratic government in the country, which still has not been done after ten years. Which turned out to be disastrous turning a tyranny to anarchy and ultimately forced the United States to violate laws of war.

 

Ten years later, countless lives lost, billions of wasted dollars, and still no real results, many are starting to question the Iraq war. The only good thing that can be attributed to this war is the death of Sadam Hussein.

 Whether or not it was a good thing to get involved in at this point is no longer the problem. I think the bigger problem here is figuring out where to go from here. We are clearly not making any headway in Iraq with this war, the civilians are increasingly hostile towards us, people keep dying, and nothing is being resolved. After ten years one would think its time to call it quits and bring our troops home and away from the endless violence. But how do we leave? With no clear purpose or war declaration there is no “winner.” We cannot strike up a treaty with the Iraqi government to end things but any reasonably sane person could see that clearly just backing out of Iraq and washing our hands of the situation wouldn’t fix things either.

 

The biggest thing I think the United States government needs to take away from this war is that we are not the parental unit to the entire planet. And that we cannot solve every problem with violence, intimidation, and strong-arming our enemies.

 

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/18/opinion/iraq-war-hans-blix/index.html?hpt=op_bn4

 Christen Bertolotti

The End of the U.S. Nuclear Age?

According to this Bloomberg article, electricity in the U.S. is slowly but steadily replacing nuclear power with renewable wind energy. In 2012, wind-generated electricity supplied about 3.4 percent of U.S. demand, and that is predicted to grow up to 4.2 percent in 2014 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The phasing out of nuclear power is eerily similar to that of coal; with new environmental laws, states are looking to both natural gas and wind power to supply their electricity. Wind farms have governmental backing as well. For every megawatt-hour generated, wind farms get a $22 federal tax credit, making them profitable even when grids do not need supply. This is highly significant when considering nuclear power does not receive as high subsidies, and therefore end up running “negative profits”.

Does this wind trend mean the same for the entire country? Likely not, considering certain regions like the Midwest generate more wind power than others. The five states with the gustiest wind include Texas, California, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon. For other regions like the Northeast, wind energy may not trump nuclear power natural gas just yet.

Still, as the wind energy market continues to grow, large corporations are taking notice. Google Inc. is investing $1 billion in wind and solar projects, setting not only the energy trend but also stimulating public interest in renewable energy.

As a consumer, do you feel the U.S. should move towards wind energy? Why or why not?

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-11/nuclear-industry-withers-in-u-s-as-wind-pummels-prices-energy.html

Lindsay Finan