As 2012 draws to an end, Politico has named what it considers the five big energy stories of 2012:
1) Climate change burst upon the scene (you mean we weren’t talking about it before 2012?)
2) Solyndra lost its momentum (i.e., green subsidy scandals)
3) U.S. gets good energy news (the renewed talk of independence)
4) Obama rejects the Keystone Pipeline (what else could he do, he was running for re-election?)
5) Changing of the guard at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (in the nuclear industry, that’s big news)
Of these five, America’s shifting position in world energy is probably the most interesting. This week The New York Times carried the story of a German steel plant that is shifting its operations to the U.S. because of cheap natural gas.
The fracking boom is indeed the biggest thing that has happened in U.S. energy in memory. Hollywood is about to weigh in with an anti-fracking film (“The Promised Land”) that hopes to do to fracking what “The China Syndrome” did to nuclear power 30 years ago. But with the Pennsylvania and Ohio economies reviving, the anti-natural-gas celebrity campaign is likely to be ignored. The only place it will have any impact will be in New York, where fracking is still forbidden.
Perhaps the best news is that the energy boom outside the media capitals is starting to create lots of jobs. Montana’s oil fields are beginning to lure ambitious youth as is Wyoming’s expanding shale operations. Denver is experiencing an energy boom and Xcel , the Midwest’s largest utility, is actually holding a job fair in Green Bay to attract workers from the closing Kewaunee nuclear station to its two Minnesota reactors. But the biggest lure may be the Canadian oil fields, which are attracting legions of skilled American workers.
Improvements in energy efficiency are yielding dividends as CleanTechnica reports they have saved New England $260 million. A study in New York City has revealed, however, that buildings that the Chrysler (above) and Empire State Buildings, two gems from the 1930s, are actually much more energy efficient than the highly praised “glass wall” buildings of the 1960s. The Seagram Building and Lever House, two architectural landmarks, got extremely low ratings. The San Francisco Chronicle also reports that retrofitting older buldings for energy efficiency is proving to be more economical than flashy new construction.
Duke Energy has bought two hydroelectric dams in Chile even as it absorbs $900 million in cost overruns at its new Edwardsport coal-fired plant. Calpine has elected to sell an older non-combined-cycle gas plant in South Carolina. Chevron announced two gas finds in Western Australia and Toshiba may be edging out of the nuclear business by offering to sell a portion of Westinghouse. And energy companies everywhere are speculating on who will succeed Lisa Jackson as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.