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Energy Department predicted the 2011 boom in U.S. fuel exports

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The 2011 Argus Americas Crude Summit, held in Houston last January, was named "Life After Macondo" and focused on the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But American consumers might have been far more interested in a presentation that ventured far from that script.

Joanne Shore, team leader and lead operations research analyst at the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, and colleague John Hackworth essentially explained why Americans were about to pay more for gasoline in 2011 than they ever had before.

Shore's and Hackworth's analysis (which can be found here) explained why it wouldn't matter that Americans were driving less and using higher-mileage vehicles that burned less fuel. It wouldn't matter that additives like ethanol were lowering the amount of refined oil in every gallon of gasoline.

Even as U.S. refiners were shutting down facilities because of lowered U.S. demand, Shore and Hackworth explained, they had already found thriving and lucrative markets overseas for their products.

Their main points: "world growth in distillate fuels" demand had "provided some attractive export opportunities for U.S. refiners"; U.S. low-sulfur diesel products were more attractive to foreign buyers than higher-sulfur fuel coming out of Russia; and they were far closer to South and Central American markets than distant European competitors.

Their analysis seems to have been correct. In 2007, U.S. fuel exports overseas held steady throughout the year at 1.24 million to 1.25 million barrels a day, according to Energy Department statistics. In 2011, the average export amount reached a record level that was more than twice as high, and the trend accelerated throughout the year.

In November and December, U.S. fuel exports averaged between 2.77 million barrels a day and 2.89 million barrels a day, their highest ever. In the U.S., in 2011, drivers paid an average of about $3.50 a gallon for gasoline, also the highest ever.

Today, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, Californians are paying an average of $3.602 for a gallon of regular, 28.7 cents a gallon more than they have ever paid on Dec. 30. Nationally, the average cost for a gallon of regular today is $3.269 or 19.8 cents a gallon more than ever on this day of the year.

 Also: A December record for gas prices

Global concerns keep oil prices high

U.S. fuel exports reach record levels

--Ronald D. White

Photo: Valero Energy Corp.'s Wilmington refinery. U.S. refiners exported record amounts of fuel to foreign buyers after Energy Department predicted a booming market overseas. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

Wind power hit important milestones in 2011

The Buena Vista wind farm in the Diablo Range's Altamont Pass in Northern California

The American Wind Energy Assn. said U.S. wind power achieved several important milestones in 2011.

Among the accomplishments, two states — Iowa and South Dakota — were the first to get an average of 20% of their electrical power from wind energy, the AWEA said. The 20% threshold was first mentioned as an important standard in the Department of Energy's 2008 report, "20% Wind Energy by 2030."

The AWEA said Xcel Energy's utility in Colorado set a record on Oct. 6th when 55.6% of the electricity consumer by its 1 million customers was coming from wind energy. That broke a record of 53% that had been set in Spain in 2009, the AWEA said.

In terms of total power capacity, the AWEA said California ranks third in the nation, behind Texas and Iowa.

Also: Bird advocates seek mandatory wind power standards

Buffett investment could boost solar industry

Expanding wind projects irk some neighbors

— Ronald D. White

Photo: The Buena Vista wind farm in the Diablo Range's Altamont Pass in Northern California. The American Wind Energy Assn. says California ranks third in the nation in wind power capacity. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times.

Report: U.S. nuclear renaissance unlikely after Fukushima

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A new study released Wednesday said that the regulatory fallout from the Fukushima power plant disaster in Japan in March will short-circuit the U.S. nuclear renaissance of new power plant construction.

The report, "Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Economics," was written and presented by Mark Cooper, a frequent critic of the nuclear power industry. The report can be found here. Cooper is a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at the Vermont Law School.

Cooper said that past nuclear disasters, such as the one at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, have tended to greatly raise regulatory barriers and have also severely multiplied the cost of reactor construction. After Three Mile Island, for example, the report said, the cost of nuclear power plant construction doubled in most cases and trebled or quadrupled in some rare instances.

"This is an important moment to compare what is really likely to happen over the next 10 years with the industry’s expectations" of a nuclear renaissance, said Peter Bradford, an adjunct professor specializing in nuclear power and public policy at the Vermont Law School and a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member.

"When that comparison is performed properly, it becomes clear that we are witnessing not a revival but a collapse in expectations for new reactor construction," Bradford added.

The report comes just days after a panel appointed by the Japanese government released a scathing assessment of the reponse to the disaster, which was caused when a huge earthquake generated a tsunami that struck the facility.

The investigative panel blamed the central government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co., saying both seemed incapable of making decisions to stem radiation leaks as the situation at the coastal plant worsened in the days and weeks after the disaster.

A recently updated online report by the World Nuclear Assn. said that as few as four of the 26 new nuclear facilities that have been proposed or planned in the U.S. will be finished by 2020. But it did not mention Fukushima and instead said the primary reason was the fact that a boom in domestic natural gas production has "put the economic viability of some of these projects in doubt."

ALSO:

Japan, utility criticized for poor Fukushima response

Japanese more wary of official responses since Fukushima

NRC approves new reactor design

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: The damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station in Japan. Credit: David Guttenfelder / Associated Press

Gasoline prices climb to record end-of-year highs ... again

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The most expensive year ever for gasoline purchases in the U.S. is heading to a close, but not without one last snatch at motorists' wallets. Pain levels at the pump are rising again in California and across the rest of the nation, assuring that 2011 will mark the second year in a row that prices have posted record December highs.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California on Tuesday is $3.562, up 2.2 cents since last week, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That was enough to shatter the old record for Dec. 27 of $3.301, set last year. Previous to that, the worst that Californians had seen on this day was $3.266 a gallon in 2007.

Nationally, the numbers tell the same story. The U.S. average for a gallon of regular gasoline Tuesday is $3.231, up 1.8 cents since last week. That broke the old record set last year, which was an average of $3.042 a gallon. Before that, the highest U.S. average for this day was $2.981 in 2007.

But Americans aren't complaining as much as they did in 2008 when prices peaked at $4.588 a gallon in California and at $4.114 nationally, said Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the AAA of Southern California.

"Holiday travel is still pretty good," Montgomery said. "People still want to reconnect with family and distant friends, go home. That's a pretty resilient thing."

Montgomery added, however, that motorists said that they would only drive about 700 miles for the end of the year holidays or nearly 300 miles less than last year.

ALSO:

Oils tops $100 on security concerns

Oil prices could hit all-time high in 2012

U.S. drivers' spending on gasoline sets a record in 2011

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Michael Reed fills his tank at a service station in Charlotte, N.C. Gasoline prices are at record late-December highs. Credit: Chuck Burton / Associated Press

Consumer Confidential: Holiday shopping, fewer fliers, gas pains

Shoppic

Here's your last-train-to-Clarksville Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--We're still shopping, right down to the wire. Sales at stores opened at least a year rose 3.4% for the week ended Saturday compared with the previous week, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index. That follows two consecutive weekly declines as shoppers took a break after a discount-fueled spending spree over the Thanksgiving weekend. Compared with a year ago, sales for the week rose 4.6%. And there's still more shopping to do. According to a poll of 1,000 shoppers conducted by ICSC and Goldman Sachs, shoppers on average completed 70% of their holiday buying as of Sunday. Moreover, 9% of shoppers polled hadn't even started their holiday buying. Man, talk about procrastinators. (Associated Press)

--And we're still traveling, but not quite as much. The estimate for the upcoming winter holiday travel period predicts there will be fewer fliers than a year ago. A projected 43.3 million air travelers will fly on U.S. carriers for both domestic and international routes during a 21-day period, according to Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines. That's a 1% drop from the same period last year, which translates to about 20,000 fewer passengers on average per day. However, travelers will not find that translates into more leg room once they board planes. On the busiest days, flights will be filled to at least 85% capacity, according to the forecast. (CNN)

--Feeling a bite out of your earnings? That's your gasoline bill talking. Despite the fact that gas prices have been falling in recent weeks, the fact is consumers have spent more money on gas this year than any other, according to the Oil Price Information Service. As of mid-December, gas prices have averaged $3.52 per gallon. Based on recent demand trends, the total consumers will have spent on gas this year should be about $481 billion. Last year, motorists spent a total of $389 billion on gas, according to OPIS. When all of this data is broken down, each American household will have spent an average of $4,155 on gasoline 2011, approximately 8.4% of an average family's income. Ouch. (ConsumerAffairs.com)

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Polls show Americans still have plenty of holiday shopping to do. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 

Solar industry booming, but problems loom

Ivanpah Site Compliance Manager Douglas Davis

Solar power is a booming business in the U.S., according to a report released today by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Assn. (SEIA). The study said there were more domestic solar installations completed in the third quarter of this year than during all of 2009.

"The U.S. solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011," said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of SEIA, at an event announcing the release of the report. "Solar is now an economic force in dozens of states, creating jobs across America."

SEIA is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry, and it has 1,100 member companies.

Some 449 megawatts of power were installed in various parts of the U.S. in the third quarter in a variety of projects that ranged in size from large, utility-scale facilities to small residential systems, the report said. One MW or megawatt is the equivalent of 1 million watts of power.

The record third quarter, which was a 140% increase over the same period a year ago, also boosted the number of domestic solar installations in 2011 past the 1,000 MW mark, surpassing the 887 MW completed during all of 2010. The projects contributed to the 100,237 solar related jobs in the U.S., a figure that has doubled since 2009, SEIA said.

The bulk of those third-quarter installations were in California, which accounted for 44% of the total or nearly as much as the next six states combined. California has 25,575 solar-related jobs, or more than one-quarter of the national total.

But the report also warned that the U.S. solar industry faces considerable uncertainty in 2012 and beyond because of the coming expiration of the Section 1603 Treasury Program. SEIA said the program had awarded over 3,600 grants totaling $1.5 billion for more than 22,000 individual solar projects in 47 states, as of November of this year.

SEIA also said that 1603 Treasury program supported over $3.5 billion in private investment. But the program expires at the end of the year, which has many in the industry worried and clamoring for an extention.

"Our industry needs stable policy on which to make business decisions, said Resch, later adding, "To keep the industry growing and creating jobs in the U.S., we need Congress to extend the 1603 program. The 1603 program has done more to expand the use of renewable energy than any other policy in U.S. history."

ALSO:

 Buffett venture could boost solar industry

Schwarzenegger tells candidates to go green

Renewables trump fossil fuels for first time

— Ronald D. White

Photo: Ivanpah Site Compliance Manager Douglas Davis talks to reporters during Phase 1 of the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System construction project, currently underway in California's Mojave Desert. The domestic solar industry is booming, but advocates say problems loom. Credit: Josie Lepe / San Jose Mercury News / MCT

L.A., Long Beach port truck fleet to get younger, cut pollution

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One of the newest major seaport truck fleets in the U.S. will get even younger Jan. 1, when the last of about 1,100 older rigs are banned from operating at the harbor.

Every truck that enters the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on that day will be no older than the 2007 model year, said officials for both ports. This was the latest phase of an overhaul that began Oct. 1, 2008, when 1,500 trucks at least 20 years old were barred from the harbor.

Some of the rigs were so old then that the running joke around San Pedro Harbor was that it was the place where old trucks went to die. Today, the ports claim a reduction of pollution from trucks of between 80% and 90% since 2008.

“We set an example for the entire industry,” said Long Beach Harbor Commission President Susan E. Andersen Wise. “We helped replace more than 10,000 pollution spewing trucks with newer, less polluting ones and the bottom line is that our communities can breathe better."

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, said, "The Port of Los Angeles, along with our business partners, has made the business of moving cargo more healthy. The results speak for themselves, and we couldn’t be more proud of reaching this milestone."

Officials at both ports said the current fleet, which includes 880 natural gas vehicles, will reduce diesel particulate matter by more than 40 tons a year versus the old fleet.

Melissa Lin Perrella, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the harbor is still the biggest single source of air pollution in Southern California, adding that more work remains to be done at a port complex that anticipates significant cargo growth in coming years.

But Perrella said "these ports were first in the nation to adopt a clean truck program. They should be commended for the policy they put in place."

RELATED:

Export gains at Port of Los Angeles

China air pollution disrupts transportation

Pollution traced to tar pits

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Trucks line up for business outside the Long Beach Container Terminal at the Port of Long Beach. Credit: Port of Long Beach

 

 

 

 

 

Wind industry says jobs will be lost if tax credits expire

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A new study released by the American Wind Energy Assn. today said 54,000 jobs can be created and maintained if Congress acts to extend the Production Tax Credit, which is set to expire in 2012.

“American manufacturing jobs are coming back, with tens of thousands of new jobs from wind power,” said Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Assn. (AWEA). “But these jobs could vanish if Congress allows the Production Tax Credit to expire."

The federal renewable-energy production tax credit allows wind producers to take a 30% investment tax credit. They could also choose to receive a 2.2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit as an alternative. The tax credits have been in place since 1992.

The report, by Navigant Consulting Inc., analyzed two scenarios. In the first, the tax credit is allowed to expire; in the second, the tax credit is extended through 2016.

Navigant's study says that the wind market will shrink dramatically without the tax credits, with the number of jobs in the wind industry falling from nearly 78,000 to about 41,000 by 2013.

Navigant says the number of wind energy supported jobs will climb to 95,000 by 2016 if the tax credits are extended.

Related benefits of an extension would include a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 170 million tons, the report said.

ALSO:

Buffett investment could boost solar industry

Renewable power trumps fossil fuels for first time

Biofuels, wind power show gains, but hurdles remain

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: A field of 200-foot-tall wind turbines make up the Nine Canyon Wind Project in the southeast corner of Washington state. A new report says that wind power investment will decline sharply if tax credits are not extended. Credit: Tri-City Herald/MCT

Consumer Confidential: Amazon fallout, hybrids galore, Ford recall

Snowepic
Here's your Brandy-you're-a-fine-girl Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--It's not just brick-and-mortar retailers who are unhappy about Amazon.com luring away shoppers with its Price Check app. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) called on the Internet heavyweight to drop its promotion because it gives consumers an incentive to gather price data from small retailers and leave stores without spending money. Amazon is offering a 5% discount on Saturday to entice users to try a new mobile app that compares its prices with real-world retailers. "Amazon’s promotion -- paying consumers to visit small businesses and leave empty-handed -- is an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities," Snowe says. "Incentivizing consumers to spy on local shops is a bridge too far." (Bloomberg)

--There's likely a hybrid in your future. One of every two cars will be either a hybrid or some other alternative-fuel vehicle by 2040, oil giant Exxon Mobil predicts. Hybrids, which rely on both gas and electricity for power, currently account for less than 1% of all vehicles on the world's roads. They should move into the mainstream as governments boost fuel-efficiency requirements, Exxon says. Power for those hybrids, along with other vehicles and a growing number of households around the world, will increasingly come from natural gas, nuclear power and renewable energy sources like wind, Exxon believes. But the largest publicly traded oil company also makes clear that oil will remain king of the energy world for many, many years. (Associated Press)

--Speaking of wheels, heads up: Ford is recalling more than 128,000 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans from the 2010 and 2011 model years because the wheels can fall off the cars. The recall affects only cars with 17-inch steel wheels built from April 1, 2009, through April 30, 2009, and from Dec. 1, 2009, through Nov. 13, 2010. Federal regulators say that bolts holding the wheels on can fracture, causing a vibration. If the vibration is ignored, the wheels can separate from the car. Ford says it's not aware of any crashes or injuries caused by the problem. (Associated Press)

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Sen. Olympia Snowe thinks Amazon should back off its price-check promotion. Credit:  Harry Hamburg / Associated Press

 

Buffett company purchase gives solar industry big boost

Warren Buffett gives solar industry big boost

Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings company has agreed to buy a giant, 550-megawatt photovoltaic farm currently under construction in San Luis Obispo County for $2 billion, giving a huge boost to the solar industry that could spur investment by other major players.

The "utility-scale" facility MidAmerican is purchasing is being built by First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Ariz. A spokesman for First Solar, Alan Bernheimer, said the farm would produce enough power to provide for the energy needs of 160,000 California homes. But the investment had deeper meaning for an industry that still has only a small footprint in the nation's energy mix and has been battered by recent bankruptcies.

"In a lot of ways, this is classic Warren Buffett," said Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "He comes in to an industry that is starving for capital investment. At the same time, this is something that also tells people it's time to take solar power seriously."

Solar power currently provides just 1% of the nation's renewable power generation, according to the Energy Department. But it is also the nation's fastest-growing energy generation platform, said Michelle Kinman, a clean-energy advocate for Environment California.

"Solar is a sound investment," Kinman said, "a fact bolstered by MidAmerican's announcement today."

Others thought it was a little too early to get excited.

"It's one purchase of one very large system," said Paula Mints, a market research analyst and director in Navigant Consulting Inc.'s energy practice. "If he [Buffett] continues to invest in this sector, it will be significant."

Bernheimer of First Solar said the the project was being built on 3,500 acres of unproductive farmland and would average about 400 construction jobs over the course of its development. Construction is expected to be completed by 2015, but the facility is expected to begin producing power for Pacific Gas & Electric sometime next year.

Berkshire shares fell 1.1% after the announcement, while First Solar shares climbed 7.7% to $49.65.

RELATED:

Five tips for going solar

Former governor touts renewables

Green tech leads venture funding

— Ronald D. White

Photo: Investor Warren Buffett is moving into solar power in a big way. Berkshire Hathaway's MidAmerican Energy holdings company has agreed to buy First Solar Inc.'s 550-megawatt solar farm in San Luis Obispo County for $2 billion. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press

Judge throws out convictions of Azusa company executives

Lindsey photo

A federal judge in Los Angeles overturned the corruption convictions of the top two executives of Lindsey Manufacturing Co., an Azusa power equipment firm, saying prosecutors’ misconduct prevented a fair trial.

In a lengthy and scathing ruling, U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz said Justice Department attorneys allowed an FBI agent to present false testimony to a grand jury, inserted false statements into search warrant applications and unlawfully intercepted emails between a defendant and a defense attorney.

Matz said the misconduct was so flagrant that prosecutors should not be permitted to retry Lindsey Manufacturing executives Keith Lindsey and Steve K. Lee.

“Dr. Lindsey and Mr. Lee were put through a severe ordeal. Charges were filed against them as a result of a sloppy, incomplete and notably overzealous investigation,” Matz said in his ruling. He had issued a tentative ruling Monday and made that ruling final Wednesday.

“The government team committed many wrongful acts. It should not be permitted to escape the consequences of that conduct.”

In May, a federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Lindsey and Lee of charges alleging that they violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying a middleman to bribe officials with a state-owned power company in Mexico in order to obtain the company’s business.

Jan L. Handzlik, the defense attorney, said the judge’s ruling helped correct an injustice. He had argued that Lindsey officials were unaware of the bribes.

“This is a great day for the Keith Lindsey and Steve Lee. They never once wavered in their belief of their innocence,” Handzlik said. “It is also a great day for the fair administration of justice. Without an independent judiciary and courageous, fair-minded judges, days like this would not be possible.”

Matz also said he was not impressed with the evidence presented at trial. Prosecutors had argued that Lindsey and Lee authorized payments to a Mexican company, knowing it would be used to bribe officials with the country’s power company. Matz said he heard no direct evidence of that intent.

“The case against the Lindsey defendants was far from compelling,” the judge said.

RELATED:

Corruption convictions of Azusa firm's executives may be dismissed

Azusa firm, two execs convicted of Mexican bribery scheme

U.S. cracks down on firms that pay bribes to foreign officials

Photo: Lindsey Manufacturing makes power transmission equipment. Credit: Lindsey Manufacturing

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