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Energy in the News: Friday, September 2

Biofuels aren’t nearly as green as you thought

Co.Exist, feat. John DeCicco

Biofuels might not be as clean as you thought, and they certainly aren’t carbon-neutral. The common thinking goes that crops used to make ethanol and biodiesel suck CO2 out of the air and turn it into a gas substitute. Then, when you fill up your car and take it for a spin, all you’re doing is releasing that carbon back into the atmosphere, not generating new emissions.

But for many years, environmentalists and academics have said that biofuels, depending on how they are cultivated and processed, could still lead to plenty of emissions and other environmental impacts. Now new research out of the University of Michigan shows how bad it is: In fact, biofuels might actually be worse, carbon-wise, than fossil fuels, it says.

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U.S. nuclear outages this summer were higher than in summer 2015

U.S. Energy Information Administration

U.S. nuclear power plant outages have been higher this summer (June through August), averaging 4.3 gigawatts (GW), or 51% more than in 2015. Summer outages were at their highest in June, reaching 9.9 GW, or about 10% of total U.S. nuclear capacity, on June 17 and averaging 6.2 GW for the month. Outages dropped to an average of 4.4 GW in July and 2.4 GW in August.

Nuclear power plants, which provide baseload generation, account for nearly 20% of total U.S. electricity generation on an annual basis. Nuclear power plants provide power at a steady rate rather than in response to daily or hourly fluctuations in electricity demand. Nuclear outages typically arise from refueling and maintenance, power uprates, and unplanned shutdowns. EIA’s Status of Nuclear Outages maps the generating capacity and outage status of each nuclear plant in the United States each day. Nuclear outages reached the lowest level since 2007 last year, when outages totaled just 0.1 GW during four days in August 2015.

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Paris deal will cost at least $1.28T — economist

E&E Climate

With signals President Obama is on the verge of formally joining the landmark Paris climate agreement, an environmental economist is investigating whether the United States can actually afford to hold up its end of the deal.

The rough estimate for the cost of hitting the target ranges from $42 billion to $176 billion every year until 2050, according to Columbia University’s Geoffrey Heal.

Heal assumes that the goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will be reached by extensive use of solar power and wind energy, with the cost of energy storage dictating the overall price tag. His calculations, in a report out this month from the National Bureau of Economic Research, also rely on private-sector investment in energy infrastructure.

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Our energy grid is incredibly vulnerable

Slate

When I dream about Hurricane Katrina (and I still do), it always starts with the refrigerators. Kenmore, GE, Whirlpool, Frigidaire, Amana. Hundreds of thousands of these abandoned appliances stood duct-taped shut on the curbs and yards of homes throughout New Orleans. Many were spray-painted with whimsical or forbidding messages. “Funky. Not in a good way.” “Free Beer and Maggots.” “Smells like FEMA.” “The Bowels of Hell await you within!!”

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Talberg: Michigan “Would Be Dark” Without Action on Energy Legislation

Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council

Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Sally Talberg told a meeting of the Michigan Senate Energy and Technology Committee last week that Michigan “would be dark” if the state does not pass legislation to address capacity and reliability issues. Talberg reviewed the Commission’s most recent five-year outlook, and told Committee members that by 2018 there may not be enough surplus energy in the Midcontinent Independent Service Operator (MISO) region to meet Michigan’s demands, due to the retirement of a number of older coal-fired plants.

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U.S. universities using less coal for heat, power

FuelFix

U.S. colleges and universities have burned coal to produce electricity and heat for 200 years.

Now they’re using far less of it. The country’s educational institutions, pushed by rising hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, have cut coal consumption by almost two-thirds over the past eight years, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Universities reduced the amount of coal they burn to 700,000 tons in 2015 from 2 million tons in 2008, a dip of 65 percent. Moreover, consumption fell at all 57 institutions that burned coal in 2008.

Twenty of them quit using the fossil fuel entirely, according to the Energy Department’s information administration.

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