Energy News: New Ethanol, Electric Power Reports

One warns of unintended consequences of rapidly rolling out domestic biofuels; other focuses on energy efficiency, renewables

National green group Environmental Defense recently released a report warning of the unintended consequences of rapidly rolling out domestic biofuels, particularly ethanol. Focusing on the effect expanded farming might have on the prolific Ogallala Aquifer, which runs beneath parts of Colorado, Kan­sas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, the report cautions that if too much water is depleted too quickly (estimates show 2.6-billion-gallon-a-year increases in some already strained areas), and if proven practices of soil and grassland conservation are abandoned in a fury to quickly grow fuel crops, the Ogallala region could revert back to the dust bowl conditions it saw in the 1930s. The report also emphasizes how grasslands serve as both carbon storage and wildlife habitat and that converting too many acres to corn farmland could be climate-change counterproductive. ED recommends keeping proposed soil and grassland conservation programs in the pending Farm Bill, strengthening regional groundwater policies, and creating a national version of California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, which gauges transportation fuels' "life-cycle carbon intensity" and requires a 10% reduction by 2020 (possibly driving greener forms of ethanol, such as green-waste derived cellulosic ethanol). Read the full report at www.environmentaldefense.org/ogallala.

In other energy-research news, over the next 15 years, Texas could meet its growing electric-power needs – without new power plants – and create an estimated 38,300 new jobs by using energy efficiency and on-site renewable-energy measures, according to a report co-released recently by ED and the Washington-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The report, which focuses on the sprawling, insatiably energy-hungry Houston and Dallas metro areas, calls for local leadership on new building standards for homes and commercial buildings, upgrades of existing government buildings, and ultra-efficient combined heat and power plants – like the small natural-gas plant that powers the new, nearly 500,000-square-foot Dell Children's Medical Center, which recycles its exhaust to provide all the building's heating and cooling needs. The report recommends things like simple residential solar water heating on sunny rooftops to offset related energy use. The real challenge in meeting energy demands with efficiency seems to be locating leaders with the brains and balls to work with Texas' powerful investor-owned utilities – whose fundamental business model is to sell more energy – and to devise ways of making energy conservation an attractive option for meeting customers' needs. See the report at www.aceee.org/pubs/e078.htm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

energy, Environmental Defense, ethanol, Ogallala Aquifer, grasslands, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Dell Children's Hospital

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