Monthly Archives: December 2016

Think Unconventionally in 2017

Usually I write fact-driven blog articles about news and trends in energy, environment, sustainability, etc. to inform and prepare you for what’s new. I hope I’ve been helpful. But I want to take this opportunity to be a little different and share some personal thoughts for 2017 and beyond. Some of this is based on the recent presidential election and what it may do to our livelihoods, and some independent of that.

I want to start off by sharing with you an unusual activity I really enjoy doing, something unconventional. I am 60 years old, yet I play in a pickup, full-court basketball game weekly and I love it. I go up mainly against guys who are less than half my age. This is certainly not a “normal” activity given my age and body type (I am not in the best of cardiovascular shape and, yes, a bit overweight), and friends and family try to convince me to stop.

But I love it so much. The competition, the intensity, the camaraderie. At the end of an evening of basketball, when I walk to my car and into the night and even the next morning – even when I’m very sore – I feel absolutely great. Why does it make me feel so good? I don’t know. The physicians out there may say that the intense activities on the court and all causes me to produce endorphins that lift my mood, presumably to counter the pain. Maybe some who are very religious may say that doing such a physical activity prolongs life (of paramount importance) and God is participating in a positive feedback loop. I happen to subscribe to another theory (and it’s just a theory) that one of the worst things a person can do is be in a rut. Do the same thing day after day, week after week, year after year. From an evolutionary point of view, it is hard for a species to survive if it does the same things all the time. So I think the good feelings from my brain is an evolutionary reward to encourage change. Again, just my guess.

As if this were not enough, I also participate in another activity that is a bit unconventional for someone like me, dancing, specifically Israeli dancing, on a regular basis. 60-year old men generally do not go out dancing; we sit by the TV and watch ball games and movies and talking heads. But again, I find it fun and uplifting, too.

So, as we enter a new year which is often a time when we self-evaluate and think about our lives, I want to urge each and every one of you to pledge to do something a little unconventional this year. No, it doesn’t have to be playing basketball or doing Israeli dancing (they’re certainly not for everyone). Perhaps it’s saying one or two evenings a week you will not sit on the couch and watch TV, but instead read classic old books or study new philosophies or take a course in a new subject or spend more time with your kids or do a volunteer activity with other kids or groups or be involved in local (or national) politics, or pick up that musical instrument you always liked or have not played since high school. Do any of these as a different, regular activity in 2017.

And the same for your careers. Declare in 2017 you will do something a little different; study something you normally do not get too deep into, or expand your comfort zone in your workload and go down a different “route” to benefit your company, or look into doing something new in the office.

Whether personal or professional or both, doing things unconventionally in 2017 should get your endorphins flowing, make you a little more nimble, and make yourself happier and more productive.

Thank you very much for allowing this indulgence. Have a happy, productive, unconventional 2017.

Despite Election, Six Reasons Why Clean Energy Will Still Do Well In The Future

With a new presidential administration and team at Energy and the USEPA soon to be sworn in, it is assumed that the US will repeal many current environmental rules, attempt to develop more of its own fossil fuels, and walk away from Paris climate change commitments. However, there are strong economic, global, and non-political factors that will move the US away from these actions or prove that they are actually harmful for the companies that the new Administration wishes to benefit the most.

Here are six reasons:

1. Economic forces are stronger than repealing a few rules. Right now, there is a glut of oil relative to demand, as many nations are only slowly recovering from the Great Recession or are entering a new slowdown themselves (i.e., China). Should the US succeed in greater exploration of coal or crude oil or invest in improving pipelines to move the oil, this will be a “dump” in the market, pushing down prices more and reducing profit margins of coal and oil companies. This would be true even if this growth were to take a few years, as futures markets will react.

Further, if the Trump Administration gets its wish to relax or repeal many environmental rules, which they believe is “holding back” energy companies, economic forces will make coal, oil, etc. more inexpensive. Other oil and coal producers (Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Middle East, etc.) are all desperate for revenue to keep their regimes going and populations happy, and are likely to dump as much energy supply on the market as possible. The US will just add to that. Despite OPEC agreements to hold back putting oil on the market, countries will want to maximize needed revenue. Economic forces are greater than loosening some environmental rules.

2. The effort to get fossil fuel supplies. Even with a “green light” from Energy or the Interior, as time goes on, it will get harder for companies to drill for or mine oil, natural gas, or coal. Companies naturally look for the easiest and cheapest sources. In the future, companies will need to dig deeper or in further away places than years ago, raising the baseline cost. Because of oversupply the price of a gallon of crude oil or coal may not be worth the cost to produce it – even if environmental regulations were to be relaxed (if this is even allowed).

3. Improved technology favors clean sources of energy. Another economic force that even the Trump Administration cannot stop is technology. Improved technologies are being invented and successfully implemented all the time to make renewable energy more effective, practical, and affordable. New wind farms in west Texas can be built for as little as $22/MW, and solar farms in the desert for about $40/MW. In contrast, the cost to build a new natural gas-burning power plant is estimated to be about $52/MW and for coal about $65/MW. Even if environmental controls do not need to be included, there will still be a gap and that gap will climb as renewable technology improves more. There is also the crucial issue of time. Renewable power plants can be up and running in a matter of months; for a fossil fuel plant to begin operation, it’s years.

While causing GHG emissions, natural gas will also be favored because it is lower in GHG emissions compared to oil or coal and can be shipped overseas as LNG much more conveniently and cheaper than oil or coal.

There is also forecasted progress in battery storage capabilities. Thus, it is likely that eventually, all forms of transportation will be able to operate using electric power, lessening the need for gasoline or diesel oil combustion, resulting in lower GHG emissions and saving money, too. It is not an accident that major oil & gas companies are all investing in energy storage, LNG, and renewable energy.

4. Growing understanding of the impacts of “dirty” fuels. Another factor favoring clean energy is the strength of the problems and growing understanding about the impacts of “dirty” energy. There is much worldwide publicity about the air pollution issues in China with pictures shown worldwide of filthy vistas and people walking around in masks. Asthma and other lung diseases have risen dramatically, and the Chinese now realize that environmental issues are high impact economic issues, too, affecting future growth. Many other locations worldwide are learning this, too. So even if the Trump Administration tries to repeal many environmental and public health rules, it will not succeed because of the risk of such scenes becoming common in the US and that world markets, with the biggest component, China, in the lead, will move away from dirty fuels and toward renewables over the next few decades.

5. The power of the States. While those picked to run national environmental and energy policies have historically fought to repeal many regulations, the States have considerable sway in their energy mix. More than half of US states have laws requiring utilities to incorporate a minimum percentage of renewable energy into their generation mix. Some such rules are in force in states considered conservative politically. Some states have very aggressive goals. These will force utilities to contract for or build plants for renewable power in the near future, independent of who is President.

In addition, some states administer GHG emission rules that have been determined to be effective in getting utilities to move away from coal toward renewable power. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a cap and trade system for GHG emissions from large power plants in 9 Northeastern states, and is considered a success as it met GHG reduction goals ahead of schedule at a relatively low cost to the regulated utilities. California has aggressive rules it is enforcing. Other states are considering similar rules to encourage renewable power in their states.

6. The power of the private sector. In addition to the States, some major corporations have thrown in their lot to move toward a heavy reliance for renewable power, including Wal-Mart, Microsoft, and Google. It is in their long-term plans to maximize renewable power as their source of electricity for a variety of reasons, including reliability of supply (the sun will always shine, while there could be an embargo or shortage of oil or coal). For the most part, these companies have succeeded and saved energy costs, as well. Other companies are likely to see the success and authorize their own programs to catch up and obtain the benefits.

While there is much to worry about in terms of our future work in the environmental and energy sectors, these factors, beyond the control of the upcoming Administration, should ensure that there is much progress in the future for clean energy, environmental safeguards, and renewable powers.

CCES has the experts to help your company assess impacts of future environmental or energy rules. We can provide you technical advice to help you determine your current status and determine strategies in the future to put yourself in a better place. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at

Focus on Efficiency: Steam Heating

There are lessons we can learn from New York City, which was the first major city to have an energy benchmarking rule, requiring owners of large buildings to report (not necessarily, reduce) energy usage. Several years of data confirm what most New Yorkers know: most residents live in multifamily buildings 50 or more years old (built when energy was plentiful and cheap), using steam-generating boilers for heating. These systems are complex, not designed with efficiency in mind, and old, a bad combination. Many potential upgrades are complex and expensive, so most owners wait for the system to virtually break down before upgrading. In addition, many years ago there was very bad publicity about certain managers who intentionally withheld heat from tenants to get them to leave (to re-rent units at higher rates). To avoid such publicity, most owners now willingly incur the cost of inefficiency to give too much heat to tenants. It is not unusual to walk around NYC and see open windows when the outside temperature is well below freezing!

With this large housing stock and together with NYC Sustainability Office’s goal of reducing GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, there is impetus to promoting upgrades of cranky, ancient steam systems. Other cities are taking note. The USDOE estimates that 2.5 million multi-family buildings are steam-heated nationwide.

The key to achieving success in making steam systems in so many buildings more energy efficient is to convince owners to invest in them and demand results, a difficult matter to educate them on.

NYC’s Office of Sustainability estimates that if every large, steam-heated building in New York City performed only fairly simple upgrades, its building-based GHG emissions could be cut by about 5%. This includes annual tune-ups for boilers and burners and insulating pipes in steam or hot water service (including condensate return pipes). NYC has rules which mandate steam production when the outdoor temperature drops below a certain point. As a result, many control systems regulate boiler operation based on outdoor temperature only. However, more efficient control systems can react to indoor temperatures pinpointing areas to deliver steam in apartments that need it, closing certain radiator valves, if unnecessary. Some valve systems can be controlled by the tenant, allowing residents to control the steam flow to the unit rather than receiving full load and opening windows to the cold outdoor air.

Such simple actions to improve a steam system’s efficiency can reduce heating fuel use by about 15%, saving building owners $10,000 to $30,000 annually.

But besides the money savings, it’s important to show building owners that such upgrades are quite achievable and risk-free; teaching them that these simple steps have worked for others and will work in their systems. It’s important to counter the defeatist attitude of: “Oh, my system is so old, nothing will ever work to make it better!” Emphasize these steps are simple and will work successfully. While we, as engineers, understand that, it is difficult to express this to clients, as it is part of our nature to be careful and not overpromise, while they do not want to hear about risk.

CCES has the experts to help you evaluate your steam boiler system and recommend small or large upgrades to be more efficient, save utility costs, and provide assurance of comfort to your tenants. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at

USEPA Proposes Revisions To PSD And Title V GHG Permitting Rules

On October 3, 2016, the USEPA published a proposed rule to revise the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Permitting Rules in reaction to a US Supreme Court ruling in 2014 (

The most critical change is that the proposed rule would provide a Significant Emissions Rate (“SER”) for GHGs, 75,000 tpy CO2e SER. An applicant that is subject to PSD because proposes to build and operate a new facility or to an expand an existing one that would cause emissions of an existing PSD pollutant to rise by more than its significant level (an “anyway” source) and also GHGs by at least this amount would need to have performed a Best Available Control Technology (“BACT”) analysis for both the subject PSD pollutant and GHGs, as well. Previously addressing GHGs as part of a PSD Permit was limited to “anyway” sources (not sources that exceed a de minimis for GHGs). The proposed revision would prevent the USEPA from exempting from GHG BACT requirements “anyway” sources if it proposes to emit GHGs above the SER guideline.

The proposed rule would also revise several definitions, including a definition of GHGs itself and of CO2 equivalents (CO2e). GHGs is any of a group of 6 compounds, including CO2, N2O, CH4, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. CO2e is calculated by taking the tons per year emission totals of each compound (or set of compounds) and multiplying this by its “global warming potential” published in the rule, and summing them. The proposed rule also provides for the exclusion of GHG emissions from “major source” and “major modification” determinations.

The comment period of the proposed rule is over. Of course, with the new administration taking over in January, it is unknown whether the new USEPA administrator will drop these proposed changes and not have any action about GHG emissions and permitting under the Clean Air Act.

CCES has the experts to allow your facility to make the technical decisions concerning air emissions and compliance with GHG and Clean Air Act rules. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at