By Frank Jossi
In what is regarded as an unusual step, a group of 13 young people have joined together to become court sanctioned intervenors as they fight a proposed Enbridge Energy pipeline through northern Minnesota.
Intervenors are sanctioned by the state Public Utilities Commission to represent parties in contested cases. They are generally lawyers and experts hired by energy firms, clean energy organizations, environmental groups, governmental agencies and an occasional citizen or two.
It's rare to see millennials attending a PUC hearing, or even someone not on the payroll of an organization involved in the process. But administrative law judge Ann O'Reilly accepted the argument by Youth Climate Intervenors that their generation will disproportionately feel the burden of climate change.
"In a landmark decision she granted us standing," said Akilah Sanders-Reed, the 23-year-old who founded the group. "She acknowledged we (young people) had a stake in it and that we deserved a seat at the table. What that means is that the Youth Climate Intervenors have the same rights in that courtroom as Enbridge Energy does."
A recent ThinkProgress article on millennial climate change activists said the organization is the only youth group nationally ever granted intervenor status in a pipeline case.
The PUC continues to hold hearings across the state to allow supporters and opponents of the Enbridge line to make their case. In St. Paul a few weeks ago, more than 1,000 people showed up at a pipeline hearing, among them members of the Youth Climate Intervenors.
Judge O'Reilly is hearing, reading and collecting testimony which she will then use to make a recommendation to the PUC next year on whether the more than $2 billion project should be built—and if so, what route it should follow.
The Canadian firm Enbridge Energy wants to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline with a newer version that would travel a new route south of the existing path. The new Line 3 would transverse wetlands and wilderness, while delivering 760,000 gallons of oil daily along a 337-mile route in Minnesota from Clearbrook to Superior, Wisconsin. The oil originates from the Alberta tar sands.
'An otherwise unheard voice'
The idea behind Youth Climate Intervenors was to create an organization that could have a place at the PUC table and a more prominent voice in the debate. Sanders-Reed reached out to other young activists, including four from indigenous tribes, and petitioned the PUC to become an intervenor in late May. Although Enbridge objected to allowing the group to have status as intervenors, O'Reilly ruled in their favor in July.
Natalie Cook, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Northstar Chapter, said the presence of the youth group "is providing a critical and otherwise unheard voice in the process. Citizens can intervene and it's not unheard of but I've never seen young people intervene in this way before."
The Youth Climate Intervenors "takes seriously bringing forth views and perspectives that would otherwise not be heard" by regulators, she added.
About half the youth intervenors' group hasn't even graduated from high school, and they have no attorney to represent them. Nearly all of them are attending high school or college, she said.
The group sees the pipeline as carrying some of the dirtiest oil in the world—from the Alberta tar sands—and as potentially harmful to Minnesota's lakes and wetlands if an accident occurs.
In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline that ruptured in Michigan resulted in 843,000 gallons of water being released into a creek that flowed into the Kalamazoo River. The cleanup cost more than $1 billion.
Tar sands oil produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional crude oil and enormous ponds of toxic waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Tar sands is some of the most carbon intensive oil on earth," Sanders-Reed said. "This pipeline would lock in billions of dollars of climate damages, which is a price tag my generation will have to pay in the form of public health problems, natural disasters, crop failures and increased cost of living."
In addition, the proposed pipeline "would run through the headwaters of the Mississippi River and through some of the best wild rice lakes in the world," she said.
Members of the group have reached out to several experts, among them Oil Change International, NRDC, well-known Twin Cities meteorologist Paul Douglas, professors from local colleges, native American representatives, a health care professional and others.
"The 13 of us worked incredibly hard, everyone worked really hard on this," she said. "One of the high schoolers was calling up college professors and asking them to help. One of our University of Minnesota students was calling indigenous people from the community that she knows. All these experts have been so thrilled to work with Youth Climate Intervenors and have been so encouraging to us."
One of those intervenors who made calls to experts is Jada Brown, 20, a University of Minnesota student. She found in the Standing Rock protests a growing movement against big energy projects with what she sees as potentially destructive consequences.
"Being an indigenous woman and Youth Climate Intervenor, it's a responsibility of mine to speak out and fight for climate justice and protect the land and water, especially for those who are disproportionately affected by it or don't have a voice," said Brown in a profile in Power Shift, an climate advocacy website.
Frances Wetherall, a sophomore at Gustavus Adolphus College, was inspired after attending the People's Climate March in Washington, DC. Her sister knew one of the Youth Climate Intervenors and she signed on to be a member.
Although attending a college more than an hour southwest of St. Paul, Wetherall plans to make time to attend the evidentiary hearings where intervenors can question their own experts and those of pipeline supporters.
She does not want a pipeline of any sort to cross Minnesota. "What I'm hoping for is the tar sands Enbridge is trying to move stay in the ground, which I know is rather ambitious," she said.
"My attitude is like the 'Green Eggs and Ham' story in that I do not want it by rail, I do not want it by pipeline, I do not want it all. Instead I want Minnesota to lead the nation in clean energy."
Leili Fatehi, an attorney working for the Sierra Club, calls the intervenors "incredibly brave" for involving themselves in an administrative process that can be "intimidating" to non-experts and those unaccustomed to PUC hearings.
Moreover, the Sierra Club and other intervenors represent a broader mix of ages than the Youth Climate Intervenors, but that is their strength. "These guys, by virtual of the fact they're young, are bringing forth arguments about what it means for people under 25," she said.
"After all, they will pick up the majority of the costs for this … It will impact their health care, where can buy property, the cost of insurance—the real wealth impact of climate change."
In February, the administrative judge is expected to issue a recommendation to the PUC either supporting or denying Enbridge's certificate of need to build the pipeline and weigh in on the chosen route. The PUC will then make its own decision, likely in April.
Sanders-Reed, a 2106 Macalester graduate in environmental studies, began her career in political activism in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Minnesota's environmental ethos drew her to attend Macalester.
"I came to Minnesota because Minnesota seemed like the kind of place that could be a leader in clean energy and have a future I want to see," she said. "And I still believe in that. I have so much faith in the people of Minnesota who have stood up to this pipeline and for renewables, and for clean water, time and time again. I hope our elected officials and Judge O'Reilly hear that loud and clear."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Midwest Energy News.
By Kari Lydersen
Four years ago, the Illinois legislature passed a law to regulate high volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, after months of contentious negotiations between oil industry interests, environmental watchdogs and community groups.
Leading up to the law's passage, companies had secured hundreds of leases to potentially frack in Southern Illinois.
But then oil prices dropped, and the eagerness to tap the state's New Albany Shale faded.
This summer, the filing for the first permit under the new rules has reignited debate over fracking in Illinois and concerns over the law's ability to protect citizens and the environment. Environmental and citizen groups say that this permit will be a test case as to how rigorously the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) will seek to enforce the law.
In the spring, the Kansas-based, family-owned company Woolsey Energy filed for a permit to frack in White County in southeastern Illinois. Advocates criticized that permit as incomplete and inconsistent, and the department sent Woolsey back to the drawing board.
Woolsey submitted a revised permit application this summer, with the public comment period closing this month. Environmental advocates say the revised permit is still sorely lacking required information, and they are urging the IDNR to reject it.
"The company still did not provide the required information, putting public health and safety, groundwater, topsoil and other resources at potential risk," said Karen Hobbs, senior policy analyst for the water program of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest office. "How IDNR handles this application will set the benchmark for the program's future and ultimately determine if it is successful."
Opening the door?
The Illinois law was hailed as among the nation's strictest when it passed, though some local groups opposed it and instead demanded a ban on fracking.
"We don't want to see the door opened to fracking in the state," said Illinois People's Action environmental organizer Dawn Dannenbring. "The law is not strong enough to protect Illinoisans from the dangers of fracking. One of the biggest problems is because of the way the law was set up, if all the I's are dotted and T's are crossed, then the IDNR has to issue the permit."
But Dannenbring and other groups say the I's and T's are far from dotted and crossed in Woolsey's permit application, which "does not follow the letter or the spirit of the law," as Dannenbring put it.
She feels the company intentionally submitted a "shoddy permit" with the expectation that environmental groups would "bring up issues one at a time" and then the IDNR would essentially walk the company through addressing them. "That's a waste of time and taxpayer money," Dannenbring said. "The IDNR exists to protect us, not to serve Woolsey."
Critics say the law is only as good as the IDNR's willingness to enforce it by denying permit applications that don't meet its requirements, and they don't think companies should be given multiple second chances to submit a permit.
"We will find out what kind of IDNR we have," said Stephen Nickels, who lives in Johnson County, Illinois, where he said companies had previously acquired 199 leases for fracking. "Is it looking out for the people of Illinois, or for the profits of an individual from Kansas?"
Mark Sooter, Woolsey vice president of business development, declined to respond to specific concerns or criticisms from opponents. The IDNR did not respond to a request for comment.
Among other things, critics say Woolsey's proposed permit lacks a sufficient plan to deal with the toxic flowback water that comes from fracking, an explanation of how flowback volume was calculated, specific details on where fracking will occur and an explanation of chemicals that will be used.
The law allows companies to invoke trade secrets in withholding information about chemicals used in fracking. Woolsey's permit says the trade secrets exemption will not be invoked, but then lists trade secrets as a reason not to reveal the chemical makeup of some components, without explaining why trade secrets apply in those cases.
Critics also note that Woolsey proposes to use significantly more water than the amount normally considered necessary for fracking, and the company offers no plans to reduce water use or recycle water.
"Woolsey proposes to use 7.5 million gallons of local groundwater in its treatment operation versus the most commonly reliable figure of 4.4 million to 5 million gallons per well," said Hobbs. "The company gives no justification for this exceptionally large use of groundwater, asking the state and residents to trust that it is not in its interest to overuse water."
Hobbs' public comment also pointed out that Woolsey describes a certain area as both the target of fracking and the "frac barrier" that is supposed to prevent the flow of polluted groundwater.
"The company says the frac barrier and the production zone will serve both functions, which is impossible," she said. "It's another indication of how poorly written and incomplete the application is."
Earthquakes and integrity
Nickels and his wife live on her family's farm about 50 miles from the area covered by Woolsey's permit. Nickels, who previously owned a stock trading company in the Chicago area, noted that their homeowners' insurance policy does not cover earthquakes caused by humans.
In public comments filed with the IDNR, Nickels said Woolsey's permit should be denied under a section of the fracking law that says the state can suspend, revoke or refuse to issue permits to companies demonstrating "untrustworthiness" and "incompetence."
He thinks the terms describe Woolsey. He cited reports that in Kansas, Woolsey injected diesel oil for fracking without obtaining a permit that is required because of the health risks posed by that method. The Topeka Capital Journal quoted company president Wayne Woolsey denying they used diesel to frack, saying they used only water, sand and a "friction inhibitor." The paper quoted Woolsey saying, "If you took the sand out, you could drink that stuff."
Nickels also pointed to a blow-out at a Woolsey drilling operation in Wayne County, Illinois on January 27, 2014 that resulted in a violation notice from the Illinois EPA and reportedly injured two workers.
"Integrity is like virginity, you can only lose it once," Nickels said. "If they can't file a reasonable permit for the very first fracking permit in Illinois, then they are untrustworthy and incompetent and the permit should be denied. If they can't file an adequate permit, how can we trust them to do fracking without injuring their workers or harming the environment?"
The only other company to file a permit application in the wake of the law's passage withdrew their application, and it still seems far from certain that Woolsey or any other company will really want to start fracking in Illinois.
Fracking can be used to capture natural gas or oil from shale formations that don't yield the fossil fuel under traditional drilling methods. Illinois' New Albany Shale would be tapped for oil, which seemed highly attractive in 2008 when oil prices were more than $150 a barrel, and even in early 2014 at more than $100 per barrel. Today, prices hover in the mid-$40s per barrel.
Sooter said Woolsey needs this permit to be able to explore the financial potential of fracking the New Albany Shale, and depending on the results they will decide whether to seek to frack more widely. He said the requirements of the state law will make the bar higher for deciding whether to proceed.
"It is much more time-consuming and much more costly than the state we've historically worked in, which is Kansas, where you can get a horizontal [fracking] permit in less than a week," Sooter said.
"We had a learning curve we had to go through [in Illinois], so it's taken an exorbitant amount of time. That's one of the reasons other companies have decided not to pursue a well in Illinois under the fracking regulations—because of the difficult nature of it. Our opinion was that we hopefully can learn how to deal with the permit process, and if the reserves are there and it's economic enough, we will get through the permit process."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Midwest Energy News.
Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski
The Rover Pipeline project in Ohio faces continuing problems, with more spills of drilling mud, ongoing questions about diesel fuel contamination, and orders issued last week by both the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
"The significant thing that is very new here is that Ohio EPA has said that they are working very closely with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission," observed Cheryl Johncox of the Sierra Club. FERC issued a July 12 order that echoes multiple directives from the Ohio EPA's July 7 order to Energy Transfer Partners.
Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based company that runs the pipeline project, has also now acknowledged Ohio EPA's regulatory authority, Johncox noted. "Those are pretty big significant changes to this conversation."
FERC also issued another notice of violation on July 13, claiming that Energy Transfer Partners "did not fully and forthrightly disclose all relevant information" before demolishing a historic home. Meanwhile, more problems with the project have also emerged in Michigan and West Virginia.
The concerted federal and state enforcement actions in Ohio, plus the other disputes, could slow plans for the pipeline to begin operation early next year.
On July 2, drilling for the Rover Pipeline project released 5,000 more gallons of drill slurry into a Stark County area where the company was working on a five-foot borehole that would go under the Tuscarawas River. Work was already underway to deal with a previous spill in that area.
On July 3, another "inadvertent release" of 1,500 to 2,500 gallons of drilling mud took place at a nearby area ten feet from the river.
This month's leaks are a tiny fraction of the millions of gallons already released by the Rover Pipeline's drilling work in Ohio. The Ohio EPA issued a proposed administrative order against Energy Transfer Partners in May.
On July 7, Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler issued final findings and orders to Energy Transfer Partners, adding the new releases to its initial list of charges. The order also notes that some previously-leaked material had subsequently been found to contain diesel fuel.
The fluids are defined as "industrial waste" under Ohio law and must go to a licensed landfill or other authorized location, the July 7 order noted.
The total fines sought from the company so far exceed $900,000, and the matter has been referred to the Ohio Attorney General's office for possible further action. Announcing the referral on July 10, Butler described the company's response leading up to the action as "basically a stiff arm to the state of Ohio."
"We continue to work with FERC and the Ohio EPA to resolve these issues in a manner that is satisfactory to everyone involved," said spokesperson Alexis Daniel at Energy Transfer Partners.
Daniel identified the additional materials released this month as "drilling mud, which is made up of water and naturally occurring bentonite clay. Bentonite is a type of clay that is non-toxic."
Daniel provided no explanation for how diesel fuel got into some of the previously released material. "We are working with the Ohio EPA on the investigation of this matter," she said.
Johncox applauded the Ohio EPA "for really doing the right thing here and demanding that they [Energy Transfer Partners] clean up the mess that they have created." In her view, the company's actions so far have shown "basic disregard for their plan on how they're going to protect the waters of our state."
She and other environmental advocates are especially concerned about the finding of diesel fuel in some of the previously released material.
"Everyone was talking about it as nontoxic material. That was a talking point," said Melanie Houston at the Ohio Environmental Council. "It turns out it really was toxic material." Even a very small amount "can pollute the river and be a real concern for aquatic life," she noted.
As an added concern, some used drilling mud has already been deposited in former sand and gravel quarries. "Quarries can be very close to the groundwater supply," Johncox said.
The Ohio EPA's July 7 order calls for a plan by Energy Transfer Partners to remove wastes from quarry sites and dispose of them in a way to be approved by the agency. Additional sampling and groundwater monitoring is also required.
Follow-up action from FERC is also likely, Johncox noted. In May, federal regulators told Energy Transfer Partners to conduct additional environmental review and to delay construction at several spots along the pipeline route.
A flood of concerns
The July 13 notice of violation from FERC appears to relate to the company's previous purchase and demolition of the Stoneman House in Carroll County, Ohio. The company agreed last month to pay $1.5 million to the Ohio History Connection Foundation in connection with that dispute.
Also last week, residents near Silver Lake in Michigan held a protest against the company's latest move there, which would block the sole drainage point for a wetland area. Homes and a YMCA day camp are nearby.
"This newest development is further evidence that Energy Transfer is ignorant of the geology in the areas in which it is building," said Laura Mebert, an assistant professor of social science at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan.
Energy Transfer Partners got a permit for the planned work from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality several months ago. However, that permit "was granted in error," said Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, who represents pipeline opponents in both Michigan and Ohio. "Neither MDEQ nor Rover apparently understood the watercourse that was going to be affected by the trenching."
When representatives from the state and pipeline company previously visited the area, they "failed to understand that the marshland continues downstream as a narrow creek," Lodge explained. "There is potential for flooding that could harm foundations and other aspects of at least a dozen homes if the elevation of the flood plain is altered."
On July 12 Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters wrote to FERC, asking for a temporary halt on that part of the work. If the request is granted, it would block the work there for now. But, Lodge noted, the senators' letter itself is not legally binding.
Although the company might argue that concerned parties should have commented on the Silver Lake problem during the public comment period, Lodge believes the neighbors have strong grounds for their complaints.
"Federal courts interpret [the National Environmental Policy Act] to require the lead agency—here, FERC—to conduct an independent investigation of any possible environmentally destructive feature of the project when it is discovered, even at this late state," Lodge explained.
As a practical matter, he added, if the company moves forward before the situation has been addressed fully, there is a prospect for "monetary liability if serious flooding is caused, and interruption of operations of the pipeline if there is a subsequent realignment or other change required."
"Safety remains a top priority to us, and we continue to work closely with FERC on the safe construction of our approved route," Daniel said. "It is always our goal to work closely with affected landowners, governments and the neighboring communities to foster long-term relationships and build the pipeline in the safest, most environmentally friendly manner possible."
Undermining the pipeline
On July 14, the ISKCON New Vrindaban religious community in Moundville, West Virginia drew FERC's attention to yet another potential problem.
The pipeline route had already been changed to avoid sacred areas on the community's property. Project representatives were advised at that time that the alternate area agreed upon was already slated for longwall coal mining this summer, said Gabriel Fried, secretary/treasurer and executive agent for the religious community.
The better practice would be for the Rover Pipeline project to delay that part of the construction for a few weeks after Murray Energy finished undermining, Fried said. That would allow time for subsidence to take place, he noted, adding that he has decades of experience as a former pipe welder.
Leaving the ditch uncovered could allow for correction of obvious problems, Fried said. "But if there's stress on the pipe due to it being undermined, they're not going to know it," he said. "And that means it's an action waiting to happen."