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Talen Energy to pay $1 million fine for coal plant contamination

BALTIMORE (AP) — The owner of a coal plant on a river north of Maryland may have to pay a $1 million fine over pollution leaking into the river and flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

The Baltimore Sun reports Talen Energy and its Brunner Island coal plant reached a consent decree with environmental groups and regulators that’s expected to be filed in federal court this week. The plant is about 50 miles upstream of the Chesapeake on the Susquehanna river. The river sends fresh water to the Maryland bay.

The paper says that last year, groups raised concerns about chemicals leaking into groundwater from coal waste. In the settlement, the plant owner agreed to investigate and address contamination.

Talen official Debra Raggio said it’s committed to complying with environmental regulations.

China, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia partner on renewable energy

Ethiopia and Sri Lanka are partnering with China on a trilateral South-South cooperation that will focus on enhancing access to renewable energy technologies within the global commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The project seeks to promote sustainable energy solutions by focusing on demonstrating the applicability of biogas and solar photovoltaic technologies for communities in Ethiopia and Sri Lanka.

Financing for the three-year project comes from the Ministry of Commerce of China with the provision of $2 million, which will be equally shared between Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. UNDP and the Government of Ethiopia are also expected to contribute resources for the implementation of the project. 

Speaking at a workshop bringing together stakeholders ahead of the launch later this year, UNDP Ethiopia Resident Representative Turhan Saleh said, “As we support Ethiopia to improve access to renewable energy mix, we help the country to promote a climate resilient green economy and foster inclusive growth that is strongly gender sensitive as women and children bear the brunt of a country’s energy challenge.”

Stakeholders from the three countries met in Addis Ababa on July 31, 2019 for an inception workshop organized by UNDP and the Government of Ethiopia. Speaking on behalf of the State Minister of the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Frehiwot Woldehana, Gossaye Mengiste noted Ethiopia’s vision to close the energy gap by 2025 by providing access to clean renewable energy to its citizens.

Harsha Wickramasinghe, Deputy Director-General, Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority underlined that, “Close technical cooperation between countries could be the key to acquire sustainable energy technologies for developing countries. It will speed up the dissipation of technologies vital for the global energy transition. This project could be a good start for similar actions all over the developing world.”

Participants also explored how to draw up plans of action to address question around barriers to access to energy solutions; tackle issues around sustainability in terms of production and consumption; and how to scale up on market access opportunities. The event also helped to share lessons from China’s experience on renewable energy technologies.

Liu Yu, Minister Counsellor for Economic and Commercial Affairs of the People’s Republic of China to Ethiopia stressed China’s progressive role as one of the major funders of renewable energy technologies and green economy globally. She also reiterated Ethiopia – China regular partnership in Multilateral Cooperation that will help Ethiopia benefit from technical and financial support in renewable energy technologies that is essential for achieving the Global Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The high-level event also facilitated technical dialogues on building partnerships ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in 2021. The Belt and Road initiative was launched by China to promote economic cooperation among countries on a proposed belt and silk road route.

TEPCO to decommission Fukushima Daini

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has announced the official decision to decommission all of the four units at Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station.

TEPCO said it will take more than four decades to dismantle the four reactors at the Daini plant. The estimated cost for dismantling and decontamination will be $2.6 billion.

TEPCO had been considering this step since last year—in conjunction with the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi—in order to make the inhabitants of local communities feel safer. The decision was made following a thorough consideration of various issues affecting both Fukushima Daiichi and Daini, including the securing of the necessary human resources, the safe decommissioning of the two power stations and the impact on our business.

They emphasize the fact that they took into account the wishes of local residents for decommissioning of the entire plant and that they will continue to make sincere efforts to safeguard the wellbeing of everyone in the region with regard to both Fukushima Daini and Fukushima Daiichi. 

Going forward, TEPCO will explain to local communities how it plans to process the decommissioning work of Fukushima Daini in an easy-to-understand way, aiming to proceed with their full understanding. 

In April 2019, Japan partially lifted an evacuation order in Okuma, for the first time since the disaster, but many former residents are still reluctant to return. 

The other hometown, Futaba, remains off-limits, as are several other towns nearby. 

The decommissioning means Japan is left with 33 reactors to generate electricity nationwide, compared with 54 before the disaster.

Ravens find pecking playground in New England power substation

We’ve known for centuries that corvidae are unusually intelligent animals. It’s no coincidence the Norse pantheon has two ravens named Thought and Memory on Odin’s shoulders. That intelligence, however, can collide with the built world in some unexpected ways.

A power substation located in New England found itself with an unusual number of outages, beginning almost immediately after the substation was constructed. There was no obvious flaw in the equipment, and diagnostics found it should be in working order. 

The problem, it turned out, was that the substation and surrounding area was a playground for young ravens, in an area perfect for flocks to thrive. The area had several sources of food, such as farms and refuse from nearby homes and businesses, that catered to their omnivorous diets. And while ravens have predators, particularly red-tailed hawks, broad-winged hawks, and great-horned owls, those were relatively rare in the area and generally prefer small mammals or smaller birds. The raven’s intelligence play into this; they’ll remember animals, including humans, and react according to past experiences.

Transmission lines to the substation allowed juvenile ravens to “hop” from tower to tower, following the tree line. We observed play behavior in the field, with ravens lazily circling the towers. And at the bottom were shiny objects, including switches, buses, and heat insulation, the young birds found a delight to peck at. The concern was both for the utility’s customers and the animals, who were at risk of electrocution.

The utility tried multiple strategies to drive off the ravens, including protective equipment covers and scarecrows, in the form of “air tube men,” but they were simply too curious to be put off by the covers and too smart to be fooled by the scarecrows. GZA was brought in to find an effective solution to let the birds and the substation coexist.

First, we had to find and analyze the ravens, which took quite a bit of effort, including field interviews of local residents and tracking the flight path of ravens in an approximately 5-mile radius. Once we determined they were engaging with the substation as a place to play, the question became how to deter them effectively. Research into ravens, and interviews with experts such as Professor John Marzluff, found several effective strategies.

Key to raven deterrence is encouraging a fear response. The flock remembers dangerous areas; a behavior notorious on social media, with a flock circling a dead member, may be the birds noting possible danger. To this end, “dead ravens,” really feathered dummies, and loud noises such as propane cannons and horns, can be used to associate a place with danger in their minds without causing any injury. Another approach is to “tag” them with lasers, which causes no harm but agitates them enough to relocate them, an approach most popular in the Mojave to protect baby tortoises. These lasers can also be operated remotely, such as Raven Repel.

The work of integrating a substation with the local wildlife is ongoing. But this offers a valuable lesson, that wildlife is full of surprises, and sees the things we build in a very different, and sometimes playful, light.

Hanergy builds airport shuttle with solar panels for Chinese airport

Photo courtesy of Hanergy

Hanergy Thin Film Power Group has announced that its US-based unit, Global Solar Energy and TAM-Europe have recently co-developed an airport shuttle bus thin-film roof system.

Hanergy signed a cooperation agreement with TAM-Europe Company, a subsidiary of China Hi-Tech Group Corporation to develop a brand-new model of new-energy shuttle bus, exploring a path to integrate flexible thin-film module and shuttle bus to create a solar electric shuttle bus.

In furtherance to this strategic goal, TAM-Europe Company is using Hanergy GSE’s next generation PowerFLEX flexible CIGS parts on its shuttle buses, integrating the advanced flexible thin-film cell technology and the critical ICI packaging technology and building better performing hi-tech airport shuttles.

Zhang Bin, Hanergy’s senior vice president said: “Having to jointly develop China’s first airport shuttle bus thin-film roof system with TAM-Europe we feel further empowered for our mission building the sustainable world. The success of the current partnership paves the way for Hanergy to seek more cooperation opportunities in this field. Moving forward, Hanergy GSE will deepen its cooperation with TAM Europe and provide instant power for its clean energy products.”

“Also, Since the airport shuttle buses operate under sunlight for a longer duration, the solar system can power the air conditioning system and extend the travelling range of the buses,” he added.  

As the first company starting mass production of flexible co-evaporation thin-film solar modules in the global market, Hanergy GSE’s PowerFlex series of flexible CIGS thin-film module products have the advantages of high conversion rate, heat-resistance, lightweight, ultra-thin, flexible etc. Furthermore, the solar roof not only provides electricity for the vehicle, it also fully utilizes the surface of the car roof, ensuring that it does not affect the overall design of the vehicle as well as protecting the surface of the car roof.

Hanergy GSE’s new generation of flexible thin-film solar power generation components, with ICI core packaging technology, are even lighter (only 2.3 kg per square meter without adhesive), offering higher conversion efficiency at lower cost and are thinner, softer, easier to install.

Arizona Public Service head to address death from power disconnection

PHOENIX (AP) — The head of Arizona’s largest electric utility has agreed to answer questions from regulators about its disconnection rules, reports said.

Arizona Public Service CEO Don Brandt said he would appear before the Arizona Corporation Commission to respond to 67 questions regulators sent him, news organizations reported.

“I will make myself available to answer questions and will bring with me the appropriate senior subject matter experts,” Brandt wrote. “I do, however, respectfully request additional time to fully prepare the answers to your extensive questions.”

The commission is scheduled to meet next week, but it has not said if it will allow Brandt more time. Brandt did not say he would back out if commissioners rejected his request to appear at a later date.

Commission questions include inquiries about Stephanie Pullman of Sun City West. The 72-year-old died last year after the utility shut off her power for nonpayment, despite extreme heat. Pullman was $51 behind on her bill and had paid $125 two days before the disconnection.

Two other customers have died after service was disconnected, the utility recently told the commission.

“That’s a very important question that I want to understand,” commission member Justin Olson said. “Is there a threshold that APS has in place for disconnection?”

Commissioners also want to know what Pullman’s bills looked like before a 2017 rate change. The company had three bill categories including decreases, increases of less than 10% and increases of more than 10%. The commission likely wishes to determine into which customer group Pullman fell.

The commission last month barred utility disconnections between June 1 and Oct. 15.

Utility device and data management technologies revenue could exceed $22 billion by 2027edit

A new report from Navigant Research released this week says that revenue from device and data management technologies could grow from approximately $14.8 billion in 2018 to more than $22.1 billion in 2027 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6%.

Utilities are increasingly interested in big data management, whether at the device-level (edge computing) or in the back-office (databases, lakes, warehouses). These solutions include most functionality for the process of analyzing data from connected devices: data acquisition, preparation, cleansing, storage, integration, analysis, and the delivery of insights.

According to the report, the next evolution in the data management space is expected to come from the advancement of Internet of Things (IoT) analytics platforms. Currently, IoT platform adoption remains low, with few customers using these platforms at scale. Until the market further matures, utilities are likely to continue using traditional data stores in lieu of IoT platforms.

The report, Big Data Management for Utilities, analyzes the trends, drivers, and barriers to adoption of data platforms and other big data management solutions within the utility industry and includes several submarkets within the utility data management space alongside global market adoption trends.

“Data is changing the utility market,” says Michael Kelly, research analyst with Navigant Research. “It frees up capital through efficiency savings, creates new digital products and services, and helps to improve understanding of customers.”

Data analytics, IoT, and customer strategies are all part of the educational component at DISTRIBUTECH. The next event takes place in San Antonio, Janurary 28-30, 2020.

NiSource to pay out $143 million for natural gas explosions

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — A series of class action lawsuits stemming from the natural gas explosions in Massachusetts have been settled for $143 million, the utility blamed for the disaster and lawyers for the plaintiffs announced Monday.

The settlement is subject to the approval of a judge, according to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, and its parent NiSource Inc.

“Today marks another important step forward, as we continue to fulfill our commitment to residents and businesses,” NiSource President Joe Hamrock said in a statement.

The explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Sept. 13 killed one, injured about 25 other people and damaged or destroyed more than 100 buildings. Many people were forced into temporary shelter and thousands of homes and businesses went without natural gas service for weeks or even months during the winter.

“Families suffered for months in the gripping cold. Businesses shuttered, and lives were upended,” Elizabeth Graham, co-lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “To this day, the people most impacted by the explosions are not fully back on their feet, but we believe this settlement is the quickest and most just method to ensure that residents and businesses are made whole again.”

The explosions were blamed on an over-pressurization of gas transmission lines during routine replacement. The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation.

The agreement announced Monday is separate from an $80 million settlement reached in May with the three communities to address infrastructure damage.

It is also separate from settlements with two families.

In July, Columbia settled with the family of Leonel Rondon, 18, who died when a chimney collapsed on his vehicle in the driveway of a friend’s home. In April, the utility settled with the Figueroa family, of Lawrence. Several members of the family were injured and their home was heavily damaged. Details of the Rondon and Figueroa settlements have not been made public.

NiSource has so far spent about $1 billion responding to the disaster, the company said.

Residents of the three communities will be entitled to recover compensation for disruption of their lives and property damage not previously covered, according to the attorneys. Businesses will be able to claim lost income and lost inventory.

Jacksonville Electric Authority hires fiscal, legal aides to explore sale of utility

Jacksonville Electric Utility, the 125-year-old Florida-based municipal which lately has engaged in a legal battle over its agreement to buy power from the financially troubled Vogtle nuclear expansion, announced it has hired financial and legal advice in what looks like a move toward privatizing the electric and water services.

Earlier this week, the JEA board voted to consider selling the utility. Two days later, JEA revealed its hiring of J.P. Morgan Securities LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC as financial advisors to “assist the utility with the execution of a competitive and open solicitation process.”

In the same release, JEA also announced that Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and Foley & Lardner LLP will be its legal advisors. The municipal utility will begin a competitive process looking for potential suitors.

“JEA is embarking on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the utility’s future and take care of its employees, customers and the greater Jacksonville community,” JEA CEO Ryan Wannemacher was quoted as saying in the release. “When the stakes are so high, it is critical to bring all experts to the table.”

Local news report indicated the deal might generate $3 billion from the sale. JEA, which calls itself one of the largest Florida municipal utilities and 10th biggest nationwide, has 466,000 electric, 348,000 water, 271,000 sewer customers and 11,000 reclaimed water customers, according its websites.

JEA had signed on to a long-term power purchase agreement with Municipal Electricity Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) for energy eventually produced by the expanded Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. An ownership group led by Georgia Power, MEAG and Oglethorpe Power is guiding the massive project to build two new reactor units at Vogtle, despite billions in cost overruns, a bankruptcy and delayed schedules.

Last year, JEA and MEAG sued each other as the former wanted to get out of the PPA due to the financial costs of the Vogtle project, at that point adding another $1.5 billion in costs to reach an anticipated price tag of around $25 billion. That legal fight has gone now to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Work at Vogtle began earlier this decade and was due to be completed by now, according to reports. The ownership group, which survived the bankruptcy of original contractor Westinghouse, now hopes to complete Units 3 and 4 sometime in the first half of the next decade.

The city of Jacksonville has operated its water and electric systems since the 19th century. In 2016, it was tops in JD Power’s utility customer satisfaction study of midsized south utilities.

Last year, JD Power ranked JEA fifth among the same segment of utilities for residential customer satisfaction.

(Rod Walton is content director Power Engineering and POWERGEN International, which will be Nov. 19-21 in New Orleans. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and rod.walton@clarionevents.com).


Groups seek to intervene in New Mexico power plant case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — County commissioners in northwestern New Mexico and a water utility that serves the state’s largest metro area want to intervene in a regulatory case over the upcoming closure of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station.

San Juan County Commissioners and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority filed their requests with the Public Regulation Commission this week.

The regulatory panel is considering Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s plans for shutting down the power plant and financing the move through bonds that will be paid off by utility customers.

Options for replacing the lost capacity also will be weighed.

The case marks the first test for how the state’s new Energy Transition Act will be applied.

San Juan County commissioners are concerned about how the closure will affect the region’s job market and tax revenues.