Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mr. Bush, Lead or Leave

NY Times

June 22, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist

Two years ago, President Bush declared that America was “addicted to oil,” and, by gosh, he was going to do something about it. Well, now he has. Now we have the new Bush energy plan: “Get more addicted to oil.”

Actually, it’s more sophisticated than that: Get Saudi Arabia, our chief oil pusher, to up our dosage for a little while and bring down the oil price just enough so the renewable energy alternatives can’t totally take off. Then try to strong arm Congress into lifting the ban on drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s as if our addict-in-chief is saying to us: “C’mon guys, you know you want a little more of the good stuff. One more hit, baby. Just one more toke on the ole oil pipe. I promise, next year, we’ll all go straight. I’ll even put a wind turbine on my presidential library. But for now, give me one more pop from that drill, please, baby. Just one more transfusion of that sweet offshore crude.”

It is hard for me to find the words to express what a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy this is. But it gets better. The president actually had the gall to set a deadline for this drug deal:

“I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past,” Mr. Bush said. “Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions. If Congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.”

This from a president who for six years resisted any pressure on Detroit to seriously improve mileage standards on its gas guzzlers; this from a president who’s done nothing to encourage conservation; this from a president who has so neutered the Environmental Protection Agency that the head of the E.P.A. today seems to be in a witness-protection program. I bet there aren’t 12 readers of this newspaper who could tell you his name or identify him in a police lineup.

But, most of all, this deadline is from a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot.

That bill is H.R. 6049 — “The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008,” which extends for another eight years the investment tax credit for installing solar energy and extends for one year the production tax credit for producing wind power and for three years the credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables.

These critical tax credits for renewables are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year and, if they do, it will mean thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars of investments not made. “Already clean energy projects in the U.S. are being put on hold,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

People forget, wind and solar power are here, they work, they can go on your roof tomorrow. What they need now is a big U.S. market where lots of manufacturers have an incentive to install solar panels and wind turbines — because the more they do, the more these technologies would move down the learning curve, become cheaper and be able to compete directly with coal, oil and nuclear, without subsidies.

That seems to be exactly what the Republican Party is trying to block, since the Senate Republicans — sorry to say, with the help of John McCain — have now managed to defeat the renewal of these tax credits six different times.

Of course, we’re going to need oil for years to come. That being the case, I’d prefer — for geopolitical reasons — that we get as much as possible from domestic wells. But our future is not in oil, and a real president wouldn’t be hectoring Congress about offshore drilling today. He’d be telling the country a much larger truth:

“Oil is poisoning our climate and our geopolitics, and here is how we’re going to break our addiction: We’re going to set a floor price of $4.50 a gallon for gasoline and $100 a barrel for oil. And that floor price is going to trigger massive investments in renewable energy — particularly wind, solar panels and solar thermal. And we’re also going to go on a crash program to dramatically increase energy efficiency, to drive conservation to a whole new level and to build more nuclear power. And I want every Democrat and every Republican to join me in this endeavor.”

That’s what a real president would do. He’d give us a big strategic plan to end our addiction to oil and build a bipartisan coalition to deliver it. He certainly wouldn’t be using his last days in office to threaten Congressional Democrats that if they don’t approve offshore drilling by the Fourth of July recess, they will be blamed for $4-a-gallon gas. That is so lame. That is an energy policy so unworthy of our Independence Day.

The New Trophy Home, Small and Ecological

NY Times

June 22, 2008


For the high-profile crowd that turned out to celebrate a new home in Venice, Calif., the attraction wasn’t just the company and the architectural detail. The house boasted the builders’ equivalent of a three-star Michelin rating: a LEED platinum certificate.

The actors John Cusack and Pierce Brosnan, with his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, a journalist, came last fall to see a house that the builders promised would “emit no harmful gases into the atmosphere,” “produce its own energy” and incorporate recycled materials, from concrete to countertops.

Behind the scenes were Tom Schey, a homebuilder in Santa Monica, and his business partner, Kelly Meyer, an environmentalist whose husband, Ron, is the president of Universal Studios. Ms. Meyer said their goal was to show that something energy-conscious “doesn’t have to look as if you got it off the bottom shelf of a health-food store.”

“It doesn’t have to smell like hemp,” she said.

That was probably a good thing. The four-bedroom house was for sale, with a $2.8 million asking price.

Its rating was built into that price. LEED — an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the hot designer label, and platinum is the badge of honor — the top classification given by the U.S. Green Building Council. “There’s kind of a green pride, like driving a Prius,” said Brenden McEneaney, a green building adviser to the city of Santa Monica, adding, “It’s spreading all over the place.”

Devised eight years ago for the commercial arena, the ratings now cover many things, including schools and retail interiors. But homes are the new frontier.

While other ratings are widely recognized, like the federal Energy Star for appliances, the LEED brand stands apart because of its four-level rankings — certified, silver, gold and platinum — and third-party verification. So far this year, 10,250 new home projects have registered for the council’s consideration, compared with 3,100 in 2006, the first year of the pilot home-rating system. Custom-built homes dominate the first batch of certified dwellings. Today, dinner-party bragging rights are likely to include: “Let me tell you about my tankless hot water heater.” Or “what’s the R value of your insulation?”

But if a platinum ranking is a Prada label for some, for others, it is a prickly hair shirt. Try asking buyers used to conspicuous consumption (a 12,000-square-foot house) to embrace conspicuous nonconsumption (say, 2,400 square feet for a small family). Or to earn points by recycling and weighing all their construction debris (be warned: a bathroom scale probably won’t cut it). The imperatives of comfort and eco-friendliness are not always in sync.

For instance, the Brosnans, environmental advocates who admired Ms. Meyer’s house, are now building a home of their own and “really want to do it green,” said David Hertz, their architect. Mr. Brosnan may adopt many environmentally sound building techniques, but he “is not going to live in a 2,400-square-foot home,” the architect said.

Mr. Hertz’s complaint goes beyond size. He says the rating system is rigid and cumbersome, something that has been heard across the country as green building slowly ceases to be a do-gooder’s hobby. The ratings are now woven into building codes in Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas. The federal government and many states and cities use LEED standards or the equivalent for their own buildings. The system is based on points earned for a variety of eco-friendly practices; builders choose among them, balancing the goals of cost control, design and high point totals.

Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia, not to mention Chicago, Cincinnati and Bar Harbor, Me., give tax incentives or other concessions, like expedited permitting or utility hookups, for construction that is up to the nonprofit council’s standards.

And “LEED-accredited professional” is a new occupational status.

Worries about climate change and rising energy costs are part of the equation: roughly 21 percent of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions come from homes; nearly 40 percent come from residential and commercial structures combined. As energy prices rise, the long-range economic value and short-range social cachet of green building are converging.

More than 1,500 commercial buildings and 684 homes have been certified but just 48 homes have received the platinum ranking, among them a four-bedroom home in Freeport, Me., as well as homes in Minneapolis; Callaway, Fla.; Dexter, Mich.; and Paterson, N.J. The checklist for certification can be more daunting than a private-school application, which prompts many to abandon the quest. Mr. Schey is not seeking LEED certification on his next home (though the project’s architect, Melinda Gray, is seeking it for hers).

Randy Udall, a builder in Colorado who wrote a piece critical of the process after building two accredited ski resort additions, said, “You’re happy when you’re released from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Abu Ghraib,” though he added, “You typically end up with a delightful building.”

One requirement for getting a home certified is hiring an on-site inspector approved by the council to test the new systems and help fill out the huge amount of paperwork, which is reviewed by the nonprofit council. The organization charges from $400 for a home to $22,500 for the largest buildings to register and certify costs.

Joel McKellar, a researcher with LS3P Associates, an architecture firm in Charleston, S.C., said that to earn credit for adequate natural light, “you have to calculate the area of the room, the area of the windows, how much visible transmittance of light there is.”

Michael Lehrer, who designed the platinum-rated Water + Life Museum complex in Hemet, outside Los Angeles, said, “They have mundane things in there that are pretty nonsensical and others things that are pretty profound.” He added, “At a time when everybody and their sister and brother are saying ‘We are green,’ it’s very important that these things be vetted in a credible way.”

To cope with the growing appetite for accreditation, the council this spring asked other agencies to help make LEED certifications. A new code, which addresses some of the criticisms, is at

Is LEED a useful selling tool? Offered with great fanfare last fall on eBay for $2.8 million, the Meyer/Schey home in Venice, which can be seen on their Web site, got no bids at the time; it recently found a potential buyer, for $2.5 million.

But Maria Chao, an architect in Amherst, Mass., said her new home’s certification rating had meant instant recognition. “This is a small town,” Ms. Chao said. “When I mention I live in the house on Snell St., people say, ‘Oh, the green home.’ ”

Frances Anderton, a KCRW radio host and Los Angeles editor of Dwell magazine, longs for the day when LEED recognition is irrelevant. “Architects should be offering a green building service,” Ms. Anderton said, “without needing a badge of pride.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Solar plant fought by ... environmentalists?

Portland Press Herald

huge facility would be built in a remote California desert, but the power lines would be in scenic areas.

By ELLIOT SPAGAT, The Associated Press

June 16, 2008

SAN DIEGO — It seems like an idea any environmentalist would embrace: Build one of the world's largest solar power operations in the Southern California desert and surround it with plants that run on wind and underground heat.

Yet San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and its potential partners face fierce opposition because the plan also calls for a 150-mile high-voltage transmission line that would cut through pristine parkland to reach the nation's eighth-largest city.

The showdown over how to get renewable energy to consumers will likely play out elsewhere around the country as well, as state regulators require electric utilities to rely less on coal and natural gas to fire their plants – the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

Providers of renewable power covet cheap land and abundant sunshine and wind in places like west Texas, Montana, Wyoming and California's Mojave Desert and Imperial Valley. But utility executives say no one will build plants without power lines to connect those remote spots to big cities.

"This is a classic chicken and the egg," said Michael Niggli, chief operating officer of Sempra Energy's utilities business, which includes SDG&E. "No one can develop a project if they can't send (the electricity) anywhere. You need transmission."

SDG&E's $1.5 billion power line would cut 23 miles through the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a spot known for its hiking trails, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti and spectacular mountain views.

"This transmission line will cross through some of the most scenic areas of San Diego," said David Hogan of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It would just ruin it with giant, metal industrial power lines."

Environmentalists are pushing for renewable power to be generated closer to heavily populated areas, rather than brought in from distant sites. They point to Southern California Edison's ambitious plan for solar panels on Los Angeles-area rooftops as an example of a better approach.

Utilities say the roof panels will help but won't produce nearly enough power to satisfy state requirements.

The California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote as soon as August on SDG&E's proposed Sunrise Powerlink, which would carry enough power for about 750,000 homes – or more than half of the utility's customers.

SDG&E's proposed route through Anza-Borrego, California's largest state park, ranked second-worst among seven possible routes studied by state and federal regulators for environmental damage.

The plan calls for 141 towers through the park at an average height of 130 feet. The entire route would include 554 towers from the wind-swept desert of the Imperial Valley to a site near the Pacific Ocean in San Diego.

SDG&E would build the power line but buy the juice from a host of generating companies whose proposed plants harness energy from the sun, wind and underground heat.

The most ambitious generation project relies on a commercially untested technology for a gigantic solar plant.

Stirling Energy Systems Inc., a Phoenix startup, wants to build 12,000 solar dishes, each four stories tall, near El Centro, about 100 miles east of San Diego. That plant would initially feed into an existing power line and provide enough electricity for more than 200,000 homes, said Bruce Osborn, Stirling's chief operating officer. Stirling, however, would need more transmission capacity to pursue plans to triple the size of the plant, he said.

The technology relies on mirrored dishes collecting sunlight to heat gas and drive the cylinders of an engine. It has been tested on six solar dishes in New Mexico but now would move to mass production – drawing plenty of skepticism from environmentalists.

"It's what we call new product introduction," responds Osborn, a former project manager at Ford Motor Co. "Everyone who builds a widget does the same thing. This is a big widget."

Even without Stirling, SDG&E has other, traditional renewable power generators knocking on its door with deals to provide power – far more than the utility could accommodate, said Sempra Energy's Niggli.

Environmentalists have dueled for years with Sempra Energy, SDG&E's parent company, over operations just south of the border in Mexico that help supply power to the western U.S.

Critics claim Sempra built the plants in Mexico to skirt more rigorous environmental reviews in the U.S. They suggest SDG&E's proposed power line, which would start near the Mexican border, is part of a disguised effort to get electricity into the U.S. from Mexico, where Sempra has an electricity plant and the first liquefied natural gas terminal on the West Coast.

SDG&E dismisses those claims as a conspiracy theory.

"It's like the myth that won't die," Niggli said.

Lincoln: Area poised to be top wind farm site

Bangor Daily News

By Nick Sambides Jr.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

LINCOLN, Maine — Four Lincoln Lakes region towns will be home to New England’s largest wind energy facility and a company headquarters employing five to seven people if a Massachusetts firm realizes its plans, company officials said Monday.

With 40 1.5-megawatt windmills creating as much as 60 megawatts of electricity on sites in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn, the proposed Rollins Wind farm would slightly outproduce the 38-turbine Stetson Mountain site being built between Danforth and Springfield and the 28-turbine wind farm operating in Mars Hill.

If all goes well, Evergreen Wind Power LLC, a subsidiary of First Wind of Massachusetts, would begin seeking permits by late summer. Construction would finish in late 2009 at the earliest, said Ryan Chaytors, a senior development associate with First Wind, which was known as UPC Wind until May 1.

"We are still in the early stages. We have a lot of study yet to do," Chaytors said after his presentation Monday to the Town Council. "We’re very excited to be in Lincoln. We have had a lot of support from town officials so far."

The 40 turbines would cost about $22 million total. They would be built on two sites on the Rollins Mountain range and Rocky Dundee Road areas that run north to south through Lincoln from Burlington to Lee and Winn, company spokesman John LaMontaigne said.

Lincoln would have 19 or 20 turbines; Winn, three; Lee, seven; and Burlington, 12. Two turbine sites are listed as alternates. The company also would install a 115,000-vote transmission line that would run from the north end of Rollins Mountain to a Mattawamkeag connection to the New England grid.

At the 60-megawatt peak, Rollins Wind would sell enough electricity wholesale to power 23,000 New England homes annually. Given wind’s inconsistency, company officials expect the site would produce considerably less, about 168,000 megawatt hours annually. That’s a conservative estimate. Mars Hill produced 150,000 megawatt-hours in 2007, much more than expected in its first year, Chaytors said.

The company, which has had test turbines on Rocky Dundee Road since January, needs to finish testing before it decides whether to proceed, said Matt Kearns, project manager with First Wind. But the test sites have proved successful thus far.

Council Chairman Steve Clay and Town Economic Development Assistant Ruth Birtz called First Wind’s interest good news for Lincoln because power from the farm will flow into the New England power grid for sale to power companies.

It will not provide electricity directly to homeowners, but the farm would provide a hedge in New England against the runaway electricity costs and brownouts that have been seen in California. It might eventually provide electricity for industrial sites like Lincoln Paper & Tissue LLC.

The wind farm will establish Lincoln as a major industrial site for the fledgling — at least in New England — wind power industry. About 300 workers would live in the area during construction, boosting hotels, restaurants and other places workers would frequent and providing work to local subcontractors. The turbines also would provide tax revenues to the communities.

"I’m very pleased that we have a major resource, wind, that will be utilized," Birtz said. "We would never have thought of it as a resource."

Lincoln: Area poised to be top wind farm site

Bangor Daily News

LINCOLN, Maine — Four Lincoln Lakes region towns will be home to New England’s largest wind energy facility and a company headquarters employing five to seven people if a Massachusetts firm realizes its plans, company officials said Monday.

With 40 1.5-megawatt windmills creating as much as 60 megawatts of electricity on sites in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn, the proposed Rollins Wind farm would slightly outproduce the 38-turbine Stetson Mountain site being built between Danforth and Springfield and the 28-turbine wind farm operating in Mars Hill.

If all goes well, Evergreen Wind Power LLC, a subsidiary of First Wind of Massachusetts, would begin seeking permits by late summer. Construction would finish in late 2009 at the earliest, said Ryan Chaytors, a senior development associate with First Wind, which was known as UPC Wind until May 1.

"We are still in the early stages. We have a lot of study yet to do," Chaytors said after his presentation Monday to the Town Council. "We’re very excited to be in Lincoln. We have had a lot of support from town officials so far."

The 40 turbines would cost about $22 million total. They would be built on two sites on the Rollins Mountain range and Rocky Dundee Road areas that run north to south through Lincoln from Burlington to Lee and Winn, company spokesman John LaMontaigne said.

Lincoln would have 19 or 20 turbines; Winn, three; Lee, seven; and Burlington, 12. Two turbine sites are listed as alternates. The company also would install a 115,000-vote transmission line that would run from the north end of Rollins Mountain to a Mattawamkeag connection to the New England grid.

At the 60-megawatt peak, Rollins Wind would sell enough electricity wholesale to power 23,000 New England homes annually. Given wind’s inconsistency, company officials expect the site would produce considerably less, about 168,000 megawatt hours annually. That’s a conservative estimate. Mars Hill produced 150,000 megawatt-hours in 2007, much more than expected in its first year, Chaytors said.

The company, which has had test turbines on Rocky Dundee Road since January, needs to finish testing before it decides whether to proceed, said Matt Kearns, project manager with First Wind. But the test sites have proved successful thus far.

Council Chairman Steve Clay and Town Economic Development Assistant Ruth Birtz called First Wind’s interest good news for Lincoln because power from the farm will flow into the New England power grid for sale to power companies.

It will not provide electricity directly to homeowners, but the farm would provide a hedge in New England against the runaway electricity costs and brownouts that have been seen in California. It might eventually provide electricity for industrial sites like Lincoln Paper & Tissue LLC.

The wind farm will establish Lincoln as a major industrial site for the fledgling — at least in New England — wind power industry. About 300 workers would live in the area during construction, boosting hotels, restaurants and other places workers would frequent and providing work to local subcontractors. The turbines also would provide tax revenues to the communities.

"I’m very pleased that we have a major resource, wind, that will be utilized," Birtz said. "We would never have thought of it as a resource."

Drivers Turning to Lower-Grade Gas

NY Times

June 18, 2008


ARLINGTON, Va. — As the price of fuel continues to climb, more drivers are trying to save 20 or so cents a gallon by using regular or midgrade gasoline, even when their owner’s manuals recommend premium.

For gas station managers, fuel suppliers and motorists across the country, the run on the cheaper fuel has led to more uncertainty at the pumps, as some stations have run out of the cheaper grades.

“Even people with the high-end cars are cutting corners and using the cheaper stuff,” said Dominick Vallera, the manager of a Shell station on Capitol Avenue in Hartford. “It’s got us constantly guessing how much to order.”

For nearly 48 hours last week, Mr. Vallera had to put yellow bags on pump handles and white signs over the meters for the regular gas pumps because he had run dry.

Because the companies that supply his station are paid by the delivery, Mr. Vallera said, they want to deliver more often, so their trucks carry only the amount that has been ordered in advance, not any extra to top up a station’s storage tanks. If motorists show up in large numbers and use more than the predicted amount of regular gas, a station may run out before the next delivery, he said.

Brian Alterio said he visited three stations last Thursday along Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens before finding one with regular gasoline left to fill his 2004 Acura. Even though the car’s manual says he should use premium, Mr. Alterio, 59, said the occasional pinging from his engine, caused by using the lower-octane gas, was worth the savings.

“When premium hit $4.10 a gallon, I realized there was a sliding scale between performance and economizing,” said Mr. Alterio, who is a manager for Canon Business Solutions.

For Art Pushkin of Dix Hills, N.Y., that line came when premium hit $4 a gallon.

“The car doesn’t take off like it used to, but I can live with that,” said Mr. Pushkin, who began using regular gas in his 2006 Infiniti about three months ago after consulting his car dealer.

The savings have helped, but not enough, Mr. Pushkin said. In recent weeks, he and his wife have begun relying more on the family’s second car, a Lexus hybrid S.U.V. that averages 25 miles a gallon, roughly seven miles more than the Infiniti, he said.

“I still use the Infiniti, but we are not going back to premium,” he said.

Automotive experts say that following the manufacturer’s instructions is advisable, and that some high-performance cars can experience knocking and hesitation when accelerating, and possibly some engine damage, if regular gas is used when a higher grade is recommended.

“The only thing I’ve noticed is more money in my wallet,” said Steve Altman, standing alongside a black 2007 Mercedes-Benz on Lee Highway in Arlington, across the Potomac River from Washington. Mr. Altman said that he made the switch from premium gas two weeks ago, and that his car ran no differently than before. Still, he plans to add a fuel injection cleaner at the end of the month, just in case.

Even among the luxury cars, many can use lower-octane fuel with only a slight drop in horsepower or gas mileage, most experts said. Most nonluxury cars do not require higher octane gas.

The shift toward regular and midgrade gasoline is part of a longer-term move away from the more expensive fuel.

In 2007, premium accounted for 9.4 percent of all gasoline sales in the nation, down slightly from 9.5 percent the year before, according to Energy Department data. Ten years ago, premium claimed 16.6 percent of the market.

Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said the biggest shift over the last year had been to midgrade from premium.

In the association’s survey of 3,368 convenience stores that sell gasoline, premium sales in March were 0.4 percent lower than in April 2007, measured by volume, and sales of regular gasoline nationally fell by 1.4 percent. But midgrade volume rose 15.6 percent in that time, the association found.

Even so, car makers are introducing more models that need the premium grade. The number of new vehicle models that either require higher octane fuel or run better on it has risen steadily to 282 this year, from 166 in the 2002 model year, said Robyn Echard, a spokeswoman for Kelley Blue Book, an auto pricing guide.

John Watts, the owner of Watts Petroleum in Lynchburg, Va., which sells gasoline to gas stations, said he was delivering far more regular gasoline than ever. Mr. Watts said he had also been getting many more calls from station managers who wait until the last minute to order because they do not want to buy more than they need, because the prices — even for regular — are so high.

“Things have gotten to where everyone is trying to game the system, and no one can afford to lose,” he said.

Two guys with pep to save energy

Portland Press Herald


June 18, 2008

Sam Saltonstall and Pete Dugas want to save you a heap of money.

No, they're not scammers. Nor are they spammers.

They're simply two guys who see what we all see – a looming heating season that has economic catastrophe written all over it – and want to do something about it.

"It sounded too good to be true – and it still may be," said Saltonstall. "We're still trying to figure that out."

He's talking about the fledgling, nonprofit Cambridge (Mass.) Energy Alliance, formed to provide homeowners, businesses and even large institutions in that city with one-stop shopping for conserving all things energy.

Saltonstall, who lives on Peaks Island, takes jazz piano lessons from Dugas, who owns an apartment building in Portland. Upon learning of the Cambridge project a few months ago, they decided to see if such an idea might fly here.

The goal: Provide a clearinghouse where property owners big and small can get an energy audit, find the right contractors to button up their buildings and, in some cases, even obtain low-interest financing from local banks to foot the bill.

In other words, stop bemoaning the skyrocketing cost of energy and start reducing it.

"The problem is many people just don't know where to start," said Saltonstall, "so they do nothing."

Which, these days, is not a good option. Just last week, the Governor's Office of Energy Independence and Security announced it was starting its oil-price monitoring program four months early for the 2008-09 heating season. The current average price in Maine for No. 2 heating oil: $4.60 per gallon.

Saltonstall and Dugas first visited the Cambridge Energy Alliance to find out more about that program. According to project manager Deborah Donovan, such inquiries from other communities now number "in the hundreds."

"Everybody's got a reason to do this now," said Donovan, noting that her alliance has already heard from more than 700 interested property owners in Cambridge.

Next stop for Saltonstall and Dugas was a sit-down with Portland Mayor Ed Suslovic, who spent more than an hour brainstorming with them on how such a venture might work locally. The mayor's first suggestion: expand it beyond Portland.

"It makes so much sense," Suslovic said. "It's foolish to think we can drill our way out of the energy problem."

Next week, Saltonstall and Dugas will visit the Greater Portland Council of Governments to see whether their idea rates inclusion on its regular-meeting agenda. That it should – the council is perfectly positioned to help cultivate this grass-roots response to an ever-escalating global challenge.

For all the work they've put into the project, Saltonstall and Dugas say their goal is not to save the world.

The alliance's mission statement, in fact, makes little mention of reducing Greater Portland's "carbon footprint" – too much of that kind of talk, they feared, might render their plan too political and thus less marketable to the masses.

"So we describe our mission simply as helping people save money on energy," said Saltonstall.

Added Dugas, "We figured everyone can agree on that one."

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

Embracing energy alternatives

Portland Press Herald

Chewonki Foundation puts renewable systems to the test on its property in Wiscasset.


June 20, 2008

WISCASSET — The Chewonki Foundation's campus looks the part of an environmental education center where thousands of kids come each year to learn about nature.

There's a farm, a dining hall, classrooms, a wildlife rehabilitation center and a lot of woods to explore.

But a closer look reveals what is perhaps the state's premier real-life laboratory for renewable energy.

Maine's first hydrogen energy system provides backup power for one building. A next-generation solar system on the roof of the dining hall provides both electricity and hot water. A small solar-electric car is parked next to a gravel path, soaking up sunshine and charging its battery.

There is a fueling station where used cooking grease is dispensed as biofuel. And soon there will be a windmill and a geothermal system that will use well water to heat part of a building next winter.

As Maine and the rest of the world look for energy sources that might someday replace oil, Chewonki is busy testing them out.

"We're not the R&D part. We're not on the commercial side," said Peter Arnold, who heads the organization's renewables program. "We play a role in between by putting up a system, a beta system," he said, using his term for product testing.

Chewonki is a nonprofit founded in 1915 as a camp for boys. It occupies a 400-acre peninsula on Montsweag Bay and now provides environmental education and wilderness expeditions to more than 40,000 boys and girls a year.

Its leadership in alternative energy goes back to the 1970s and the center's first composting toilet, said Don Hudson, Chewonki's president.

Since then, every construction project has been designed for energy efficiency. When the dining hall was built in 1983, it was the most energy efficient building in Maine, Hudson said.

Chewonki also has been especially sensitive to energy issues because it sits a mile from the former home of the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant. A piece of the old nuclear plant now covers part of Chewonki's hydrogen system.

Chewonki's energy programs shifted into high gear 11 years ago when it hired Peter Arnold, who is gradually weaning the campus from fossil fuels and making it a showcase for alternatives.

Chewonki's annual spring renewable energy conference draws experts from throughout the Northeast. And now, with oil prices at historic highs and the alternatives looking more attractive, its work is getting even more attention.

"I feel like we're inching up again to the place where a lot of these technologies are economically viable," Arnold said.

"We're doing the background work so as soon as the economics come into focus, we'll be ready."

Manufacturers have already made efficiency improvements based on the experience gained at Chewonki, Arnold said.

"As you move to commercialization, a lot of the problems are encountered and solved," Arnold said. "It really feels like, to me, we're making significant contributions to whatever is going to replace fossil fuels."

The $250,000 hydrogen power center unveiled nearly three years ago may still be the only one in the state. Like most of its projects, Chewonki combined fundraising with grants to pay for the project.

It puts treated groundwater through an electrical charge to make pressurized hydrogen, which is stored in eight tanks behind the main building. The hydrogen is like a battery that never loses power and can make electricity whenever needed. Chewonki uses it to power critical parts of the building when the power goes out, as it did for three days last winter.

"You could run your cars with it, heat your homes with it, power your grill, anything you want," Arnold said. The technology appears most viable for powering vehicles, and there now are hydrogen fueling stations in some parts of the country, he said.

The newest demonstration project is a $350,000 solar heat and power system on the dining hall installed in May.

Created by Ascendant Energy of Rockland, the panels include photovoltaic cells that make electricity together with a plumbing system that heats water for the kitchen's industrial-sized dishwasher. Heat captured from the dishwater discharge is even fed back into the system.

The combination of heat and power makes the system more efficient, and very unusual, according to Arnold.

"This is the Beta system," he said, again emphasizing Chewonki's role as a tester. "No one's ever commercialized it. And the second install is going to be more efficient because this one's in place."

In the first month of operation, the system generated 800 kilowatt hours of power, he said. And when the sun is shining, the kitchen doesn't need propane to heat its water.

Ascendant Energy CEO Chris Straka said Chewonki is filling an important role.

"We're at a point where, energy being where it is, we really have to break the mold of some of our existing systems," he said. "A place like Chewonki is a great venue to validate technology in a cold climate."

Some of the alternative energy technologies Chewonki uses and demonstrates are cost effective today, such as traditional solar hot water heaters. But even the more experimental projects are important, said John Kerry, director of the Governor's Office of Energy Independence and Security

"This is the future," he said. "We have to go through a transition period were we develop these technologies and employ them. I see Chewonki as one of the primary educators regarding energy and environmental issues in the state of Maine."

And not just because the organization is talking about new systems, he said. "What they do, which is great, is they actually install them and use them."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

Fuel Costs Pinch Cities; Mayors Push Mass Transit

NY Times

June 21, 2008


MIAMI — Higher fuel prices are forcing cities across the country to cut public services, limit driving by employees and expand public transportation in what has become a sprawling movement to conserve energy.

A survey of 132 cities, released Friday here at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, found that 90 percent were altering operations because of fuel costs. Republicans and Democrats from New Jersey to Hawaii are essentially becoming energy-pinching nags.

They are pushing City Council members, whether they get along or not, to car-pool. They are telling housing inspectors to arrange site visits in clusters so they stop criss-crossing neighborhoods. And, even as many of them still use S.U.V.’s, the mayors are asking nearly everyone to do a little more walking.

“It’s costing us millions of dollars a year,” said Mayor Manuel A. Diaz of Miami, the incoming president of the mayors’ group. “We can’t deal with a deficit, so everyone has to drive less.”

Several mayors — as they gripped-and-grinned at a downtown hotel — said the cost of fuel had become their obsession.

Coinciding with a real estate meltdown, rising energy costs have wreaked havoc because many city budgets were passed months ago with the assumption that gasoline would cost $2 a gallon. Now mayors are finding themselves squeezed by rising costs, declining revenues and increased demands for public transportation.

In the survey, 88 percent of mayors said their cities had experienced growth in the use of public transit, with nearly half of those reporting that the increases were significant or very significant. Some studies have documented growth of 10 percent to 15 percent over the last year in parts of the South and West.

“Public transportation is the way everyone is going,” said Mufi Hannemann, mayor of Honolulu. “Right now in my city, it’s all about the public bus.”

Mr. Hannemann said the federal government needed to give cities more money to expand their offerings. “We’re starting a ferry system, and making more bike lanes, more opportunities for people to walk,” he said. “And the federal government can help us immeasurably.”

For smaller, poorer cities, the shift away from driving can at times feel transformative. Mayor John Robert Smith of Meridian, Miss., population 40,000, said local officials never talked much about driving. It was just how everyone got around.

Now, he said, the topic of gasoline prices and transportation comes up at nearly every public meeting. To cut costs, he said he had asked city workers not to chat with their cars idling. Mr. Smith has also begun promoting bicycles and bike lanes and asking elected officials to share rides to events.

“We’re on the edge of people changing their travel patterns,” he said.

In the long term, Mr. Smith said, Meridian was working with the state to become part of a commuter line that would connect his city with Jackson, the capital. But he said the gains for most cities would be limited because the nation had relied heavily on cars for decades. “We have waited until we are at a crisis point to address transportation,” Mr. Smith said.

Other mayors agreed. And yet, some of them also acknowledged that higher gasoline prices could eventually make their cities bigger, better and richer.

“There is a strong argument that over the last 10 years there has been a trend of young professionals and empty nesters coming back to downtowns,” said Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver. “We built 15,000 housing units in the past few years. If gas gets up to $8 or $10 a gallon, that will dramatically accelerate something that’s already going on. There is a silver lining.”

Yolanne Almanzar contributed reporting.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Oil Prices Raise Cost of Making Range of Goods

NY Times

June 8, 2008


Surging oil prices are beginning to cut into the profits of a wide range of American businesses, pushing many to raise prices and maneuver aggressively to offset the rising cost of merchandise made from petroleum.

Airlines, package shippers and car owners are no longer the only ones being squeezed by the ever-mounting price of oil, which shot up almost $11 a barrel on Friday alone, to $138.54, a record.

Companies that make hard goods using raw materials derived from oil, like tires, toiletries, plastic packaging and computer screens, are watching their costs skyrocket, and they find themselves forced into unpleasant choices: Should they raise prices, shift to less costly procedures, cut workers, or all three?

The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company is trying to adapt. Its raw material of choice now is natural rubber rather than synthetic rubber, made from oil. To sustain profits, it is making more high-end tires for consumers willing to pay upwards of $100 to replace each tire on their cars.

These steps have not been enough, however, particularly now that the cost of natural rubber is also rising sharply, along with that of many other commodities. So Goodyear has raised the prices of its tires by 15 percent in just four months.

“Our strategy is to raise prices and improve the mix to offset the cost of raw materials,” said Keith Price, a Goodyear spokesman. “No one has predicted how long we can continue to do that.”

The sense that many companies may be hitting a wall is palpable. Corporate profits peaked last spring and have shrunk since then, Moody’s reports, drawing on Commerce Department data.

The housing crisis and the weakening economy are big reasons, but oil prices are adding greatly to the pressure on profits as retailers fail to pass along higher prices to consumers. That helps to explain why expensive oil has not yet pushed up the inflation rate.

So far this year, the nation’s employers have been cutting jobs at an accelerating pace, particularly last month, when the unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent from 5 percent. But with the vise on corporate profits tightening and the price of oil continuing to climb, more dire action, including job cuts and higher prices, may be in store, economists say, although there is still room to avoid such steps.

“Companies came into this period with extraordinarily high profit margins,” said Edward McKelvey, chief domestic economist at Goldman Sachs, “and some of the surge in raw material costs will be absorbed by lowering those profits.”

Still, the prevailing attitude that the economy could just keep absorbing higher oil prices is being tested — for the first time in nearly 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, a barrel of crude is now more expensive than it was in 1980, the previous peak.

“The conventional wisdom a couple of years ago was that oil did not have that much leverage over the economy,” said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “But now it plainly does. People are suddenly paying much more attention to their energy costs and trying to figure out how to manage them.”

Goodyear has kept its head above water in part by passing along some of the higher prices to dealers. The dealers, however, have not been able to pass along all of those increases to consumers and are absorbing the difference in lower profits.

Since last spring, the average profits of the nation’s corporations — from behemoths like Goodyear to small neighborhood retailers — have declined at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent, government data show.

Even companies that have been performing well in the economic downturn are sounding notes of caution. Take Costco, the discount retail chain, which offers a wide array of consumer goods, food, wine, furniture, appliances, beauty aids and much more.

Costco’s profit was up in the first quarter, but James D. Sinegal, the chief executive, says he is “starting to be confronted with unprecedented price increases” for the merchandise that Costco buys to stock its stores. His first response has been to buy in extra large quantities so that he has stock on hand to carry him through subsequent price increases.

“We just made a big purchase of Tumi luggage,” Mr. Sinegal said.

Procter & Gamble finds itself in a similar predicament. For its fiscal year beginning next month, it expects to spend an additional $2 billion on oil-based raw materials and commodities. That is double last year’s increase, and it is carved from total revenue of just under $80 billion.

Price increases have helped to offset this cost. They have averaged nearly 5 percent for paper towels, bath tissues and diapers, all made with chemicals derived from oil, said Paul Fox, a company spokesman.

Natural oils have been substituted for ingredients made from petroleum; for example, palm oil now goes into a variety of laundry soaps. But like rubber, the cost of palm oil and other natural commodities is rising.

Trying to hold down raw material costs, Procter & Gamble has resorted to “compacting” a few laundry products, Mr. Fox said, so that the same amount of detergent fits into smaller and less costly containers made of plastic, which is derived from oil.

Still, the company’s operating profit edged down to 20.1 percent of revenue in the first quarter, from 21.9 percent in each of the two previous quarters. “That 20.1 percent was down, but it was an improvement on the advance guidance we had given for that quarter,” Mr. Fox said.

No business in America produces more of the oil-based ingredients that go into the nation’s products than the Dow Chemical Company, based in Midland, Mich. From Dow’s petrochemical operations come the basic ingredients of a wide variety of plastic bottles and packaging, including numerous containers once made of glass or tin.

Indeed, paint, computer and television screens, mobile phones, light bulbs, cushions, paper, mattresses, car seats, carpets, steering wheels and polyesters are all made with ingredients that Dow and other chemical companies refine from oil and natural gas.

Dow normally raises prices piecemeal. Last month, though, the surge in the cost of oil and natural gas, the company’s principal raw materials, produced a rare across-the-board price increase of as much as 20 percent.

“We have taken out head count, automated, been very diligent on cost control,” said Andrew Liveris, Dow’s chairman and chief executive, “but these surges in energy prices are just one surge too many.”

Dow’s sweeping price increases will probably have a domino effect, resulting in higher prices or, more likely, shrinking profits, analysts say. Constrained by the weak economy and fewer wage earners among their customers, the nation’s retailers have so far not been able to pass on to consumers much of the rising cost of products that depend on oil. The Consumer Price Index, minus food and energy, is barely rising.

“One of the surprises,” said Patrick Jackman, a senior economist in the consumer price division of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “is that the oil price surges of the 1970s passed through fairly quickly into consumer prices, and this time that is not happening.”

Monday, June 02, 2008

Teeth Gritted, Drivers Adjust to $4 Gasoline

NY Times

May 24, 2008

Correction Appended

Hating every minute of it, Americans are slowly learning to live with high gasoline prices. For a nation accustomed to cheap fuel, big vehicles and sprawling suburbs, the adjustments are wrenching.

Cory Asmus of Temecula, Calif., just bought a $4,800 motorcycle for his 20-mile drive to work so he could cut his gas bill to $8 a week, from $110.

Florian Bialas, a retiree who lives near Chicago, sold his 1997 Pontiac Sunfire for $3,000 and plans to give up his license when it expires in September. “I can walk to most places where I need to go,” he said.

And Debbie Gloyd of Cleveland has parked her Chrysler Concorde and started taking the bus to work. “I can’t afford these gas prices,” she said. “They’re insane.”

With the nationwide average price for regular gasoline closing rapidly on $4 a gallon, people are bracing for a summer of expensive driving.

As the Memorial Day holiday starts the summer driving season, record prices are provoking dread and upsetting vacation plans. A recent survey by AAA, the automobile club, found a rare year-on-year decline, of 1 percent, in the number of people planning to travel this summer.

Interviews with more than 70 people across the country suggested that the adjustments they were making, mental and otherwise, would last well beyond the summer. Americans have started trading their gas guzzlers for smaller cars, making fewer trips to the mall and, wherever possible, riding public transportation to work.

For years, it was not clear whether rising prices would ever cause Americans to use less gas. But a combination of record prices, the slowing economy and a tight credit market has beaten consumers down.

Gasoline demand has fallen sharply since the beginning of the year and is headed for the first annual drop in 17 years, according to government estimates.

The Transportation Department reported Friday that in March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles than in March 2007, a decline of 4.3 percent. It is the first time since 1979 that traffic has dropped from one March to the next, and the month-on-month percentage decline is the largest since record keeping began in 1942.

High gasoline prices, plastered on 20-foot signs from coast to coast, are turning into a barometer of the country’s mood.

“The psychology has changed,” said Sara Johnson, an economist at Global Insight. “People have recognized that prices are not going down and are adapting to higher energy costs. It’s a capitulation.”

Typically, gasoline sales rise before Memorial Day weekend. But gasoline sales dropped nearly 7 percent last week compared with the same week in 2007, according to an estimate by MasterCard.

Gasoline prices almost always rise in the summer, as demand increases. On Friday, gasoline prices reached yet another record, a nationwide average of nearly $3.88 a gallon. That figure was up 4 cents in one day and is 65 cents higher than this time last year, according to AAA. Diesel hit $4.65 a gallon on Friday, up $1.73 a gallon in a year.

The force behind high gasoline prices is the high price of oil, which is being driven up by soaring worldwide demand. Oil reached a record above $133 a barrel this week, nearly five times as expensive as it was five years ago.

All this has led to a vast transfer of wealth from American drivers to domestic and foreign oil producers. Every one-cent increase in gasoline prices means Americans pay $1.42 billion more a year for gas, according to Stephen P. Brown, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Nearly two-thirds of that goes to foreign producers.

In the first four months of the year, Americans spent $158 billion on gasoline. In 2003, just as oil prices started to take off, they spent $88 billion over the same four-month period, according to Michael McNamara, vice president for MasterCard’s Spending Pulse, an indicator of weekly gasoline sales.

Whether today’s high costs will translate into a permanent change in behavior remains to be seen, of course. The Energy Department expects gasoline sales to fall by 0.6 percent this year, the first drop since 1991, but it expects consumption to rebound in 2009 as the economy strengthens.

Still, analysts said that the hardship induced by today’s prices is getting close to the level reached during the oil shock of the early 1980s.

Americans spend 3.7 percent of their disposable income on transportation fuels. At its lowest point, that share was 1.9 percent in 1998, and at its highest, it reached 4.5 percent in 1981, said Ms. Johnson of Global Insight.

Still, despite the rise in energy prices, gasoline remains cheaper in the United States than in most industrialized countries. In France, for example, a gallon of gasoline costs about $7.70 at today’s exchange rates. Also, Americans pay less to drive a mile today than they did in 1980, once the impact of inflation and gains in fuel efficiency are taken into account, said Lee Schipper, a visiting scholar at the transportation center of the University of California, Berkeley.

Mr. Schipper estimates that the cost of gasoline for each mile traveled will be about 15 cents this year. That is nearly three times the low of 5.6 cents a mile reached in 1998, when fuel efficiency peaked and prices were at their lowest. But it is still cheaper than the record paid in 1980 of 17.1 cents a mile, adjusted for inflation.

The oil shocks of the 1970s and 1980s introduced the nation’s first efforts to curb consumption, including the first fuel efficiency standards and scaled-back speed limits. These had an impact on gasoline demand, which fell each year from 1979 to 1985. But then oil prices collapsed, political pressure evaporated, and many consumers lost interest in small cars.

“This is the wake-up call,” Mr. Schipper said. “We actually have a lot of choices, based on what car we drive, where we live, how much time we choose to drive, and where we choose to go. But you have built in a very strong car dependency. And when the price hits the fan, people have a hard time coping.”

For many people, higher energy costs mean fewer restaurant meals, deferred weekend outings with the family, less air travel and more time closer to home. Big-box retailers are suffering as customers balk at driving to the mall, airlines have slapped on steep fuel surcharges and carmakers have seen their sales slump. On Thursday, the Ford Motor Company announced production cuts because of sharply lower demand for sport utility vehicles and pickups.

In Los Angeles, Ron and Patricia Lowe spend more time at home on weekends, hanging out and barbecuing. They are also more likely to leave their house together now, scheduling fewer car trips and bundling their chores to cut the gas bill.

“If I go to the grocery store, and the mall and pick up some prescription, I do it in one shot,” he said.

As gasoline prices have risen to record highs, consumer confidence, as measured in surveys, has fallen to its lowest level since 1980.

“The whole gas price situation makes me so angry,” says Lissa Nash, 39, a single mother struggling to raise her two sons on a modest nursing assistant’s salary. To make ends meet, she has started working extra shifts at a suburban Chicago hospital, picking up whatever overtime is available.

“Rising gas prices end up hurting working, lower class people like me, who can’t afford it anymore,” Ms. Nash said.

The higher costs ripple through the economy in unusual ways. In Round Lake, Ill. $3 still buys a wriggling tangle of night crawlers in a dirt-filled Styrofoam cup. But Marty Badegian, the 72-year-old owner of the Red Worm Ranch Bait Shop, says he might have to raise prices after his vendor imposed a $5-an-order gas surcharge.

“The gas prices are killing us,” Mr. Badegian said.

In Encinitas, Calif., Ryan Andrews, 23, and Tara Driscoll, 21, arrived at the beach red-faced and sweating from riding their bicycles in 80-degree weather.

They had bought their bikes the previous week and had just cycled six miles from home. Ms. Driscoll said she had gotten the bicycle so she could ride to work every day, a commute of two miles, instead of driving.

“It just makes sense,” she said.

At Sim’s Bowling Alley and Lounge, in Des Plaines, Ill., Robin Sebastian, 51, who tends bar there, sounded bitter the other day after recalling that she had just paid $46 to fill half a tank in her 1994 Buick Regal.

“There are too many politicians’ hands in our pockets, and too many crooks in the oil companies,” said Ms. Sebastian, an Army veteran who served in the Persian Gulf. “I’m all for helping other countries, but we need to help our people here in the U.S. first.”

Christopher Maag, Karen Ann Cullotta and Will Carless contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Rockefellers Seek Change at Exxon

NY Times

May 27, 2008


HOUSTON — The Rockefeller family built one of the great American fortunes by supplying the nation with oil. Now history has come full circle: some family members say it is time to start moving beyond the oil age.

The family members have thrown their support behind a shareholder rebellion that is ruffling feathers at Exxon Mobil, the giant oil company descended from John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust.

Three of the resolutions, to be voted on at the company’s shareholder meeting on Wednesday, are considered unlikely to pass, even with Rockefeller family support.

The resolutions ask Exxon to take the threat of global warming more seriously and look for alternatives to spewing greenhouse gases into the air.

One resolution would urge the company to study the impact of global warming on poor countries, another would encourage Exxon to reduce its emissions and a third would encourage it to do more research on renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines.

A fourth resolution, which the Rockefellers are most united in supporting, is considered more likely to pass. It would strip Rex W. Tillerson of his position as chairman of Exxon’s board, forcing the company to separate that job from the chief executive’s job.

A shareholder vote in favor of that idea would be a rebuke of Mr. Tillerson, who is widely perceived as more resistant than other oil chieftains to investing in alternative energy.

The Rockefellers say they are not trying to embarrass Mr. Tillerson, also Exxon’s chief executive, but think it is time for the company to spend more of its funds helping the nation chart a new energy future.

“Exxon Mobil needs to reconnect with the forward-looking and entrepreneurial vision of my great-grandfather,” Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, a Tufts University economist, said in a statement to reporters.

“The truth is that Exxon Mobil is profiting in the short term from investments and decisions made many years ago, and by focusing on a narrow path that ignores the rapidly shifting energy landscape around the world,” she added.

The resolution on Exxon’s chairmanship was offered for several years before the Rockefellers became publicly involved and last year was supported by 40 percent of shareholders who voted. Royal Dutch Shell and BP already separate the positions of chairman and chief executive, as do many other companies.

“You need a board asking the tough questions,” Peter O’Neill, a private equity investor and great-great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, said in an interview. “We expect the company to figure out how in this changing world to adjust.”

Kenneth P. Cohen, vice president for public affairs at Exxon, said the shareholders pushing the resolutions were “starting from a false premise.” He added that the company was already concerned about “how to provide the world the energy it needs while at the same time reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Fifteen members of the family are sponsoring or co-sponsoring the four resolutions, but it appears that some have much more solid support in the sprawling family than others.

Mr. O’Neill said that 73 out of 78 adult descendants of John D. Rockefeller were supporting the family effort to divide the chief executive and chairman positions. The goal of that resolution is to improve the management of the company, which could strengthen its environmental policies and improve more traditional pursuits like exploring more aggressively for new oil reserves.

David Rockefeller, retired chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and patriarch of the family, issued a statement saying, “I support my family’s efforts to sharpen Exxon Mobil’s focus on the environmental crisis facing all of us.”

The Rockefeller family has always been identified with oil and the legacy of Standard Oil, but for several generations, it has also been active in environmental causes and acquiring land for preservation. John D. Rockefeller’s grandsons devoted themselves to conservation issues, and Rockefeller charitable organizations have long promoted efforts to fight pollution.

Ms. Goodwin, one of the most vocal Rockefellers on the environment today, is co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts.

In recent years, family members have quietly encouraged Exxon executives to take global warming seriously, but their private efforts did not go far. Until now, they have avoided publicity in their efforts, and the youngest Rockefeller generations have generally shunned attention.

Exxon executives said the company spent $2 billion over the last five years on programs to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies and had plans to spend $800 million on similar initiatives over the next three years. They said the company reduced the release of greenhouse gases from its operations last year by 3 percent, and it was working with Stanford to research biofuels and solar and hydrogen energy.

Since taking over the company two years ago, Mr. Tillerson has gradually shifted the company’s positions away from those of his predecessor, Lee R. Raymond, who was considered a skeptic on the science of global warming.

But with gasoline prices soaring and concern growing over global warming, Exxon, the biggest of the investor-owned oil companies, is a target for politicians and environmentalists. Chevron, BP and Shell, Exxon’s largest competitors, have given their investments in renewable fuels a much higher profile.

Similar or identical environmental proposals have not passed at previous Exxon shareholder meetings, but the public support of the Rockefeller family has given old efforts new energy.

The involvement of the Rockefellers, said Robert A. G. Monks, a shareholder who has been urging a separation of the chairman and chief executive jobs for years, shows that “this is not just a matter of the self-appointed good guys against the cavemen, but also a matter of the capitalists wanting to make money.”

Nineteen institutional investors with 91 million shares announced last week that they would support resolutions asking Exxon to separate the top executive positions and tackle global warming. They included the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System.

California’s treasurer, Bill Lockyer, who serves on the boards of the two California funds, said the company’s “go-slow approach” on global warming “places long-term shareholder value at risk.”

Under Exxon’s rules, a shareholder proposal that passes is not binding without the support of the board. But Andrew Logan, director of the oil program at Ceres, a coalition of institutional investors and environmentalists, said, “boards tend to strongly consider proposals that get significant support.”

Paul Sankey, an oil analyst at Deutsche Bank, said that he thought a separation of the chief executive and chairman jobs might be a good management move and that “we might see a mild benefit to Exxon’s public image.” But he added, “On balance, we wouldn’t expect any change in strategy.”

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents public safety officers, whose pensions are invested in Exxon, has publicly opposed the shareholder effort to change company policy.

“The Rockefeller resolution threatens to degrade the value of Exxon Mobil,” the organization wrote in a letter to Mr. Tillerson that criticized the splitting of the top executive jobs.

Truth or Consequences

NY Times

May 28, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Imagine for a minute, just a minute, that someone running for president was able to actually tell the truth, the real truth, to the American people about what would be the best — I mean really the best — energy policy for the long-term economic health and security of our country. I realize this is a fantasy, but play along with me for a minute. What would this mythical, totally imaginary, truth-telling candidate say?

For starters, he or she would explain that there is no short-term fix for gasoline prices. Prices are what they are as a result of rising global oil demand from India, China and a rapidly growing Middle East on top of our own increasing consumption, a shortage of “sweet” crude that is used for the diesel fuel that Europe is highly dependent upon and our own neglect of effective energy policy for 30 years.

Cynical ideas, like the McCain-Clinton summertime gas-tax holiday, would only make the problem worse, and reckless initiatives like the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep offer to subsidize gasoline for three years for people who buy its gas guzzlers are the moral equivalent of tobacco companies offering discounted cigarettes to teenagers.

I can’t say it better than my friend Tim Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics, did in a Memorial Day essay in The Washington Post: “So Dodge wants to sell you a car you don’t really want to buy, that is not fuel-efficient, will further damage our environment, and will further subsidize oil states, some of which are on the other side of the wars we’re currently fighting. ... The planet be damned, the troops be forgotten, the economy be ignored: buy a Dodge.”

No, our mythical candidate would say the long-term answer is to go exactly the other way: guarantee people a high price of gasoline — forever.

This candidate would note that $4-a-gallon gasoline is really starting to impact driving behavior and buying behavior in way that $3-a-gallon gas did not. The first time we got such a strong price signal, after the 1973 oil shock, we responded as a country by demanding and producing more fuel-efficient cars. But as soon as oil prices started falling in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we let Detroit get us readdicted to gas guzzlers, and the price steadily crept back up to where it is today.

We must not make that mistake again. Therefore, what our mythical candidate would be proposing, argues the energy economist Philip Verleger Jr., is a “price floor” for gasoline: $4 a gallon for regular unleaded, which is still half the going rate in Europe today. Washington would declare that it would never let the price fall below that level. If it does, it would increase the federal gasoline tax on a monthly basis to make up the difference between the pump price and the market price.

To ease the burden on the less well-off, “anyone earning under $80,000 a year would be compensated with a reduction in the payroll taxes,” said Verleger. Or, he suggested, the government could use the gasoline tax to buy back gas guzzlers from the public and “crush them.”

But the message going forward to every car buyer and carmaker would be this: The price of gasoline is never going back down. Therefore, if you buy a big gas guzzler today, you are locking yourself into perpetually high gasoline bills. You are buying a pig that will eat you out of house and home. At the same time, if you, a manufacturer, continue building fleets of nonhybrid gas guzzlers, you are condemning yourself, your employees and shareholders to oblivion.

What a cruel thing for a candidate to say? I disagree. Every decade we look back and say: “If only we had done the right thing then, we would be in a different position today.”

But no politician dared to do so. When gasoline was $2 a gallon, the government never would have imposed a $2 tax. Now that it is $4 a gallon, the government should at least keep it there, since it is really having the right effect.

I was visiting my local Toyota dealer in Bethesda, Md., last week to trade in one hybrid car for another. There is now a two-month wait to buy a Prius, which gets close to 50 miles per gallon. The dealer told me I was lucky. My hybrid was going up in value every day, so I didn’t have to worry about waiting a while for my new car. But if it were not a hybrid, he said, he would deduct each day $200 from the trade-in price for every $1-a-barrel increase in the OPEC price of crude oil. When I saw the rows and rows of unsold S.U.V.’s parked in his lot, I understood why.

We need to make a structural shift in our energy economy. Ultimately, we need to move our entire fleet to plug-in electric cars. The only way to get from here to there is to start now with a price signal that will force the change.

Barack Obama had the courage to tell voters that the McCain-Clinton summer gas-giveaway plan was a fraud. Wouldn’t it be amazing if he took the next step and put the right plan before the American people? Wouldn’t that just be amazing?

Urban Areas on West Coast Produce Least Emissions Per Capita, Researchers Find

NY Times

May 29, 2008


The West Coast’s metropolitan areas had among the lowest carbon emissions per capita in the country in 2005, according to a new ranking of 100 urban areas.

The region’s mild climates, hydropower and aggressive energy-reduction policies give its residents smaller carbon footprints, on average, than those of their counterparts in the East and Midwest.

The Honolulu area ranked No. 1 in the study, from the Brookings Institution, followed by the area including Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California, the Portland-Vancouver area in the Northwest and the New York metropolitan area. A cluster of Rust Belt urban areas were at the bottom of the rankings, including Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Lexington, Ky., which ranked last.

The authors offer a partial portrait of overall emissions, concentrating on residential electricity and fuel use and the mileage traveled by cars and trucks — factors that contribute about half of overall carbon emissions. The calculations do not include industrial emissions, those from commercial or government structures and those from air, rail or sea transportation. But they provide a new look at metropolitan areas.

The report was accompanied by policy recommendations, including federal legislation setting a price on carbon emissions, increasing financing for energy research and development, revising federal policies that reward states with high levels of travel and fuel use and providing more, and more predictable, financial support of mass transit.

While the report did not go into the precise causes of each ranking, it provided hints at the factors that correlated with higher or lower scores. Population density and the availability of rail transportation were associated with lower per capita carbon emissions; the Los Angeles area is the most densely populated in the country, according to Brookings figures.

Other metropolitan areas in the top 25 included Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, New Haven, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Rochester.

Also associated with high rankings were government policies that promoted energy efficiency, particularly electricity rate-setting policies. Rate-setting by state regulators has traditionally been geared to make more money for a utility if it sells more electricity. While rates may remain relatively low, pleasing customers, utilities have little incentive to encourage energy conservation.

“The worst footprints are in the traditionally regulated states,” said Marilyn A. Brown, a professor of energy policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who is one of the report’s three authors. “Utilities are reacting to what turns a profit for their shareholders,” and get no economic benefit from conservation, Dr. Brown said.

The Washington metropolitan area ranked No. 100 in per capita residential carbon emissions and No. 89 on the overall list; also in the bottom 25 over all were the Augusta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Knoxville, Tenn., Nashville, Oklahoma City and St. Louis metropolitan areas.

“The Washington, D.C., metro area’s residential electricity footprint was 10 times larger than Seattle’s footprint in 2005,” the report said. “The mix of fuels used to generate electricity in Washington includes high-carbon sources like coal while Seattle draws its energy primarily from essentially carbon-free hydropower.”

By contrast, California set extensive energy efficiency requirements for home appliances; per capita energy use has remained largely flat in the state for 30 years. This factor, combined with its low-carbon electricity and warmer climate, were the most likely reasons that 8 of 10 California metropolitan areas ranked in the top 25 on the Brookings list.

Among the report’s recommendations was a change in federal law that would require home sellers to disclose the annual energy costs of the dwelling in the years before the sale.

The combination of transportation and residential emissions data sometimes masked the forces driving a region’s per capita carbon emissions up or down.

For instance, the proximity of a port, with its related freight traffic, depressed the overall scores of some areas, including Jacksonville (No. 80 over all) and Sarasota, Fla. (No. 81) and the Riverside-San Bernardino area east of Los Angeles (No. 32).

Considering only residential emissions, Jacksonville and Sarasota ranked Nos. 42 and 46, respectively; the Riverside area ranked No. 4. But both Florida areas have ports, and the Riverside area is the destination of many trucks carrying freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. All three ranked near the bottom on the list of transportation-related carbon emissions per capita.

The measurement system was created by three Brookings authors — Dr. Brown, Frank Southworth, who is on the senior research staff at Oakridge National Laboratory, and Andrea Sarzynski of the Brookings Institution.

As Oil Prices Soar, Restaurant Grease Thefts Rise

NY Times

May 30, 2008

The bandit pulled his truck to the back of a Burger King in Northern California one afternoon last month armed with a hose and a tank. After rummaging around assorted restaurant rubbish, he dunked a tube into a smelly storage bin and, the police said, vacuumed out about 300 gallons of grease.

The man was caught before he could slip away. In his truck, the police found 2,500 gallons of used fryer grease, indicating that the Burger King had not been his first fast-food craving of the day.

Outside Seattle, cooking oil rustling has become such a problem that the owners of the Olympia Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Arlington, Wash., are considering using a surveillance camera to keep watch on its 50-gallon grease barrel. Nick Damianidis, an owner, said the barrel had been hit seven or eight times since last summer by siphoners who strike in the night.

“Fryer grease has become gold,” Mr. Damianidis said. “And just over a year ago, I had to pay someone to take it away.”

Much to the surprise of Mr. Damianidis and many other people, processed fryer oil, which is called yellow grease, is actually not trash. The grease is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, driven by the even higher prices of gas and ethanol, making it an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks.

In 2000, yellow grease was trading for 7.6 cents per pound. On Thursday, its price was about 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon. (That would make the 2,500-gallon haul in the Burger King case worth more than $6,000.)

Biodiesel is derived by processing vegetable oil or animal fat with alcohol. It is increasingly available around the country, but it is expensive. With the right kind of conversion kit (easily found on the Internet) anyone can turn discarded cooking oil into a usable engine fuel that can burn on its own, or as a cheap additive to regular diesel.

“The last time kids broke in here they went for the alcohol,” said Mr. Damianidis, who fries chicken wings and cheese sticks. “Obviously they’re stealing oil because it’s worth something.”

While there have been reports of thefts in multiple states, law enforcement officials do not compile national statistics and it remains unclear whether this is part of a passing trend or something more serious.

The suspects in a growing number of grease infractions fall into a range of categories, people interviewed on the matter said, as grease theft is a crime of opportunity. They include do-it-yourself environmentalists worried about their carbon footprints, warring waste management firms trying to beat each other on the sly, and petty thieves who are profiting from the oil’s rising value on the black market.

“It’s a new oddity,” said Officer Seth Hanson of the Federal Way Police Department, near Tacoma, Wash. He said thefts occur outside at least a couple of restaurants there each week. “We’re trying to get an eyeball on how well-organized it is, if at all. To date, we haven’t been very successful in finding anybody.”

Thefts have been reported in at least 20 states, said Christopher A. Griffin, whose family owns Griffin Industries, one of the largest grease collection and rendering companies in the country. The problem has gotten so bad, Mr. Griffin has hired two detectives to investigate thefts around the country.

“Theft is theft,” said Mr. Griffin, who is based in Cold Spring, Ky. “I don’t care if you’re stealing grease or if you’re stealing diamonds.”

Fryer oil from a restaurant that does a high volume of frying one kind of food — for example, a fried-chicken chain — is at a premium because of its relative purity. The large-scale producers of grease, restaurants mostly, own their old oil and in recent months have even made a small profit by selling it to collectors.

Because of the grease’s rancid odor, most restaurants usually store it out back with the trash.

“Once you put something in the trash, it’s abandoned property,” said Jon A. Jaworski, a lawyer in Houston who represents accused grease thieves. “A lot of times, it’s not theft.”

Even so, most restaurant owners and grease collectors say that grease is not free for the taking.

“There’s a new fight for the product, definitely a whole new demand sector,” said Bill Smith, a market reporter for Urner Barry’s Yellow Sheet, an industry newsletter that tracks yellow grease. “Grease theft is becoming a bigger and bigger issue.”

In the case of the Burger King theft, in Morgan Hill, Calif., the police were alerted to suspicious activity by a neighbor who runs his own grease collection and recycling business and is on the lookout for rustlers.

Driving through town, the neighbor, Mark Rosenzweig, said he spotted the suspect’s truck because “it stuck out.” He said he followed it for blocks before it pulled into the Burger King. Mr. Rosenzweig said he knew the man who holds the Burger King grease account, so he called him.

“I had to give everybody a roadside tutorial on grease theft,” Mr. Rosenzweig said of his next call — to the police. “Ten years ago we couldn’t give this stuff away. Now everybody’s fighting over it.”

The suspect in the case, a 49-year-old man who said he was from Las Vegas, has yet to enter a plea, and is due in court next in July.

A typical fast-food restaurant produces 150 to 250 pounds of grease a week. Many do not even know when a theft occurs because it usually happens overnight. Most security cameras and night watchmen are focused on cash registers, not the trash.

“Who do you go after?” said Jason Christensen, a trader of fats and oils for the AgriTrading Corporation, in Minnesota. “I sense you’ll start seeing more surveillance equipment put in to monitor these storage facilities at the restaurant. As the price goes up, you can afford to spend a little more to protect your interest.”

And there is so much interest in grease these days.

The City of San Francisco has its own grease recycling program run through the Public Utilities Commission called SFGreasecycle, which collects discarded vegetable oil from city restaurants at no charge and recycles it into biodiesel for use in the city fleet.

Healy Biodiesel, a company in Sedgwick, Kan., says it offers a top-quality fuel made from local cooking oils.

Ben Healy, the owner, has contracts to collect the raw grease from several franchises around town.

“One particular night not too long ago, 9 out of 15 were stolen,” he said of the grease bins. “That’s a majority of the oil and it was a big kick in the stomach.”

At Olympia Pizza and Pasta, Mr. Damianidis, who now sells his grease for a small monthly fee, finds the problem of stolen fryer oil quite annoying and distracting. And he wants to stop the thefts. He is leaning toward a security camera and hoping for the best.

“I cook food,” Mr. Damianidis said. “I’m not going to stay up until 2 in the morning trying to catch someone stealing a barrel of grease.”

The Energy Challenge - Mounting Costs Slow the Push for Clean Coal

NY Times

May 30, 2008

WASHINGTON — For years, scientists have had a straightforward idea for taming global warming. They want to take the carbon dioxide that spews from coal-burning power plants and pump it back into the ground.

President Bush is for it, and indeed has spent years talking up the virtues of “clean coal.” All three candidates to succeed him favor the approach. So do many other members of Congress. Coal companies are for it. Many environmentalists favor it. Utility executives are practically begging for the technology.

But it has become clear in recent months that the nation’s effort to develop the technique is lagging badly.

In January, the government canceled its support for what was supposed to be a showcase project, a plant at a carefully chosen site in Illinois where there was coal, access to the power grid, and soil underfoot that backers said could hold the carbon dioxide for eons.

Perhaps worse, in the last few months, utility projects in Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Washington State that would have made it easier to capture carbon dioxide have all been canceled or thrown into regulatory limbo.

Coal is abundant and cheap, assuring that it will continue to be used. But the failure to start building, testing, tweaking and perfecting carbon capture and storage means that developing the technology may come too late to make coal compatible with limiting global warming.

“It’s a total mess,” said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Coal’s had a tough year,” said John Lavelle, head of a business at General Electric that makes equipment for processing coal into a form from which carbon can be captured. Many of these projects were derailed by the short-term pressure of rising construction costs. But scientists say the result, unless the situation can be turned around, will be a long-term disaster.

Plans to combat global warming generally assume that continued use of coal for power plants is unavoidable for at least several decades. Therefore, starting as early as 2020, forecasters assume that carbon dioxide emitted by new power plants will have to be captured and stored underground, to cut down on the amount of global-warming gases in the atmosphere.

Yet, simple as the idea may sound, considerable research is still needed to be certain the technique would be safe, effective and affordable.

Scientists need to figure out which kinds of rock and soil formations are best at holding carbon dioxide. They need to be sure the gas will not bubble back to the surface. They need to find optimal designs for new power plants so as to cut costs. And some complex legal questions need to be resolved, such as who would be liable if such a project polluted the groundwater or caused other damage far from the power plant.

Major corporations sense the possibility of a profitable new business, and G.E. signed a partnership on Wednesday with Schlumberger, the oil field services company, to advance the technology of carbon capture and sequestration.

But only a handful of small projects survive, and the recent cancellations mean that most of this work has come to a halt, raising doubts that the technique can be ready any time in the next few decades. And without it, “we’re not going to have much of a chance for stabilizing the climate,” said John Thompson, who oversees work on the issue for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group.

The fear is that utilities, lacking proven chemical techniques for capturing carbon dioxide and proven methods for storing it underground by the billions of tons per year, will build the next generation of coal plants using existing technology. That would ensure that vast amounts of global warming gases would be pumped into the atmosphere for decades.

The highest-profile failure involved a project known as FutureGen, which President Bush himself announced in 2003: a utility consortium, with subsidies from the government, was going to build a plant in Mattoon, Ill., testing the most advanced techniques for converting coal to a gas, capturing pollutants, and burning the gas for power.

The carbon dioxide would have been compressed and pumped underground into deep soil layers. Monitoring devices would have tested whether any was escaping to the atmosphere.

About $50 million has been spent on FutureGen, about $40 million in federal money and $10 million in private money, to draw up preliminary designs, find a site that had coal, electric transmission and suitable geology, and complete an Environmental Impact Statement, among other steps.

But in January, the government pulled out after projected costs nearly doubled, to $1.8 billion. The government feared the costs would go even higher. A bipartisan effort is afoot on Capitol Hill to save FutureGen, but the project is on life support.

The government had to change its approach, said Clarence Albright Jr., the undersecretary of the Energy Department, to “limit taxpayer exposure to the escalating cost.”

Trying to recover, the Energy Department is trying to cut a deal with a utility that is already planning a new power plant. The government would offer subsidies to add a segment to the plant dedicated to capturing and injecting carbon dioxide, as long as the utility bore much of the risk of cost overruns.

It is unclear whether any utility will agree to such a deal. The power companies, in fact, have been busy pulling back from coal-burning power plants of all types, amid rising costs and political pressure. Utility executives say they do not know of a plant that would qualify for an Energy Department grant as the project is now structured.

Most worrisome to experts on global warming, the utilities have recently been canceling their commitments to a type of plant long seen as a helpful intermediate step toward cleaner coal.

In plants of this type, coal would be gasified and pollutants like mercury, sulfur and soot removed before burning. The plants would be highly efficient, and would therefore emit less carbon dioxide for a given volume of electricity produced, but they would not inject the carbon dioxide into the ground.

But the situation is not hopeless. One new gasification proposal survives in the United States, by Duke Energy for a plant in Edwardsport, Ind.

In Wisconsin, engineers are testing a method that may allow them to bolt machinery for capturing carbon dioxide onto the back of old-style power plants; Sweden, Australia and Denmark are planning similar tests. And German engineers are exploring another approach, one that involves burning coal in pure oxygen, which would produce a clean stream of exhaust gases that could be injected into the ground.

But no project is very far along, and it remains an open question whether techniques for capturing and storing carbon dioxide will be available by the time they are critically needed.

The Electric Power Research Institute, a utility consortium, estimated that it would take as long as 15 years to go from starting a pilot plant to proving the technology will work. The institute has set a goal of having large-scale tests completed by 2020.

“A year ago, that was an aggressive target,” said Steven R. Specker, the president of the institute. “A year has gone by, and now it’s a very aggressive target.”

Firewood demand is soaring Rising oil prices are also driving up the cost of an old heating standby for Mainers

Kennbec Journal

Staff Writer

Annie Manley is seeing things she's never seen and hearing stories she's never heard before as office manager at J&M Logging in Augusta.

"People that usually order two or three cords of wood are ordering five or six now," she said. "It's amazing. Just this month -- the month of May -- we've cut about 135 cord."

Manley and others who deal in firewood say the demand is increasing significantly as the price of oil skyrockets.

People are afraid they will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter; older people who should not be lugging wood are planning to buy outdoor boilers, Manley said.

"People are really scared," she said. "I'm finding new people are getting into wood stoves -- and they don't know how to use them. The oil price is turning people to wood."

Mark Pearson, co-owner of J&M, says the company charges $220 for a cord of wood, a price he increased from $180.

"I hated to go up," he said. "I didn't want to, but you can't survive if you lose money on every cord you sell."

He said he had to increase the price due to a combination of factors, including the cost of fuel and demand for hardwood at the pulp mill.

"You feel bad, because a lot of the people we sell to, we know. The fact is, if we can't do it and make somewhat of a profit or just break even, we won't be there to serve at all. The alternative is not to do it at all."

Smaller firewood dealers also are seeing a greater demand as fuel costs increase. Thomas Tracy, owner of Arbormore Tree Service, of Rome, spends most of the year doing tree work and in the winter when things slow down, he works in firewood. Last year he cut and sold about 30 cord; this year he expects to do 50, he said.

"The demand this year is a lot more than I've seen it," Hall said Friday.

He sells the wood for $230 a cord, a price he says many people think is too high.

But he buys tree-length wood for $115 a cord and spends about four hours cutting, stacking, splitting by hand and then re-stacking it. Because he is self-employed, he has to make a certain amount of money per hour, he said.

"I have to hold on to my prices. It takes a good four hours to process a cord. People get scared when you tell them it's $230."

Bill Howard, owner of B.H.D. Enterprises on Route 27 in New Vineyard, sells green firewood for $190 a cord and adds a delivery charge if he has to go outside a 20-mile radius because of the cost of diesel fuel to truck it.

He said demand for firewood is way up, and people are buying more than usual to prepare for this winter. Many are converting from oil heat to wood heat, he said.

"I am planning on doing the same," he said. "I was buying all kerosene and I'm going to convert back to wood."

He said his price of wood changes from week to week, depending on how much he has to pay for it. He buys tree-length wood and cuts and splits it.

"As the market goes up at the mills, so does my firewood price," he said.

He makes sure people get the wood they need, he said.

"People can come around the clock. If you run out of wood at night, I'm always open. I'm selling it by the bundle, by the armful or by the truckload. People can come and get a rack. They're four-by-four racks with a tier of firewood on them. They're $30 each. For an average household, it's three days worth of heat."

He said he is getting calls from people as far away as Portland, wanting to know if he will deliver.

Like Howard, Rick Heatley of R.H. Tree Specialists in Athens, says he plans to get an outside wood boiler, which costs about $7,100, to heat his home. Because he has a tree business, he cuts his own wood.

"I think it'll pay for itself in two years," he said of the boiler.

Heatley does not sell firewood but is familiar with the market. He says a cord of wood in the Athens area goes for between $150 and $200 a cord.

In some places, people are stealing wood because they need it so desperately, he said. As the cost of fuel goes up, people are going to be hurting more, he said.

"How do people afford to buy gas to go to work on minimum wage -- and pay for food and lights and heat?" he said. "How about the poor ones who have day care on top of that? It's sad."

Amy Calder -- 861-9247

Heating oil sticker shock to hit New England

AP News
By CLARKE CANFIELD – 17 hours ago

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — While people in most of the country may be worried about their summer air conditioning bills, many residents in the Northeast are way beyond that: They're already thinking ahead to next winter's heating bills.

And what those who heat their houses with oil are seeing is giving them sticker shock.

Retail heating oil prices have risen to more than $4.50 a gallon, nearly double what they were last year at this time. Some oil dealers have delayed rolling out their payment plans for next winter as the world oil markets continue their wild ride.

Consumers — already on edge with rising gasoline and food prices — will probably be outraged when they calculate their oil bills for next winter, said Jamie Py, president of the Maine Oil Dealers Association.

"There'll be sticker shock," Py said. "Nobody knows what the price will do. It could go up or the bubble could burst and it could come crashing back down."

The angst over heating oil prices is particularly acute in New England, where a higher proportion of people use oil as their primary heating source than any other region, ranging from more than 75 percent in Maine to about 40 percent in Massachusetts. Of the 7.7 million U.S. households that heat with oil, nearly 70 percent reside in the Northeast, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

William Foss, 61, of Portland, had his heating oil tank topped off Thursday with 115 gallons. At $4.52 a gallon, that ran him about $520 — the most he's ever paid for heating oil. But he didn't want to wait until fall for fear it'll go even higher, to $5 or $6 a gallon.

"If prices still keep going up, they're going to find people frozen to death next winter because they won't have the money to buy oil," Foss said.

Residents who depend on heating oil have started considering their different payment options for this winter — such as fixed-price, capped-price or prepayment plans.

Bangor-based Webber Energy Fuels, which operates across Maine and parts of New Hampshire, has been selling fixed-price programs at $4.70 to $4.80 a gallon for next winter, said President Mike Shea. Last year at this time, the price was $2.50 to $2.60.

In his 32 years in the business, Shea has seen commodity prices rise and fall.

"But it seems there's only one direction in this market — up," Shea said.

Fewer customers are signing up for payment plans, he said. Less than 20 percent of his customer base has signed up for fixed-price plans, down from about half two years ago. Many aren't signing up because they are hoping that prices will drop and market prices will be lower next winter than the fixed prices are now.

In Vermont, many oil dealers have delayed setting up prepurchase contracts because of concerns that prices could plummet, leaving them with expensive inventory they would have to buy at the current high prices, said Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. But it's a gamble.

"We're talking about lots of money at stake," Cota said. "If Goldman Sachs is right and oil goes even higher, $4.75 is a bargain."

The residential price of heating oil rose 59 percent from the first quarter of 2007 to the same period this year, far outpacing the price of other heat sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. During the same time, natural gas and electricity prices both rose about 3 percent.

The government projected this month that heating oil prices will average $3.67 a gallon in 2008, up from $2.72 a gallon last year. Those forecasts are expected to be raised in June.

At today's prices, homeowners nationwide will be shelling out billions of dollars in cash for heating oil — with nothing extra to show for it.

In Maine alone, if the more than 400,000 households that heat with oil pay an extra $1 per gallon for 1,000 gallons a year, which is about average, that adds up to an extra $400 million spent on heating oil.

Those kinds of numbers can end up hurting the economy, as people have less discretionary income left over to spend in restaurants, stores and elsewhere. The high price of oil is one reason why Maine retail sales fell 5 percent in March from a year earlier, said Catherine Reilly, the state's economist.

While people can't control the price of oil, they can try to cut their consumption. Judy Dorsey of Gardiner halved her oil use last year by making improvements to her home, which was built in 1850.

After an energy audit of her house, she used a low-interest loan from the Maine State Housing Authority to have her walls and attic insulated, new windows installed, and cracks and holes filled in her foundation, attic and heat ducts.

She used 350 gallons of heating oil last year, compared with 750 gallons two years ago, saving her hundreds of dollars. She'll save even more this year.

"I picked the right year to do it," Dorsey said.

Associated Press Writer Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.

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