How bad can things get when energy prices go too high? Well, take a look at Bulgaria where the right-of-center government has been forced to resign and the country is being swamped by street protests (above) because electric bills are too high. Bulgaria gets most of its electricity from two Czech utilities and this has raised a xenophobic reaction. “Mafia Out of the Country” is one rallying cry, “Set Monopolies on Fire!” another. President Rosen Plevneliev appeared before crowds Sunday and tried to mollify them but that may not last long. Most of the protestors’ demands involve greater government involvement in the energy sector. Bulgaria now has the worst energy problems in Europe and that doesn’t appear to be about to change.
Before he is even officially named as President Obama’s pick for Secretary of Energy, MIT Professor Ernest Moniz is drawing fire from environmental groups for his support of natural gas fracking. (Those are the people who want natural gas to replace coal but don’t like drilling for it.) Moniz is also likely to draw fire for his support of nuclear power, although we haven’t gotten to that yet. Maybe the position should be renamed “Secretary in Charge of Preventing Energy.”
Solar energy may be achieving a breakthrough with the development of a new nano-rod technology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Instead of using semiconductors to convert sunlight to electron flows, the new idea is to knock the electrons off hydrogen atoms in water and create a flow of positively charged particles. The breakthorugh may not come in time for Silicon Valley investors, however, who are beginning to sour on solar.
Bill McKibben has found a new approach to opposing fossil fuel development – kick the oil industry off campus, or at least kick oil stocks out of their portfolios. McKibben has already found three takers – Unity College in Maine, Hampshire in Amherst, Mass, and Sterling College in Vermont – probably three of the most underfunded endowments in the country. It’s probably a good bet these colleges won’t be shutting down their power plants or banning cars from campus, however.
Finally, the EPA’s battle against coal continues as the New Mexico Power has agreed to shut down two of the four coal burners at Four Corners. These are the ones that set up a plume that can be seen from the moon. They’ll be replaced by natural gas. Geoffrey Russell, an Australian mathematician, argues on The Energy Collective that replacing coal with gas is a big waste of time, but don’t tell that to climate enthusiasts (except the ones that don’t want to frack). On the other hand, the EPA is delaying its efforts to fine utilities because of coal ash piles. And West Virginia is running a pathetic little backwater attempt to have coal regulations returned to the states. Good luck on that one.