Energy market drives deflation?

You wouldn’t think that people would complain about falling prices, but economists worry when it goes beyond a short run trend into the long term. An article in the Economist outlines the concern on a global level, and sites oil prices falling as a motivator in the current quarter’s fall of prices of 0.3%. Typically 2% increase is seen as a good equilibrium. Mentioning the drop of crude it notes that the decrease directly involves fuel and transportation costs of goods (while the service industry isn’t effected so much). And of course, while crude has dropped over 50% as a commodity, refined gas on average has only by a third or so due to a sort of ‘sticky prices’…easily will climb, yet not come down so easily!

Biomass in the Copper River Valley

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I spoke yesterday with a reporter from KCHU, the public radio station out of Valdez, and she inquired of a daylong of  workshops at the Kenny Lake Community Center (on 2/28). When mentioning the sessions that will include Extension faculty, the local economic development authority, and local experts she asked if wood was a big thing up there. It is. In fact, if you look at the Valley’s 2013 energy plan you’ll see that Biomass takes up more pages than any other of the eight types of energy listed. The 2010 American Communities Survey found that around a third of the residents heat wood- which is no light load considering the Interior like temperatures that can occur in winter. It is also estimated in the report that the are 3 million acres of wood available for development. That may be cord firewood, bio-brick products or possibly chips. If you have a chance on the 28th to come down to Kenny Lake (or up the 90 miles from Valdez) you can hear first hand how biomass is being used and is the planning stages for locally made products!

Extension featured on KTUU in Anchorage for Rocket Stoves

This past week, while several School of Natural Resource and Extension faculty presented at the Alaska Forum for the Environment, many presented in the evenings at the Anchorage Cooperative Extension office. It was slated as “Extension Home and Energy Week”, and to kick it off I met with KTUU’s Garrett Turner (at 6am) to show how an assembled rocket stove can be used in camping and disaster situations.  Take a look at the clip (almost 6 short minutes long!) Give a call if you are interested in constructing a Dunn burn box out of 2×4’s, or rocket stoves out of easy to access cans. Attendees learn about combustion, biomass, particulates and emissions as well as how to be prepared for emergency situation food preparation. These are great items for scouts, youth groups/4H, homeschoolers, etc…and I am able to travel to group workshops to teach how.  (inquiries can contact me at 474-6366).

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Burning wood and breathing air

With a meeting this past week in Fairbanks on air quality there certainly an ongoing concern over wood burning devices (despite the temperate weather as of late). One change that will be coming soon is the reinstatement of an approved appliance/device list from the Borough. One had existed but was retracted around 2 years ago. At the time outdoor hydronic boilers that were on the EPA’s list were accepted by the Borough (as well as a coal hydronic boiler that was not on the list but ran through various lab testing procedures initiated by the vendor). In February the EPA may include hydronic boilers in its regulations (which along with wood pellet devices it hasn’t spoken to these in the past. And it is possible that the state may have regulations that could be more stringent than the Borough’s soon. Of course, it is expected that restrictions would be forward looking and most likely will focus on vendors. Thus those units now in place would not be pulled out of people’s yards though it is possible that when selling a home an existing system would need to be replaced. There will be more to come this year and we will see! To get an idea of hydronic boilers that are approved by the EPA, go to http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/owhhlist.html.

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When oil prices go south

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During the transition of governors, there has been the revelation that at low oil prices (around 50% lower than this time last year) the state pays out more royalties than revenue it brings in to producing companies. Some suggest it is not a result of the taxing regime which the State has applied to the producing companies but rather a matter of low production. Others have said it would still be a ‘red’ situation regardless had the state kept the old ACES regime that was changed last year or stuck with the old. And some say it is not clear if this is a product of the gas fields in Cook Inlet or the crude fields up on the North Slope…..No matter, this is the first large crisis the Governor and his staff will face. With a very competent Commissioner of Revenue,  seasoned DNR Commissioner, and the Governor’s private law practice experience specializing in oil/gas there will no doubt be many angles this will be looked at from for a solution. Yet the other half of formulating a plan to come into the black during a period of oil prices under $100/barrel will also involve the state legislature. This is a first in Alaska’s statehood history, and is sure to make the spring a lively time in Juneau during the legislative session.

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Will those prices stay down?

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So now we have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with gas prices being down toward $2.25/gal for those traveling. Will more people travel? Will these low prices kill plans for marketing electric vehicles in the short run? But the question on most people’s mind probably is “Will these prices stay this low (or possibly go lower)?” Some of that may depend on what OPECs geo-polictical ambitions are. Some have said OPEC has allowed these low prices as a way to take a whack at Russia’s market share on crude oil – and there certainly seems to have been a negative effect on that nation by these low prices (low crude barrel prices=> low per gallon gas prices).  Keep your eye’s open and we’ll see how things change on gas prices with this new year….

Radon in basements- check the tubs!

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This year I have had a couple instances of homeowners who have elevated radon levels (above 4.0 pcl/liter concentration) where they have a bathroom in the basement (slab) and have found that whoever put the plumbing in knocked out a large gaping hole for the p-trap to rise up to the faucets. So though there is poly sheeting often under the slab and cracks are being checked at the cold seam it is found that radon can easily come through from the gravel below along the pipes behind the water controller in the shower wall. The answer (you may not want to hear this if this is your situation): you are going to need to get behind the tub wall- maybe pull the tub unit out even- to use poly sheeting that your going to need to wrap around the pipe with red vapor barrier tape and black death/Tremco-like  sealant. Cutting the plastic larger than the hole you may not have much room to work, yet do your best and send myself photos at alnashjr@alaska.edu to get an idea for access!

International Biomass Conference

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This Spring biomass experts from all over the world-including Alaska, will be congregating in Minneapolis for sharing knowledge about those things that were living which can yield BTU’s (‘Bio’ ‘Mass’). This may be wood, grasses, algae, etc… There are 4 tracks beginning with traditional wood in various forms (pellets, chips, torrified material,  etc…) and ending with Track 4 on emerging technology types. The conference was where Extension personnel first saw the GEK which has been blogged about (Gasification Experimental Kit) and may have practical uses in Alaska for converting BTU’s to electricity. The conference always has a policy panel, and is sure to touch upon the latest EPA rulings based on the re-authorization of the clean air act.  Take a look at the conference website for more information.

What goes up, doesn’t always come down easily – gasoline prices

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While the average price for a barrel of oil was $77.40 in November, after the first week of December it was spotted around $65 a barrel. There’s been about a 16% drop (though the December amount is one static price and not an average over 30 or so).  For argument sake, taking the 16% at this point, will gas prices drop that much?  No. Due to ‘game theory’, gas dealers are ready and willing to jump in and follow increases of crude with higher gas prices before their competitors – yet when oil drops, they tend to hold back and see what the other dealers will do. There are some other cost factors, but by and large it is the competitive nature of salesmen that are determining your short run gas prices!

Are gas prices ‘fair’ across the nation?

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In Alaska, our prices are not even comparable to other locations though gasoline and its production costs are pretty much the same from the $65 barrel of oil.  (For instance, gas is $2.37 in the currently least expensive state of Missouri, while it is $3.40 in Alaska and $3.77 in the most expensive state of Hawaii). So what is the difference in price? Undoubtedly it is due to transportation costs.  As ironic as that may sound, gas runs about 6 pounds per gallon.  So when we ship processed gas into the state, it has taken a good deal of fuel to merely carry it from the refinery.  There are also most likely price efficiencies lost from such a small scale of users compared to the lower 48.  Consider it as part of the price to have large clear places and beauty daily which the tourists dish out thousands to travel and see!

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