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Energy is already promising to play a critical role as the Obama Administration begins to sort things out for a second term. With the fiscal cliff approaching, the idea of a carbon tax is already popping up as part of a solution to the nation’s deficit problems. Whether it will be part of a general tax reform or just another way of raising money for the government will probably be the big issue.

The Keystone Pipeline decision also looms as a major landmark for the new administration. Will the President follow through on his pro-oil stance during the campaign? Or will he yield to his environmental supporters, who are planning a big demonstration on November 18? Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper expressed confidence that the President will allow Canadian oil to enter the country but commentators in Western Canadian newspapers aren’t so sure.

The long effects of the hurricane are making some New Yorkers feel like they live in the Third World, according to Peter Kelly-Detwiler of Forbes. Power is yet to be restored to large parts of the Outer Boroughs and New Jersey is still in a shambles. The vulnerability of extended power lines has got people talking again a more distributed system of electrical generation.  The New York Times suggests geothermal plants would offer shelter from the storm.  Ballard Power, which has been developing fuel cells since the 1990s, also notes its small-scale home generators weathered the storm without a shrug. Others are finding fuel cell generation to their liking as  POSCO, the South Korean steel manufactirer, ordered 121 MW of cells from Connecticut’s FuelCell Energy and the European Union will spend $6 million to fund a 1MW chlor-alkaline fuel cell that will be the world’s largest. Fuel cells, remember, run on natural gas (methane) or hydrogen generated from natural gas.

Has the age of cellulosic biofuels arrived at last? The industry is touting the opening for Kior’s wood-to-gasoline facility that has just gone into operation in Columbus, Mississippi. The company claims a microbial process that will be able to break down wood wastes and synthesize the carbon products into auto fuel. It’s been promised before, of course, and produced only failure. Range Fuels, which received a $160 million from various government entities, opened a similar plant in Georgia three years ago and never produced a drop - although it did manage to shield investors and stick the government. Researchers at Berkeley say they have modified another fermentation process that used to be used to produce cordite and can now be applied to biofuels. And an article in Nature reports another biological pathway that can produce jet fuel.

Finally, Duke Energy beat profit estimates for the third quarter, although mild weather in the Southeast slowed down its earnings. CEO Jim Rogers says the merger with Progress Energy has been a success but the company still has a daunting mission to complete. Duke improved its relations with the Southeast environmental community by donating $2 million to Palmetto Clean Energy, a non-profit. But there are also rumors circulating that Rogers – who brought the Democratic convention to Charlotte – may end up in the 2nd term Department of Energy.

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