Beacon Power files for bankruptcy; Boulder CO contemplates municipalization of power assets; other energy stories of note

Michael Giberson

Brief notes about other 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.
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4 thoughts on “Beacon Power files for bankruptcy; Boulder CO contemplates municipalization of power assets; other energy stories of note

  1. Socialism is its own punishment, and the Boulder fiasco is headed straight for the ditch. If you live in Boulder, and you have access to Natural Gas, you can hedge. Make sure you have gas heat, gas stove, and gas hot water. You need enough gas powered electric generation to keep the heat and water pumps going, and few lights on.

    It will cost some money, but, on an energy equivalent basis, NG is about 1/6 of the price of electricity in free market America.

  2. I’m wondering how long I have to expect natural gas prices to stay low and how high my electric rate has to be, before it makes sense for me to invest in a small natural gas generator.

    WRT Boulder, if I were an Xcel resident in Colorado outside of Boulder, I’d be chanting: “Go, Boulder, Go!”

  3. Boulder might be an even better choice for the first all-renewable-electricity city than DC. Cut the ties to Xcel. Build the renewable generation. Deal with the variability. Let us know how it works out.

  4. I agree. Lots of smart people who are very dedicated to the idea, great specialized talent in the neighborhood with NREL and the Rocky Mountain Institute folks. If they can’t make it work in Boulder, that should give the rest of the world cause to pause.

    Ideally a clean break, snipping the wires to Xcel, else allegations will rise that they are backstopping their clean dreams with dirty fossil fuels.

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