WBEZ | energy http://www.wbez.org/tags/energy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The art and science behind the glow of Chicago's skyline http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/art-and-science-behind-glow-chicagos-skyline-111928 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/202093663&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>On a clear night in the summer of 2014, Mike Mesterharm hopped in his car and hit a southbound expressway toward downtown Chicago. He was happy to be back home; he&rsquo;d left the city at 18, for college and some other shenanigans. During that drive, eight years later, he was gazing at the Chicago skyline &mdash; his skyline. And he was thinking it looked different somehow. Brighter.</p><p>After careful consideration of whether something in him had changed, Mike decided, No, it&rsquo;s not just that he had been looking on the bright side lately &mdash; it must be something with the lights. So he sent Curious City this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How has energy efficient lighting affected the view of the Chicago skyline?</em></p><p>We found an answer for Mike, but the &ldquo;green energy angle&rdquo; is just a part of it. Expert after expert suggested that that story would not do justice to the big picture: Chicago&rsquo;s skyline&rsquo;s evolved over the years, and that Mike&rsquo;s question is born from a short snippet of that fascinating history, one that has affected how we see &mdash; and feel &mdash; one evening to the next. We&rsquo;ll run through the highlights of how that&rsquo;s been captured in art, of all places, and deal with Mike&rsquo;s question in the most recent timeframe.</p><p>And at the end of it all, we arrive at a crossroads that illuminates a big decision we&rsquo;ll soon have to make: What does Chicago <em>want </em>its skyline to look like?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A brief history of Chicago&rsquo;s skyline palette</span></p><p>The impact of city lights on city dwellers has affected Chicago&rsquo;s culture, too; to get the broad picture of change in the skyline, you can survey the city&rsquo;s literature and visual art.</p><p>Note the skyline&rsquo;s yellow tinge in this excerpt from &lsquo;<a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.poetryfoundation.org%2Fpoem%2F239566&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHiSA3B9-DNGydvoEkEKVs8tK-62g" target="_blank">The Windy City</a>&rsquo; [sections 1 and 6], penned by Chicago poet Carl Sandburg in 1916.</p><blockquote><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">So between the Great Lakes, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">The Grand De Tour, and the Grand Prairie, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">The living lighted skyscrapers stand,</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">Spotting the blue dusk with checkers of yellow,</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;streamers of smoke and silver, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;parallelograms of night-gray watchmen, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">Singing a soft moaning song: I am a child, a belonging. &nbsp;</span></p></blockquote><div><span style="line-height: 1.38;">Compare that to the light-polluted sky found in this excerpt from &lsquo;<a href="http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/239566" target="_blank">The Waste Land&rsquo;</a> (2010) by John Beer.</span></div><blockquote><p><span style="font-size:12px;">Orpheus walked down Milwaukee Avenue toward the Flatiron Building. He passed bodegas, taquerias, vintage stores. He met a hustler with a gas can. He walked past the anarchist kids. And he walked, and he walked, and he walked past the cabdrivers trading insults in Urdu, and he walked past convenience stores, and he walked past Latin Kings, and he walked past waitresses getting off night shifts, and he walked past jazz stars that nobody recognized, he walked past the students, the teachers, the cops. And the sky was the color of eggplant and tire fires, the sky was the field that resisted exhaustion.</span></p></blockquote><p>Lynne Warren, a curator at Chicago&rsquo;s Museum of Contemporary Art, says you can track Chicago&rsquo;s changing city lights in paintings, too.</p><p>In<em> Bronzeville At Night</em> (1949), Chicago artist Archibald Motley depicted the yellow incandescent street lights used across the city at the time. The lamps were sparse and dim enough that on clear nights, you could make out stars across the skyline.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bronzeville%20at%20night%20archibald%20motley.png" style="height: 494px; width: 620px;" title="A painting by Archibald J. Motley Jr. of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood lit by moonlight and incandescent street lights." /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Warren notes, too, that the warmth of incandescent light enhanced the &ldquo;natural&rdquo; colors of Chicago&rsquo;s nightscapes. For example, the red of the classic, Chicago brick on the building in the background is actually drawn out by the light. The tops of the cars on the left also reflect the &ldquo;truer blue&rdquo; of the Chicago night sky.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/richard-florsheim-jet-landings.jpg" style="float: right; height: 262px; width: 350px;" title="Richard Florsheim's 'Jet Landings' pictures the blue-green glow of Chicago street lights in the 1960s (Courtesy artnet.com)" />A decade or so after Motley&rsquo;s Bronzeville painting was complete, though, the city swapped out incandescents for brighter bulbs that gave off a green cast. The 1960s were the era of mercury vapor lights, and, <a href="https://chicagohistorytoday.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/old-street-lights/" target="_blank">by some accounts</a>, they cast a sci-fi feel across the city.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">By the end of the 1970s, just about all of Chicago&rsquo;s streetlights were replaced yet again, but this time with sodium vapor lights, which glow with a deep orange. Or, like orbs the color of tire fires, if you will.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Chicago&rsquo;s still got a lot of these lamps, and they dominated the city during the &#39;90s, when our question-asker, Mike Mesterharm, was a kid.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Warren says that gold glow repeats over and over in depictions of Chicago&rsquo;s skyline by Roger Brown, an influential painter during the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Imagists" target="_blank">Chicago Imagists movement</a>. His piece <em>Entry of Christ into Chicago in 1976</em> (1976) depicts the Hancock Tower, the Aon Center and the Sears Tower (today&rsquo;s Willis Tower) being set against a light-polluted, sodium vapor sky.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Brown-jesus.jpg" style="height: 347px; width: 620px;" title="Chicago Imagists painter Roger Brown's depiction of the Chicago skyline, titled 'The Entry of Christ into Chicago in 1976.' (Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>All that&rsquo;s to say, Mike Mesterharm&rsquo;s question comes at a bit of a well-lit crossroads; recent changes to Chicago&rsquo;s lit environment are again affecting its color palette. Warren says she&rsquo;s beginning to consider Brown&rsquo;s work as historical &mdash; like she would <a href="http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111628" target="_blank">Edward Hopper&rsquo;s <em>Nighthawks</em></a> or Motley&rsquo;s <em>Bronzeville At Night</em> &mdash; because, like Mike, she&rsquo;s noticed the gradual visual exodus of the sodium vapor light.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Out with the gold, in with the blue</span></p><p>George Malek, director of ComEd&rsquo;s energy efficiency program, confirms sodium vapor lighting &mdash; and its tell-tale gold glow &mdash; is on its way out. And, he says, the transformation is driven by a city-wide movement toward efficient lighting, something that Mike had suspected when he pitched us his question.</p><p>Malek says during the &lsquo;90s, manufacturers and engineers developed ways to wring the same amount of light (if not more of it) from the same amount of power. The improvements, he says, came with indoor fluorescent lights used in office buildings and commercial businesses. Previously, fluorescents ran on magnetic ballasts (the things that make a lamp turn on), but newer, electronic ballasts could run on 60 percent of the energy previously needed. Over time, Malek says, the standard width of fluorescent tubes got thinner and thinner, but they emitted more and more light.</p><p>With these successes in hand, Malek says, companies like ComEd saw potential for energy efficiency on a larger scale.</p><p>In 2008 ComEd launched <a href="https://www.comed.com/business-savings/programs-incentives/Pages/lighting.aspx" target="_blank">a series of initiatives</a> to help businesses and residents cut their energy consumption &mdash; and costs &mdash; across the board. Malek says the vast majority of requests from commercial businesses were for replacing lighting systems. He says that&rsquo;s still the case.</p><p>Malek thinks our question-asker, Mike Mesterharm, is on to something when it comes to the Chicago skyline getting brighter.</p><p>&ldquo;I bet you there&rsquo;s more lumens at this point in the skyline,&rdquo; Malek says. &ldquo;I would think it&rsquo;s brighter.&rdquo;</p><p>Malek points out, though, that while the skyline&rsquo;s getting brighter in terms of lumens (a measurement of visible light), it&rsquo;s also getting brighter where you actually <em>need</em> it to be bright. That&rsquo;s because of the increasing accessibility of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), a lighting technology that&rsquo;s more directional and brighter than their sodium vapor predecessors.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/19ejvmq0elq8gjpg%20led%20lights%20hoover%20street%20courtesy.jpg" style="height: 352px; width: 620px;" title="An example of the color differences in sodium vapor lighting, left, versus LED lighting, right, on a residential street in Los Angeles. (Courtesy Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting) " /></div><p>LEDs are also &ldquo;cooler&rdquo; on the color spectrum &nbsp;than sodium vapor lights, so they give off a bluer hue, unless they&rsquo;re somehow manipulated. <a href="http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/why-blue-led-worth-nobel-prize" target="_blank">Advancements in LED color rendering</a> are happening quickly, though, Malek points out. So while the skyline may be brighter overall because of them, it&rsquo;s hard to predict long-term changes in the skyline&rsquo;s color.</p><p>Malek says ComEd&rsquo;s already experimenting with 800 LED streetlights in the Chicago suburbs of Lombard and Bensenville. The lights are not only more energy efficient, he says, but they&rsquo;re also equipped with &ldquo;smart technology.&rdquo; Applications could include dimming lights in sync with sunrise and sunset, or turning them off completely when people want to better appreciate Fourth of July fireworks displays. In emergency situations, they could be isolated to flash in areas that need attention by police or medics. (For better or for worse, it&rsquo;s possible that in the near future, your alderman or other local rep could control your neighborhood&rsquo;s street lights from an iPad.)</p><p>Malek can&rsquo;t say for sure whether Chicago will adopt the same fixture technology, but he predicts it will arrive someday, regardless of energy savings.</p><p>And if you think that&rsquo;s going to change the view of a skyline, we&rsquo;ve only scratched the surface.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">New creative powers</span></p><p>Light as a utility is one thing, but light as an aesthetic or artistic choice is another. And as LED technology swarms the light market, Chicago, like other cities, will have more choices about what kind of lights to buy and how to use them. That&rsquo;s true for your home, your neighborhood, and the entire Chicago skyline.</p><p>Changes in the skyline could be hard to ignore.</p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" mozallowfullscreen="" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/62936054?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="620"></iframe><p>Take what&rsquo;s happened at the Intercontinental Miami. In 2013 the hotel installed a 19-story LED installation of a silhouetted woman dancing on the side of its building (and then offered <a href="http://miami.curbed.com/archives/2013/01/11/intercontinental-hotel.php" target="_blank">this explanation</a>). The 47-floor iconic Miami Tower in the heart of downtown is now also a <a href="http://www.ledsource.com/project/miami-tower/" target="_blank">slate for light displays that look like neon fish</a> &mdash; with the capability of 16 million color combinations.</p><p>In 2014 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dps/ContractAdministration/Specs/2014/Spec124831Exhibit1_Part1.pdf" target="_blank"> launched an international call for proposals</a> to have designers rethink the city&rsquo;s &ldquo;Lighting Framework Plan.&rdquo; According to the invitation, the city wants &ldquo;unique and revolutionary&rdquo; lighting concepts to decorate some of the most &ldquo;important and visible public places in Chicago.&rdquo; An invitation for proposals provides designers with suggestions, including photo displays cast onto the Merchandise Mart:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dps/ContractAdministration/Specs/2014/Spec124831Exhibit1_Part1.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/proposal screenshot.PNG" style="height: 401px; width: 620px;" title="(Source: City of Chicago.)" /></a></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.schulershook.com/" target="_blank">Schuler Shook</a> lighting designer Jim Baney points out that LEDs can be used in subtle ways, but he&rsquo;s seen projects get carried away, too. From his vantage, lighting in Chicago should accompany presentation of architecture.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;Just because we have the ability with LEDs to select from any number of different colors and to mix those colors to make other colors, doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean that we should all the time do that,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I think with control comes responsibility and comes the need for somebody to really have knowledge.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size:22px;">Another choice: The case to be made for stars</span></div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/audrey.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Audrey Fischer, President of Chicago's Astronomical Society. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">With this much power in our hands to light &nbsp;the world as much as we want (and however we want), there is a case to made for a different strategy for Chicago&rsquo;s future skyline: restraint.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Audrey Fischer, President of Chicago&rsquo;s Astronomical Society and an advocate for dark skies, wants the city to invest in light fixtures that only shine downward, and bulbs that don&rsquo;t burn quite so bright, or so blue.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;In my mind a &lsquo;green&rsquo; city like Chicago ... ought to have a midnight blue sky, star-studded with the milky way,&rdquo; she says.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">If the case for starlight&rsquo;s natural beauty doesn&rsquo;t move you, Fischer points to a litany of problems associated with irresponsible lighting (aka, light pollution). For starters, it <a href="http://www.birdmonitors.net/LightsOut.php" target="_blank">screws up bird migratory paths</a> and <a href="http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/bats_and_lighting.html" target="_blank">disrupts roosting by local bat populations</a>. Even the eco-friendliest of lights can <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side" target="_blank">screw up our own internal clocks</a> as well. And that&rsquo;s apart from evidence that the wrong lighting can <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002207/" target="_blank">increase the risk of breast cancer</a>, <a href="http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/05/29/aje.kwu117.short" target="_blank">obesity</a>, and <a href="http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/melatonin-and-sleep" target="_blank">sleep disorders</a>. (For an extensive look on issues regarding blue-rich, white outdoor lighting, see <a href="http://www.darksky.org/assets/documents/Reports/IDA-Blue-Rich-Light-White-Paper.pdf" target="_blank">this report by the International Dark-Sky Association</a>).</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Fischer says Chicago is the most light-polluted city in the world, referencing <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/ngeo_1300_NOV11_auproof2.pdf" target="_blank">a study by researcher Harald Stark at the University of Colorado</a>. This is kind of ironic, given that in the early 20th century Edwin Hubble (of Hubble telescope fame) made some of <a href="https://cosmology.carnegiescience.edu/timeline/1929" target="_blank">his most important scientific discoveries</a> (like the fact that the universe is expanding) with a degree in mathematics and astronomy from the University of Chicago. Now, you can hardly even see starlight if you&#39;re gazing within the city limits.</div><div><p><a href="http://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/nature/lightscape.htm" target="_blank">A study by the National Park Service estimates</a> that by 2025, dark skies will be an &ldquo;extinct phenomena&rdquo; in the continental United States due to light pollution.</p><p>To people like Fischer, that&rsquo;s a pretty high cost.</p><p>&ldquo;Starlight is the one thing that connects all nationalities across this planet,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Theres a chance that we&rsquo;re going to lose that forever.&rdquo;</p><p>Here&rsquo;s a taste of what we&rsquo;re missing.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Chi1h5.jpg" style="height: 207px; width: 620px;" title="The Chicago sky as it could be without light pollution showing the Milky Way and numerous stars. (Composite image by Adler photographer, Craig Stillwell, and Adler astronomer, Larry Ciupik, based on images by Craig Stillwell and Wei-Hao Wang)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/mike_0.jpg" style="float: right; height: 213px; width: 300px;" title="(WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">About our question-asker</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Mike Mesterharm is from Chicago, but he left the city at 18 to attend college. He says he didn&rsquo;t pay much attention to things like street lights or skyline changes. But come to think of it, he says, he didn&rsquo;t pay much attention to <em>anything</em> at 18.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Now, at 28, Mike says he&rsquo;s a bit more observant about his environment. In fact, he says his whole concept of the environment has expanded.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;Our environment isn&rsquo;t simply the hard matter,&rdquo; Mike says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the things that exist around that. It&rsquo;s the light, it&rsquo;s the sound.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;You know, I wouldn&rsquo;t have asked this question at 18. If anything, I find it reassuring that maybe if the skyline&rsquo;s changed and I&rsquo;m noticing it, that&rsquo;s a good thing. And if it hasn&rsquo;t changed &hellip; now I&rsquo;m paying attention.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Logan Jaffe is Curious City&rsquo;s multimedia producer. Follow her on twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">@loganjaffe</a>.</em></div></div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 22 Apr 2015 17:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/art-and-science-behind-glow-chicagos-skyline-111928 With quakes spiking, oil industry is under the microscope in Oklahoma http://www.wbez.org/news/science/quakes-spiking-oil-industry-under-microscope-oklahoma-111572 <p><p>Out on Oklahoma&#39;s flat prairie, Medford, population about 900, is the kind of place where people give directions from the four-way stop in the middle of town.</p><p>It seems pretty sedate, but it&#39;s not. &quot;We are shaking all the time,&quot; says Dea Mandevill, the city manager. &quot;All the time.&quot;</p><p>The afternoon I stopped by, Mandevill says two quakes had already rumbled through Medford.</p><p>&quot;Light day,&quot; she laughs. But, she adds, &quot;the day&#39;s not over yet; we still have several more hours.&quot;</p><p>Mandevill may be laughing it off, but Austin Holland, the state seismologist, isn&#39;t.</p><p>&quot;I certainly regret starting smoking again, but there are some days when nicotine and coffee are about what get me through the day,&quot; he says. &quot;As far as we know, this has never happened before.&quot;</p><p>Holland says that Oklahoma used to have, on average, one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. Now the state is averaging two or three a day. There were more magnitude 3 or greater tremors here last year than anywhere else in the continental United States, and the unprecedented spike in earthquakes has intensified.</p><p>Holland suspects that modern oil production techniques are triggering the jump in quakes. A few years back, companies figured out how to drill sideways through layers of shale, then break, or frack, the rock, releasing a torrent of oil.</p><p>The combination of fracking and horizontal drilling sparked a massive oil boom here, but the technique produces much more water than oil &mdash; tens of billions of gallons of very salty, toxic water. The only economical way to dispose of it, Holland says, is to force it deep into the earth.</p><p>&quot;That pressure acts as a lubricant,&quot; he says. &quot;It&#39;s not actually the water itself lubricating, but the pressure, and the best way to think about that is an air hockey table,&quot; with huge slabs of rock as the pucks.</p><p>Holland says injecting water near faults can deliver just enough lubricating pressure to set them in motion. It&#39;s called &quot;induced seismicity.&quot;</p><p>The Prague earthquake hit the state four years ago. At magnitude 5.6, it was the strongest ever recorded in Oklahoma.</p><p>&quot;It was coming from everywhere &mdash; I mean the walls, the roof,&quot; says Ryan Ladra, standing in his parents&#39; battered house. &quot;When it hit, it hit so violent and hard that we thought the house was coming down on top of us.&quot;</p><p>The Ladras&#39; stone chimney collapsed, striking his mom, Sandra, who is suing companies that ran nearby wastewater injection wells.</p><p>But Kim Hatfield of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association says he&#39;s not convinced there&#39;s a connection. He says oil companies have been pumping brine down wastewater injection wells for decades. More than 3,200 of the wells dot the state.</p><p>&quot;You&#39;re going to find out that all tornadoes are close to injection wells as well,&quot; he says. &quot;If a meteor strikes the state of Oklahoma, I&#39;m going to guarantee it&#39;s going to be close to an injection well.&quot;</p><p>Still, evidence linking injection wells to earthquakes is building. And though oil industry wields enormous clout in Oklahoma, the agency regulating it is ramping up.</p><p>Matt Skinner, public information manager for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, says that the agency has never denied a permit for a disposal well, but it has recently closed a few bad ones and is scrutinizing applications for new wells like never before.</p><p>&quot;When we say we&#39;re doing everything we can, what we&#39;re really saying is, we&#39;re doing everything we know, today,&quot; Skinner says. &quot;Tomorrow, we may know something more.&quot;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/dea_medford-61167ff8f4cededddab27c9a2a9e68834208ce8b-s400-c85.jpg" style="float: left; height: 209px; width: 280px;" title="Dea Mandevill, city manager of Medford, Okla., says the earthquakes are worth all the benefits the oil boom has brought: a new park, police cars, construction equipment and ambulances. (Frank Morris/KCUR)" />Mandevill says she worries about an earthquake rupturing the big natural gas pipeline here &mdash; but then beams while looking out over the new park the city recently built with oil boom tax money.</p><p>&quot;We have a new swimming pool, splash pad, new sidewalks and a new basketball/tennis court,&quot; she says.</p><p>It illustrates the complex relationship between oil and earthquakes in Oklahoma.</p><p>&quot;You put up with a few things falling off your walls, a few nights being woken up in the middle of the night with the shakes,&quot; she says. &quot;Overall it&#39;s been good. I&#39;ll take the earthquakes for all the benefits that Medford&#39;s had so far.&quot;</p><p>But those benefits are starting to sag a little. With oil prices low, companies are laying off workers. On the bright side, less oil coming out of the ground means less wastewater going back down deep into it, and just possibly, fewer earthquakes.</p></p> Tue, 17 Feb 2015 08:36:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/quakes-spiking-oil-industry-under-microscope-oklahoma-111572 EcoMyths: 4 Surprising Ways to Make Your Wood Fires Eco-Friendly http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-4-surprising-ways-make-your-wood-fires-eco-friendly-111192 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/EcoMyths-Fireplace.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-41f5a840-16e6-64f1-98a5-c3c19addb0e0">As the winter chill starts to descend on Chicago, many are gathering their wood kindling. But how energy-efficient and sustainable is wood-burning? For our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths">EcoMyths segment</a>, we&rsquo;ll get the answer from Kate Sackman of <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/">EcoMyths Alliance</a> and her guest, Craig Wright, director of the New Hampshire Air Resources Agency.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/178625545&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></span></p><div><u>4 Surprising Ways to Make Your Wood Fires Eco-Friendly</u></div><p>Quick &ndash; the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word fireplace.&nbsp; Cozy?&nbsp; Yeah. It just makes you want to pull up a chair and settle in wrapped in a nubby blanket with your honey.</p><p>That said, you may have also noticed you might need that nubby blanket, because in a standard fireplace, the fire creates a cool draft as most of the warmth is sucked out through the chimney. Not to mention the sooty smoke that fills the house while you-know-who gets the fire started. Idyllic? Not so much.&nbsp; So EcoMyths readers want to know: how do you make fireplaces and wood stoves burn warm and clean &ndash; and eco-friendly too?</p><p>This month on Worldview&rsquo;s EcoMyths segment, we decided to explore whether burning wood in the winter is a naturally green alternative. So we looked to New Hampshire, where both wood stoves and sustainable forests are an integral part of the culture.&nbsp; Jerome McDonnell and I talked with air quality expert, Craig Wright, Director of <a href="http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/air/" target="_blank">New Hampshire&rsquo;s Air Resources Agency</a>.&nbsp; Craig shared with us that there are both healthy and not-so-healthy ways to use fire-burning to stay warm.&nbsp; Not-so-healthy ways include: using green or wet wood in the fireplace because it produces a lot of airborne ash, which can cause respiratory problems for those who breathe it.&nbsp; Other risky, polluting options include burning wood in inefficient, non-EPA wood stoves.</p><p><strong>So how do we enjoy our cozy fireplaces and still keep the air around us clean?&nbsp; Here are Craig&rsquo;s top 4 recommendations on making your fires eco-friendly:</strong></p><p>1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <u>Burn Seasoned Hardwoods</u>. Fires made from, &ldquo;seasoned&rdquo; split wood burn hotter, creating less smoke and ash.&nbsp; Seasoning wood requires allowing split wood to dry for at least 6-12 months.&nbsp; To tell if wood is dry enough, look for cracks in the grain at the end of the logs.&nbsp;</p><p>2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <u>Use Wood from Sustainable Forests</u>. Forests that are actively managed through cutting and replanting are more bio diverse and healthier than woodlands that are left to fend for themselves.&nbsp; Craig notes that buying wood harvested from sustainable forests helps ensure that our forests will continue to be renewed, providing better ecological functioning (e.g. cleaning the air we breathe) and supporting the local economy.&nbsp; Wood is one of the few sources of energy that is renewable.&nbsp; It is also considered by the EPA to be a carbon neutral fuel because trees take in as much C02 while growing as they naturally release after they fall to the forest floor and decay (or are burned).</p><p>3.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <u>For Heating Your Home with Wood, Use an EPA-Certified Stove</u>. EPA-certified stoves use only about 1/3 as much wood and also retain more heat in your home. In addition, they emit about half as much pollution compared to old, non-certified wood stoves. When purchasing a new stove, look for the EPA certified label on the back.&nbsp; Your fireplace can also be lined with an EPA-certified liner enabling more of the fire&rsquo;s heat to make your living room cozy.</p><p>4.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <u>Use Wood Pellet Stoves</u>. Last, but certainly not least, wood pellet stoves use small, compressed nuggets of wood waste and two-stage combustion to burn hot and clean.&nbsp; According to the EPA and Craig, wood pellet stoves are the most efficient wood stoves available.</p><p>For a deeper dive, click here <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/11/building-a-fire-is-by-nature-eco-friendly-heat/">EcoMyth: Building a Fire Is Eco-Friendly by Nature</a>.</p></p> Tue, 25 Nov 2014 09:57:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-4-surprising-ways-make-your-wood-fires-eco-friendly-111192 Mexico opens energy sector to investment http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-08-28/mexico-opens-energy-sector-investment-110722 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP91881053942.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>After 75 years of government control of its gas and oil resources, Mexico is opening its energy sector to foreign investment. We&#39;ll find out how this will impact the Mexican economy.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-mexico-opens-energy-sector-to-investment/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-mexico-opens-energy-sector-to-investment.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-mexico-opens-energy-sector-to-investment" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Mexico opens energy sector to investment" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-08-28/mexico-opens-energy-sector-investment-110722 U.N. addresses Vatican handling of child sex abuse cases http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-02-10/un-addresses-vatican-handling-child-sex-abuse-cases-109676 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/(AP PhotoAlessandra Tarantino)2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The United Nations has issued a report which says the Vatican, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is responsible for implementing its mandate. The report says the Vatican has not done enough to protect children from abuse. We&#39;ll discuss the findings.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-the-u-n-addresses-vatican-handling-of-se/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-the-u-n-addresses-vatican-handling-of-se.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-the-u-n-addresses-vatican-handling-of-se" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: U.N. addresses Vatican handling of child sex abuse cases " on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 10 Feb 2014 10:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-02-10/un-addresses-vatican-handling-child-sex-abuse-cases-109676 Political crisis in Egypt, Canada as a petrostate, U.S. policy in Yemen and plants for a cause http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-08-15/political-crisis-egypt-canada-petrostate-us-policy-yemen-and-plants <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP115224910253.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>President Obama issues a statement on Egypt. The U.S. embassy in Yemen remains shut after a global terror alert, and a family in Woodstock raises money for a cause by selling plants and crafts.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F105596737&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-canada-as-a-petrostate-u-s-policy-in-yem.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-canada-as-a-petrostate-u-s-policy-in-yem" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Political crisis in Egypt, Canada as a petrostate, U.S. policy in Yemen and plants for a cause" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p></p> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 11:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-08-15/political-crisis-egypt-canada-petrostate-us-policy-yemen-and-plants Ten years after historic blackout, are we better off? http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/ten-years-after-historic-blackout-are-we-better-108387 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Grid MAIN THUMBNAIL_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">August 14, 2003 Mike Kormos was coming home from a conference when he got a call.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They said something had happened and I needed to report to the office as soon as possible,&rdquo; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">Kormos rushed to his offices at <a href="http://www.pjm.com/about-pjm.aspx">PJM </a>where he is Executive Vice President of Operations, overseeing part of the electrical grid. Shortly after he got to the office, one of the largest blackouts in history cascaded across the Northeast &nbsp;and Midwest. Over 50 million people lost power in both the U.S. and Canada, including Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and New York. Some would be without power for two days. The event contributed to 11 deaths and cost between<a href="http://www.elcon.org/Documents/EconomicImpactsOfAugust2003Blackout.pdf">&nbsp;$4 and 8 billion.</a></p><p dir="ltr">Some people&rsquo;s power wouldn&#39;t return until two days later. The cause of the outage was complicated but largely due to infrastructure invented in the era of Thomas Edison.</p><p dir="ltr">The age of the system is why this week, the Obama administration called for increased spending to upgrade the nation&rsquo;s electric power system. There was a time shortly after 9/11, that some thought terrorist activity would make us most vulnerable to major blackouts.</p><p dir="ltr">Because the brownout of 2003 was a few years after 9/11, and blackouts on the big transmission grid are rare, Kormos and his team thought this outage might be a case of terrorism. But later they found out the &nbsp;blackout was partially the fault of another big T.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Trees had interfered with some of the lines and the lines ended up basically tripping,&rdquo; explained Kormos.</p><p dir="ltr">It may seem strange that such a simple thing could contribute to one of the biggest blackouts in history, but this was a case of a domino effect. &nbsp;An Ohio electric company hadn&#39;t trimmed its trees, and so when heavy wires began to droop, they touched the top of branches and tripped. That put extra energy on to other lines, which in turn also drooped under heavier loads and hit trees.</p><p dir="ltr">And Kormos says, there was another big trouble-causing T: tools.</p><p dir="ltr">To understand their importance, you first have to learn how the grid works.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>UNDERSTANDING THE GRID</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://boingboing.net/author/maggie_koerth-baker">Maggie Koerth-Baker</a> is a science columnist and author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0470876255/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=boingbonet-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0470876255">Before The Lights go Out.</a> She says we use more energy and produce more emissions through electricity than we do with anything else, including transportation. &nbsp;But because the electrical grid is complicated, we don&rsquo;t think about it as much.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Electricity is like these little elves that live in the walls and you forget that there is all this infrastructure in the background,&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s why she wants to make sure folks understand the grid.</p><p>&ldquo;I like to say it&rsquo;s like a lazy river at a water park. It has to move along at a constant speed which is analogous to frequency and it has to move along at a constant depth, which is analogous to what engineers call voltage.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">All along this river are drains which are like people using energy. There are also faucets, filling up the river, that&rsquo;s like companies making energy.</p><p>&ldquo;And if that [balance] gets out of whack by even fractions of a percent, you get blackouts,&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The 2003 blackout was caused by that imbalance between energy supply and demand. That happened for a bunch of reasons, like those trees. But one of the biggest problems is that energy providers couldn&rsquo;t see the problem-- they didn&rsquo;t have the tools to get a picture of where that lazy river had blockages, or overflows, and where they could reroute it.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CHANGES IN THE GRID</strong></p><p dir="ltr">A lot has changed in the 10 years since the blackout. New technology, like p<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phasor_measurement_unit">hasor measurement units (PMUs)</a>, give more accurate pictures of what happens on the grid. Kormos compares what they had in 2003 to an x-ray, and what they have today, to an MRI. There are also new regulations as a result of the blackout, such as high fees for not trimming trees and mandatory training. Experts say all that means blackouts on the scale of 2003 are less likely today. But they also say we need to be doing a lot more to be ready for the future.</p><p dir="ltr">John Estey is the Executive Chair at <a href="http://www.sandc.com/">S&amp;C Electric Company,</a> a business that makes energy products to build smart grids.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A smart grid is the use of intelligent controls, software communication and automation to help improve the reliability and the efficiency of the delivery of electricity,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a grid with a lot of brains.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">To show me what that means, Estey takes me to big warehouse room with a miniature city &nbsp;inside it. The city has real lights and electrical wires. But this isn&rsquo;t just any city, it&rsquo;s a city that has upgraded to a smart grid.</p><p dir="ltr">Estey points to little boxes on top of the electrical poles and explains they are smart devices. Each of the boxes takes measurements and tells the other devices how much energy they are carrying, if there are any problems, and how energy might be rerouted.</p><p dir="ltr">For the sake of demonstration, the warehouse has a big switch that mimics the power of God. It can short-circuit wires or take an entire energy plant offline. Estey tells a colleague to pretend that someone using a backhoe hit an underground electrical wire. The system shuts down the area around the severed wire, so dangerous electricity isn&rsquo;t running through it. Then the power automatically routes around the problem so people in surrounding areas don&rsquo;t lose their power.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The streets stayed on through the whole thing,&rdquo; Estey declared proudly.</p><p dir="ltr">In an old grid, there wouldn&rsquo;t be any smart boxes to locate the problem. The company would have to wait until people called in to report it. Then they&rsquo;d drive around just looking for the downed wire. Once they found it, they&rsquo;d have to reroute each switch manually. That can take hours, instead of seconds and leave thousands, instead of hundreds, without electricity.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>MOVING THE GRID FORWARD</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://boingboing.net/author/maggie_koerth-baker">Maggie Koerth-Baker</a> says in addition to stopping blackouts, the way we updated the grid will determine what we can do over the next 30 years in terms of all kinds of energy infrastructure, like using renewables. So what&rsquo;s in the way?</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We [need to] invest $8 billion a year to make the grid stronger. $17-20 billion dollars to make it smarter,&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.</p><p dir="ltr">That sounds like a lot of money. But experts estimate that blackouts cost U.S. customers $<a href="http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/REPORT%20lbnl%20-%2058164.pdf">79 billion each yea</a>r and savings with a smart grid could be as high as $<a href="http://tli.umn.edu/blog/security-technology/u-s-electrical-grid-gets-less-reliable-as-outages-increase-and-rd-decreases/">49 billion a year.</a></p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;But because we don&rsquo;t have the incentives in place for anybody to be thinking about and benefiting financially from &nbsp;those long term changes, there is nobody really paying attention to them&rdquo; said Koerth-Baker.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, smart grids would make it easier for people to add solar panels to their houses. They could produce energy for themselves, but also put it back on the grid or provide energy to their neighbors. But why would a company that makes money selling energy, pay to build something that might lower their profits?</p><p dir="ltr">That&#39;s just one of many questions regulators across the country are working to solve. Next in the series Flipping the Switch, we&rsquo;ll explore some of the political and social factors that are helping and hindering improvements to our current electrical grid.</p><p><br /><em>Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/shannon_h">@shannon_h</a></em></p></p> Tue, 13 Aug 2013 07:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/ten-years-after-historic-blackout-are-we-better-108387 Chicago electricity and fracking: An update http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130#janice">this story has been updated</a> with our question-asker&#39;s progress.&nbsp;</em></p><p>A few weeks back, we looked at this question from Curious Citizen Janice Thomson:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s municipal electricity aggregation deal (approved by voters in 2012) <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">left Janice and other proponents of renewable energy feeling duped</a>, as the city&rsquo;s pledge to eliminate coal from its fuel mix didn&rsquo;t necessarily translate into a big push for renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. &nbsp;</p><p>When it comes to fracking (technically &ldquo;high-volume hydraulic fracturing&rdquo;), though, here are the takeaways from our first answer: &nbsp;</p><ul><li><p>Chicago&rsquo;s new energy supplier, Integrys, has a portfolio that is &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas.</p></li><li><p>In 2012, 40 percent of the nation&#39;s natural gas production came from shale formations, and that percentage is rising. A good deal of that new production is derived from fracking, which is being <a href="http://phys.org/news/2013-05-fracking-ground.html">scrutinized as a possible source of groundwater contamination</a>.</p></li><li><p>At least some of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is generated from natural gas derived via fracking, but it&rsquo;s impossible to know exactly how much because the nation&rsquo;s gas supply is not divided by fracked and conventional sources.</p></li></ul><p>But shortly after <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">our story</a> came out, Chicago&rsquo;s City Hall announced that&nbsp;the electricity aggregation deal will <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">double the city&rsquo;s share of wind power to 5 percent of the total</a>, and even tied that directly to two downstate wind farms. But it&rsquo;s also clear that the deal largely traded one fossil fuel for another; yes, the city would stop using coal to supply electricity and 5 percent will come from wind, but nearly all of the rest (about 95 percent) will be derived from burning natural gas.</p><p>So, what &mdash; if anything &mdash; changes when it comes to answering Janice&#39;s question?</p><p><strong>More power from PA, U.S.A &nbsp;</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Capture4.GIF" style="float: right; margin: 5px; height: 139px; width: 250px;" title="Janice Thomson's question inspired our survey on energy choices. A link on the top left of this post leads you there. You can see results there, too. " />Integrys, the city&rsquo;s new energy supplier, will need to make sure Chicago has enough non-coal electricity on hand to meet demand. To do that, the company&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">tapped a previously underused natural gas power plant</a> in Pennsylvania. <a href="http://www.nexteraenergyresources.com/content/where/portfolio/pdf/Marcus_Hook.pdf/">The Marcus Hook power station</a>, located about 20 miles south of Philadelphia, is set to meet the 95 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity supply not coming from Illinois wind.</p><p>As Marcus Hook revs up to provide the equivalent of most of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity needs, should Janice be more or less concerned about fracking?</p><p>Unfortunately, plant owner NextEra Energy Resources would not disclose the source of its natural gas, but nationally about a third of domestically produced natural gas is obtained through fracking &mdash; a number expected to top 50 percent by 2035, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Likewise Pennsylvania&rsquo;s natural gas resources are predominantly obtained via fracking, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean Marcus Hook is necessarily buying Pennsylvania gas. The state <a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=2870">accounts for almost two-thirds</a> of northeast natural gas production, however, and 80 percent of that is from fracking.</p><p>Without other definitive sources available, though, we&rsquo;re right back where we started: It&rsquo;s extremely likely that some of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is now coming from natural gas derived from fracking, but we can&rsquo;t be precise with the amount.</p><p><strong>Are there other benefits to report?</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/janice%20thomson_2.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 160px; width: 250px;" title="Janice Thomson asked Curious City about natural gas and its relationship to Chicago's electricity aggregation contract. (Photo courtesy of Janice Thomson)" />Janice&rsquo;s question is about fracking, but she&rsquo;s also interested in sustainability in general, and judging from responses we&rsquo;ve gotten to our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">survey on energy choices</a>, plenty of other people are interested, too.</p><p>One source on this is a <a href="http://www.perfectpowerinstitute.org/sites/default/files/Chicago%20CCA%20Preliminary%20Report.pdf">report by the Illinois Institute of Technology&rsquo;s Perfect Power Institute</a>.</p><p>PPI laid out at least three points that get into whether there&rsquo;s improvement. On the side of air quality, the report suggests Chicago&rsquo;s electricity aggregation deal, including the new provision for local wind power and natural gas, reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 98 percent. NOx, as it&rsquo;s called, is a known contributor to local ozone pollution as well as acid rain. &nbsp;</p><p>The report also suggests the city&rsquo;s electricity aggregation deal will conserve water that&rsquo;s used in the process of making electricity &mdash; the equivalent of the annual consumption of about 12,500 households. These calculations were made using data Marcus Hook reported to the federal government.</p><p><strong>The carbon question</strong></p><p>But what about climate change? The bottom line for the city&rsquo;s carbon footprint is complicated. Before Chicago ratepayers voted to let the city buy electricity in bulk on their behalf, about 40 percent of their power came from coal-fired power plants. Another one third came from nuclear &mdash; a much larger share than is typical, due to Illinois&rsquo; relatively high number of nuclear power plants. Except when Marcus Hook is down due outages, Integrys will be buying little nuclear power on Chicago&rsquo;s behalf. Essentially zero-carbon energy, nuclear power has a very small greenhouse gas footprint. By comparison, coal makes a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions per unit of power produced.</p><p>The PPI report said that the city&rsquo;s switch from a combo of coal and nuclear to (mostly) natural gas led to a 16 percent reduction in carbon emissions. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If it [the sources the deal replaced] had been all coal,&rdquo; said the Perfect Power Institute&rsquo;s John Kelly, &ldquo;we would have been talking about easily more than a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions.&rdquo;</p><p>Kelly added that the city&rsquo;s power supply emissions report will be updated every year to reflect the Marcus Hook plant&rsquo;s performance.</p><p>The 16 percent reduction figure, though, depends on methane leakage figures that are the subject of scientific debate. Gas burns much more cleanly at the power plant than coal. But while leakage during combustion gets attention, not as much is known about greenhouse gas leakage during the delivery and processing of natural gas &mdash; activities that have ballooned in recent years as a result of the U.S. shale gas boom.</p><p>As the PPI report itself mentions, &ldquo;Methane escapes in the harvesting of natural gas from wells, during the processing that cleans it up for use, and from distributing it through the pipeline transmission networks. CO2 also leaks or is generated in gas production, processing and delivery systems.&rdquo; Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.</p><p>The PPI study was actually rare among such studies in its attention to the issue of methane leakage. Nationally the boom in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has raised the issue of methane leakage, as national energy policy proposals attempt to reconcile an increase in domestic fossil fuel production with the potentially conflicting goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.</p><p>Steven Stengel, a spokesman for the company, said the piping that supplies Marcus Hook with gas &ldquo;doesn&rsquo;t come anywhere near&rdquo; the EPA&rsquo;s reporting requirement threshold of 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Perfect Power Institute&rsquo;s calculation for greenhouse gas emissions from methane leakage, therefore, came from national averages for so-called fugitive emissions.</p><p>&ldquo;EPA has really cracked down on the gas industry about letting the methane leak,&rdquo; said PPI&rsquo;s John Kelly. &ldquo;Over the last two years these numbers have come down.&rdquo;</p><p>Earlier this year<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/epa-rolls-back-methane-emissions-natural-gas-106891"> EPA revised down its estimate of methane emissions from natural gas between 1990 and 2010</a> to reflect changing industry practices. The Marcus Hook plant&rsquo;s design, for example, is more efficient than older models, which let a substantial portion of gas get through.</p><p><strong>Other options</strong></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth remembering that Janice&rsquo;s original question was about the fuel mix for Chicagoans&rsquo; default electricity provider. As we mention in our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">survey post</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">original answer</a>, though, there are alternative suppliers. The bad news is that the options are sometimes hard to compare with one another or, as is the case with our look into Integrys&rsquo; portfolio, data are limited and can&rsquo;t illuminate every question we&rsquo;d have about those choices.</p><p><strong>An update from Janice<a name="janice"></a></strong></p><p>Our intrepid question-asker Janice decided to investigate the options further. We thought folks interested in alternative energy supply would be curious to know what she found. Here&#39;s an update from Janice on August 22, 2013. &nbsp;</p><p><em>As promised, I did investigate alternative electricity suppliers that would purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) on my behalf. The only supplier I could find that purchases RECs from Illinois was Viridian Energy. Most of the others seem to purchase RECs from wind farms in other states, especially Texas. These RECs are so cheap that the electricity cost was about the same as from Integrys. So switching would be painless and might send a message to Integrys that natural gas is not ok.</em></p><p><em>I want to help green the electricity grid that serves Chicago though, and purchasing RECs from Texas wind farms wouldn&rsquo;t do that. So I signed up for Viridian Energy&rsquo;s 100% wind power (Green-E certified &ldquo;green energy&rdquo;) fixed rate plan for 12 months. At .0649/kWh, it&rsquo;s slightly more expensive than the other suppliers, but not that much (Integrys currently charges 0.05589/kWh for mostly &ldquo;brown energy&rdquo;). The RECs are mostly from Illinois wind farms. Viridian Energy will also donate some funds (I couldn&rsquo;t get an answer as to how much exactly) to a local charity of my choosing. So it seemed the best I could do right now. I&rsquo;ll reevaluate my options in a year.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>By the way, I was told some crazy things by electricity company reps. For example, a Verde customer service representative told me that they don&rsquo;t buy RECs and the electricity entering my home would literally come directly from renewable sources. Knowing this was untrue, I emailed Verde&rsquo;s corporate office to ask from where they purchased RECs. They then told me all of their electricity in Chicago was in fact &ldquo;brown&rdquo;!<br /><br />Finding a way to lobby the city to increase the percentage of renewable energy in the electricity aggregation contract is proving challenging! Most of what I found online is out of date. I e-mailed three environmental organizations about this topic, but haven&rsquo;t gotten any responses yet. &nbsp;</em></p><p>Thanks, Janice for your ace reporting and for asking a question that brought us so much new information!</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment for WBEZ. Follow him at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley"> @cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 21 Jul 2013 23:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130 Power struggle: Who’s your energy provider? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rig_wind_river_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Curious City producers and reporters are usually hard at work answering your <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/archive/all">growing list of questions</a>. But every now and then, an answer or even a listener comment stops us dead in our tracks, and we&rsquo;ll say to one another: Why don&rsquo;t we ask more people about this?</p><p>That&rsquo;s what happened after we took on this question from Janice Thomson of Chicago&rsquo;s North Center neighborhood:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>We&rsquo;re curious how Chicagoans and others take something that Janice told us after environment reporter <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">Chris Bentley laid out an answer</a>. If you&#39;re already familiar with Janice&#39;s story and figure you&#39;re ready to weigh in, <a href="#Poll">our survey below awaits</a>. If you&#39;re still a little shaky on the details, though, we should first unpack her question just a bit. So, what is fracking (otherwise known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing)? Here&rsquo;s the skinny from Bentley:</p><blockquote><p>&nbsp;&ldquo;... drillers blast water, fine sand and chemicals to break up porous rock containing fossil fuels, and horizontal drilling, which allows a single rig to explore long, flat sedimentary rock formations thousands of feet underground without drilling straight down from the surface many times.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>As for that &ldquo;new electricity supplier&rdquo; bit? Well, Chicago switched energy providers late last year, and Integrys won the city&rsquo;s contract. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">The gist</a>:</p><ul><li>Integrys&rsquo; portfolio is &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas.</li><li>In 2012, 40 percent of the nation&#39;s natural gas production came from shale formations, and that percentage is rising. A good deal of that new production is derived from fracking.</li><li>It&rsquo;s impossible to know exactly how much of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is generated from natural gas derived via fracking, but some of it is, since the nation&rsquo;s gas supply is not divided by fracked and conventional sources.</li></ul><p>Just last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office announced Chicago is <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">increasing its supply of wind energy</a>. A month ago, Illinois lawmakers passed the most restrictive high-volume oil and gas drilling regulations in the country.</p><p>News about fracking in Illinois is still rolling in. Yet, Curious City&rsquo;s investigation is making Thomson rethink her energy options right now.</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;As a consumer, I do now plan to &ldquo;opt out&rdquo; of the default Integrys electricity supplier and sign up with a 100% renewable energy supplier. I initially wasn&rsquo;t too keen on the idea of renewable energy credits (which remind me of carbon offsets), but it sounds like that&rsquo;s the best I can do living in Chicago.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>Purchasing renewable energy credits from companies offering green energy plans is one option and perhaps the most economical one. Illinois&rsquo; Citizens Utility Board, a watchdog group that looks out for energy consumers&rsquo; interests, <a href="http://www.citizensutilityboard.org/ciElectric_cubfacts_alternativesuppliers.html">lists alternative electricity suppliers</a>. People can generate their own power, but that is often a pricey upfront investment, said David Kolata, CUB executive director. Still, conservation remains the easiest, most effective option, he said, adding that there are many steps people can take towards energy efficiency.</p><p>Below, we&#39;ve prepared a (very) short survey about whether you&#39;ve considered your own electricity supply options and whether you&#39;ve taken action about it. We invite you to give your two cents. When you&#39;re done, click the link that reads <a name="Poll"></a>&quot;See previous responses&quot; to see how others answered.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src="https://docs.google.com/forms/d/179KmxKnNPIqDYyb8PyjeS9A0RqnvVI1QC93VhMrW5XA/viewform?embedded=true" width="620">Loading...</iframe></p><h2><strong>Selected poll responses</strong></h2><p><script type="text/javascript" src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/static/modules/gviz/1.0/chart.js"> {"dataSourceUrl":"//docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/tq?key=0Ai7E2pZ6aCZtdEJpb2RfMXpFWnRtS01lOFRpY0ROclE&transpose=0&headers=1&range=H1%3AH66&gid=0&pub=1","options":{"titleTextStyle":{"fontSize":16},"series":{"0":{"hasAnnotations":true},"1":{"hasAnnotations":true}},"showRowNumber":false,"animation":{"duration":0},"width":620,"hAxis":{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Horizontal axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},"vAxes":[{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Left vertical axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},{"useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null}],"sortColumn":null,"title":"Chart title","booleanRole":"certainty","height":320,"page":"enable","legend":"right"},"state":{},"view":{},"isDefaultVisualization":true,"chartType":"Table","chartName":"Chart 1"} </script></p></p> Wed, 17 Jul 2013 02:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077 Chicago’s energy deal: An ‘F’ for fracking? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fracking%20topper%202.jpg" title="Fracking operation near Shreveport, Louisiana. (Flickr/danielfoster437)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F99525534&amp;color=00bdff&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: Chris Bentley answered Janice Thomson&#39;s question about a week before Chicago&#39;s City Hall announced new developments regarding the municipal aggregation deal mentioned here. In an <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130">update</a>, we take another look at the question posed here, given that there&#39;s new information on the role of wind power and natural gas in the city&#39;s municipal aggregation contract.</em><em>&nbsp;But Janice&#39;s question also prompted us to wonder if other people are considering choosing alternative electricity providers. We&#39;ve been hearing from many people about why or why not. You can <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">have your say</a> right now as well.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Curious Citizen Janice Thomson does not consider herself an environmentalist.</p><p>&ldquo;Environmentalist has this different kind of connotation,&rdquo; said the northsider. &ldquo;I think of environmentalists as people who go hiking. And I don&rsquo;t. But I&rsquo;m obviously concerned about impacts on our earth, our air, our ability to grow food.&rdquo;</p><p>After five years living in Brussels, Belgium she got used to regular media coverage of climate change and renewable energy. Back in the U.S., even a<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/science/earth/arctic-sea-ice-stops-melting-but-new-record-low-is-set.html"> record low in arctic sea ice</a> failed to elicit any mention of the issue during the 2012 presidential debates &mdash; <a href="http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/the-issue-that-dare-not-speak-its-name/?_r=0">the first time that has happened since 1988</a>.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/janice thomson.jpg" style="height: 175px; width: 275px; float: right;" title="Curious citizen Janice Thomson says she felt duped by the definition of clean energy Chicago used in electricity aggregation language." /></p><p>&ldquo;When I came back to Chicago [in 2011] I was looking for a renewable supplier for my energy,&rdquo; Thomson said. Along with about 56 percent of Chicago voters, she voted yes on the<a href="http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=210191"> 2012 referendum</a> for<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/progs/Electricity%20Aggregation/GeneralAggregationPresentation.pdf"> municipal electricity aggregation</a>, hoping it would expand the market for wind and solar power.</p><p>Then she got a letter from Integrys Energy Services, the city&rsquo;s new electricity supplier, touting the city&rsquo;s &ldquo;cleaner&rdquo; energy supply.</p><p>Chicago struck a two-year contract with Integrys, replacing Exelon subsidiary Commonwealth Edison and reportedly saving households $150 on average per year by 2015.<a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130104/NEWS11/130109930/city-reveals-integrys-winning-energy-bid"> <em>Crain&#39;s Chicago Business</em></a> reported Integrys won the deal with a fee of about $8.8 million, about two thirds the price of runner-up Exelon. Energy prices change daily, and low prices are not guaranteed forever, but the contract gives the city an option to switch after May 2014.</p><p>The deal didn&rsquo;t deal just with energy, costs, though; it also eliminated coal, which used to provide roughly 40 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s power, from the city&rsquo;s fuel mix. So our Curious Citizen wanted to know:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>Jennifer Block, a spokeswoman for Integrys, said the new fuel mix would be &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas. Integrys buys electricity wholesale from many power plants and passes it along to distributors like ComEd. The company won&rsquo;t divulge which power plants it buys from, which can and do vary constantly based on the price of those power plants&rsquo; electricity. Integrys can&rsquo;t track individual electrons as they make their way through the grid, so Chicago&rsquo;s no-coal requirement just means Integrys will need to verify that at any given time they have enough non-coal power in their possession to satisfy all of the city&rsquo;s demand. Because it is currently inexpensive, natural gas-fired electricity will satisfy the brunt of that demand.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/crawford%20coal%20chris%20betley.jpg" style="height: 185px; width: 315px; float: left;" title="The Crawford coal-fired electricity generating facility, one of two southwest side coal plants closed in 2012, sits along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. (Flickr/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>But for Thomson and self-identifying environmentalists alike, trading one fossil fuel for another might be considered a <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pyrrhic%20victory">Pyrrhic victory</a> at best. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t know that clean energy wasn&rsquo;t the same as renewable energy,&rdquo; Thomson said.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s requirement that its new energy supplier drop coal was the first of its kind, and the<a href="http://cleanpowerchicago.org/"> Chicago Clean Power Coalition</a> endorsed aggregation as a means to promote renewable energy in the future. Currently the city&rsquo;s deal only requires Integrys to meet <a href="http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=IL04R">the state Renewable Portfolio Standard</a> (RPS), which rose this year to 7 percent. The RPS ramps up gradually in pursuit of the state&rsquo;s 25 percent by 2025 goal. Solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric, anaerobic digestion, biodiesel and landfill gas &mdash; methane, essentially natural gas, recovered from landfills &mdash; count towards the state&rsquo;s RPS, but natural gas mined from the earth through fracking or other methods does not.</p><p><a href="http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html">According to the Environmental Protection Agency</a>, natural gas-fired power plants emit about half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides as coal plants. That&rsquo;s the main basis for calling natural gas a &ldquo;clean&rdquo; fuel &mdash; it&rsquo;s clean compared to coal.</p><p>&ldquo;Clean sounds nice,&rdquo; Thomson said, &ldquo;but it doesn&rsquo;t mean what you think it does. I felt duped.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The &lsquo;F&rsquo; Word</strong></p><p>Thomson shares many environmentalists negative opinion of the controversial drilling process of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. Joining the religious environmental consortium<a href="http://faithinplace.org/"> Faith in Place</a> on a lobbying trip to Springfield, Janice helped call<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/madigan-mell-push-two-year-ban-fracking-106109"> for a moratorium on fracking</a>, and then later, when an outright ban seemed unlikely, for strong regulations on the practice. Governor Pat Quinn<a href="http://soundcloud.com/afternoonshiftwbez/frack"> signed the regulatory bill into law</a> on June 17.</p><p>While emissions from natural gas power plants are substantially lower than those from coal plants, the process of extracting and transporting the resource is fraught with technical challenges.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/silverfuture%20stop%20illinois%20fracking.jpg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="A protest against fracking in Illinois from July 2012. (Flickr/silverfuture)" /></p><p>&ldquo;Unconventional&rdquo; oil and gas resources are so-named because they have previously been impossible to dig up economically. But innovations in drilling technology have brought together fracking, in which drillers blast water, fine sand and chemicals to break up porous rock containing fossil fuels, and horizontal drilling, which allows a single rig to explore long, flat sedimentary rock formations thousands of feet underground without drilling straight down from the surface many times. The resulting practice has opened up massive stores of previously out-of-reach oil and gas.</p><p>It has also sparked environmental concerns. When well casings fail, for example, fracking fluid &nbsp;and other material<a href="http://phys.org/news/2013-05-fracking-ground.html"> can contaminate groundwater</a>. Drillers recover much of the fluid used in fracking, but some is left deep underground. And in areas stricken by drought,<a href="http://www.reporternews.com/news/2013/jun/16/texas-illinois-fracking-fuels-water-fights-nations/"> the water-intensive process has sparked fights</a> over water use.</p><p>Then there&rsquo;s global warming. Methane, the primary component of natural gas,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/more-methane-epa-reexamines-potency-greenhouse-gas-107148"> is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide</a>, and how much of it leaks into the atmosphere as a result of fracking<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/epa-rolls-back-methane-emissions-natural-gas-106891"> is a topic of heated debate</a>. Many environmentalists argue even if methane leakage is low, the math says<a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719"> we have to start leaving fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change</a>.</p><p>The drilling industry calls Illinois&rsquo; regulations the toughest in the nation, noting provisions for water quality monitoring and oversight from state environmental agencies. In 2010 Congress ordered the EPA to investigate whether fracking posed risks to drinking water, with results expected in 2014.<a href="http://grist.org/news/epa-delays-fracking-safety-study-until-2016/"> The results of that study were recently delayed until 2016</a>.</p><p><strong>Curious kilowatts</strong></p><p>Drillers<a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/us/southern-illinois-counties-seeing-fracking-rush-682303/"> have already leased land in 17 Illinois counties</a> and, according to <a href="http://www.pantagraph.com/news/state-and-regional/illinois/high-volume-fracking-already-underway-in-ill/article_48600bc8-c87c-11e2-9335-001a4bcf887a.html">an Associated Press investigation</a> of state records, at least one company has already attempted high-volume fracking in the state. But the Illinois Oil and Gas Association&rsquo;s Brad Richards said it will likely be at least six months before the first permit is issued.</p><p>&ldquo;Realistically this thing&rsquo;s a year or more out before we see any significant production going to market,&rdquo; Richards said, noting that test wells first need to verify how much oil and gas is actually in Illinois&rsquo; New Albany Shale play. Drilling itself takes time, and pipeline infrastructure would have to be built to transport large quantities of gas.</p><p>Even when they do hit the market, Illinois&rsquo; resources are heavily weighted towards oil, not gas. Gas is very cheap at the moment, Richards said, &ldquo;And these companies wouldn&rsquo;t be here leasing if they believed it were a dry gas play.&rdquo;</p><p>Conventional production in Illinois is almost entirely oil, with very little gas. So especially in the near term, Chicago&rsquo;s natural gas-fired electricity almost certainly isn&rsquo;t coming from downstate.</p><p>Nationally about 40 percent of U.S. natural gas production was from shale formations in 2012, according to Jonathan Cogan of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That share is growing, so it&rsquo;s likely that at least some of the electricity Integrys buys from natural gas power plants comes ultimately from fracking.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/U.S.%20Energy%20Information%20Administration.png" style="height: 213px; width: 320px; float: left;" title="The natural gas supply, according to U.S. EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2012, in trillions of cubic feet per year, projected to 2035. Unconventional gas plays a significant and growing role. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)" /></p><p>It&rsquo;s impossible to tell exactly how much fracked natural gas ends up as electricity in Chicago, Integrys&rsquo; Jennifer Block said. The same problem afflicts opponents of particular types of oil.</p><p>&ldquo;People sometimes want to boycott products made from Canadian Oil, for example,&rdquo; said the Illinois Oil and Gas Association&rsquo;s Brad Richards, &ldquo;but once it hits the refinery, oil is oil, baby. The golf balls, the plastic bags, the gas in your tank &mdash; who knows where what came from.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Other options? </strong></p><p>Someone like our Curious Citizen who wants to avoid any connection with fracking could opt-out of the Integrys program altogether without a cancellation fee. Many suppliers offer customers &ldquo;100 percent green&rdquo; options, which generally rely on Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).</p><p>Essentially renewable energy derivatives, RECs accumulate at any renewable energy power plant that generates electricity. A wind farm in Iowa, for example, could sell its RECs to a city in Illinois looking to offset pollution from a predominantly fossil fuel-fired electricity supplier.</p><p>Consider Evanston. The north suburb&rsquo;s own electricity aggregation deal calls for an audit of the electricity supplier &mdash; at first Constellation, now Verde Energy &mdash; to make sure they are purchasing enough RECs to offset 100 percent of the city&rsquo;s electricity use. According to<a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.icc.illinois.gov%2Fdownloads%2Fpublic%2FIL%20Disclosure%20Label%20June%202013.pdf"> their most recent environmental disclosure statement</a>, Verde&rsquo;s actual electricity still comes mostly from fossil fuels. But Evanston&rsquo;s sustainability coordinator, Catherine Hurley, said RECs move the market nonetheless.</p><p>&ldquo;Wind energy assets run at a very small margin, so the additional revenue stream that RECs offer really does help make the case for developing renewable energy,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Currently it&rsquo;s the best, easiest and cheapest option for us to take the next step forward.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ice%20bear%20chris%20bentley.jpg" style="height: 199px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Outside Evanston's Chandler-Newberger Community Center, the city's newly installed Ice Bear whirs on a hot summer day. The system makes ice to store energy at night, when electricity generation is less expensive, and releases it as the ice melts during the day to cool the building. A pilot project, the Ice Bear is part of Evanston's electricity aggregation deal with energy supplier Verde. (Flickr/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>Verde&rsquo;s contract with Evanston offsets 100 percent of the city&rsquo;s energy with RECs at a rate lower than competitors.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason to do it is two-fold,&rdquo; said Evanston&rsquo;s mayor, Elizabeth Tisdahl. &ldquo;It saves money and it reduces your carbon footprint. What could be better?&rdquo;</p><p>And no matter what supplier a consumer chooses, there is one universal option to lessen demand for nonrenewable resources.</p><p>&ldquo;One thing consumers can do is use less,&rdquo; said Tom Wolf, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. &ldquo;Every kilowatt you don&rsquo;t use is one that doesn&rsquo;t have to be produced.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/does-electricity-aggregation-do-enough-renewable-energy-106760">RECs may not be the ideal means of encouraging renewable energy deployment</a>, but they are a useful tool for communities like Evanston that aren&rsquo;t near many utility-scale renewable energy power plants. Likewise municipal aggregation itself could give a voice to citizens who want more control over their power supply.</p><p>&ldquo;In 2012 Chicago asked the question of which suppliers can give us coal free electricity,&rdquo; said The Sierra Club&rsquo;s Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin. &ldquo;In the future Chicago or other cities are free to ask, &lsquo;Who can give us gas-fired power that didn&rsquo;t come from fracking?&rsquo; We&rsquo;re just really at the tip of the iceberg in innovation here &hellip; at the end of the day the demand for all energy starts with us.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment for WBEZ. Follow him</em><a href="http://twitter.com/cementley"><em> @cementley</em></a></p></p> Tue, 02 Jul 2013 16:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932