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Earth Day 2013

22 Apr

Nixon’s Farm Will Let the Sunshine In

1 Apr

A new Gallup poll found that Americans want the U.S. to focus on developing domestic energy sources. In every region of the country, solar is the alternative energy source of choice. Seventy-six percent of all Americans want more emphasis on solar power. Randall Nixon of Nixon’s Farm is on it.

Randy Nixon - BIT Tech Digest

I interviewed the self-described “Ivy League redneck” in a 19th century Pennsylvania-style bank barn situated on the 163-acre farm purchased by his parents, Roosevelt and Mildred Nixon, in 1956. His parents’ contemporaries laughed and called the purchase “Nick’s Folly.” Randy is having the last laugh. He has entered into a lease agreement with BITHENERGY Inc., a black-owned innovative energy solutions company, to develop the largest privately-owned solar farm in Maryland.

Randy told me:

This is an opportunity to connect up people, to broker relationships, and to get cash moving that will empower the family to hold on to the land while generating wealth for their progeny. For once in history, we’re holding the cards.

Robert L. Wallace, Chief Executive Officer of BITHENERGY, said in a statement:

The Nixon Farm Solar Project is arguably one of the most significant transformational events in Howard County’s history. Not only will this be the largest solar array in Howard County but it will also lead the way for a radical transformation and rethinking of the energy dynamics and renewable energy possibilities for the County.

During his 2013 State of the County address, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman hailed the project as a “model for Maryland”:

The company is planning to build a solar array that will produce enough power for up to 2,000 homes at the historic Nixon’s Farm on Route 32. We partnered with BITHENERGY and BITHGROUP Technologies to amend zoning and facilitate other approvals to make this project a reality. BITHENERGY is showing leadership and vision, designing a project which will save agricultural land from development and produce renewable power.

Back in the day, Nixon’s Farm was “a play farm,” the Glenwood Country Club whose motto was “Keep the faith, baby.”

Glenmont Country Club - BIT Tech Digest

Over the years, there were some financial setbacks. But Randy kept faith that he would find a way to save the farm:

The energy revolution is providing opportunities for African Americans to restore the land that they’ve been holding onto in the hopes that it would somehow become productive; that it would no longer be a family burden. For once, we’re not at a disadvantage; don’t have to beg for a loan. We’re always looking for cash. The biggest issue we have is access to capital.

Randy added:

This is the beginning of what’s going to happen – solar, wind, geothermal. Environmentalists want to save the land. Entrepreneurs also want to save the land… Entrepreneurship helps pay for environmentalism. They can work together. Cash can save the environment. It’s called capitalism. Adam Smith was right.

Construction on the solar project will begin in June. In the meantime, Randy is looking for investors interested in creating a cooperative for African-American-owned farmland dedicated to alternative energy sources. For more information, contact Randy via email.

Can Environmentalists, Shale Gas Producers Get Along?

27 Mar

It was serendipitous that I read about a collaboration between environmentalists and unconventional gas drillers while attending Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership’s conference on the nexus of energy, food and water. The goal of the gathering was to engage the business community in a conversation on how to build business value by embedding sustainability.

I was tweeting about Neil Hawkins’ call for collaboration when a Google alert about the new center popped up. Hawkins is Vice President of Sustainability and Environment, Health & Safety for the Dow Chemical Company.

Neil Hawkins - Collaboration

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development is breaking down silos. The participating partners include Chevron, CONSOL Energy, Environmental Defense Fund, EQT Corp., Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Shell and William Penn Foundation.

Robert Vagt, President of the Heinz Endowments, said in a statement:

CSSD is the result of an unprecedented effort that brought together a group of stakeholders with diverse perspectives, working to create responsible performance standards and a rigorous, third‐party evaluation process for shale gas operations. This process has demonstrated for us that industry and environmental organizations, working together, can identify shared values and find common ground on standards that are environmentally protective.

Bruce Niemeyer, President of Chevron Appalachia, added:

Raising the bar on performance and committing to public, rigorous and verifiable standards demonstrates our companies’ determination to develop this resource safely and responsibly. Throughout the development of CSSD, the collaborative effort of environmental organizations, foundations and energy companies has been the key to achieving consensus on regional performance standards.

Energy companies seeking certification must meet 15 performance standards that address air quality, water resources and climate. The data-driven performance measures will build trust and break through the myths and unfounded fears.

Indeed, the Washington Post editorialized:

Last week brought a heartening breakthrough in the war over fracking: A handful of major green groups and big drillers agreed on environmental standards… These new rules are a large step toward striking the right balance, and everyone involved deserves credit.

But not all environmentalists are singing “Kumbaya.” Deb Nardone, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign Director, dismissed the agreement as “akin to slapping a band aid on a gaping wound.” In a statement, Nardone declared:

The majority of natural gas must stay in the ground if we want any chance of avoiding climate disaster.

That makes no fracking sense says the Post:

The center provides a model for environmental groups, too. They advance their cause much further when they accept that the country is fracking and push for sound regulation, instead of unrealistically insisting that all that natural gas stay in the ground.

Truth be told, some ‘fracktivists’ are more interested in mobilizing around an issue than collaborating on solutions because it’s good for business.

Obama Shows Natural Gas Industry Some Love

14 Feb

On the eve of the first anniversary of Act 13, a small group of protesters lined up in Philadelphia’s LOVE Park and said no way to hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking.

Signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett on Feb. 14, 2012, Act 13 cleared the way for unconventional (horizontal) drilling. The Marcellus Shale law established environmental protections and imposed impact fees on drilling companies. The most controversial provision placed strict limits on local governments’ authority to enact zoning ordinances that regulate where and when oil and gas development may occur.

As the legal challenge plays out in the court, the Marcellus Shale play is powering a brighter future for the nation.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the impact of innovations in the natural gas industry:

Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar — with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.


Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.

Will there be a moratorium on shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania? No fracking way.


Are You Prepared for the Natural Gas Boom?

22 Jan

There’s gold in them thar rocks. More accurately, natural gas produced from Marcellus Shale is as good as gold.

Marcellus Shale

The untapped natural gas reserves in Pennsylvania have triggered a second energy boom. That was the message of the speakers at a symposium organized by Temple University’s Center on Regional Politics, “How Pension Funding Challenges and Energy Development Opportunities Will Affect Our Future.”

Pennsylvania’s first energy boom occurred in 1859 when oil was discovered in Titusville. Today, natural gas is creating opportunities across the Commonwealth. Indeed, Gov. Tom Corbett said energy will drive economic growth for decades.

Philip K. Verleger Jr. of the Peterson Institute of International Economics was the keynote speaker. Verleger observed:

Pennsylvania has at least three important advantages. First, one of the major sources of low-cost natural gas is the Marcellus Shale, which stretches across the state. Second, unique rail networks built over 100 years ago provide a way to bring crude from North Dakota and Colorado shale fields to Pennsylvania refineries, as well as to refineries in southern New Jersey and Delaware. Third, eastern Pennsylvania is not exposed to extreme weather, unlike businesses in other coastal states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. These circumstances give Pennsylvania a unique opportunity.

Verleger added:

One can argue that Pennsylvania’s good fortune came about due more to serendipity than planning. But then, it is always better to be lucky than smart. The job now is to make the most of the luck.

With job creation the top priority for most Pennsylvanians, it’s our “good fortune” that shale production is labor intensive. To fully develop shale production, companies will need to hire engineers, landscape architects, IT professionals, and construction workers and laborers. Those workers will need somewhere to live. The workers will have to eat and have places to unwind.

Rural roads and bridges will have to be upgraded to accommodate heavy equipment, trucks and tankers. There will be increased demand for ancillary business services, including accounting, consulting, legal, security, workforce development, advertising and communications, and public relations.

It is said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. From drilling companies to diner owners, the opportunities are there. Are you prepared to seize the moment?

While natural gas will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, opponents claim hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, contaminates drinking water. But emotion and anecdotes are not scientific data. This is not their grandfather’s oil and gas business. Today, technology will mitigate any environmental impacts of natural gas drilling.

Pennsylvania is ground zero for the Marcellus Shale play. The Associated Press reports royalty payments to private landowners could top $1.2 billion for 2012.

But every Pennsylvanian has skin in the game. Consider: Marcellus Shale underlies roughly 1.5 million of the 2.2 million acres of state forest land. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has leased out 700,000 acres of state forest for drilling. DCNR predicts state forests – public lands – may host up to 1,000 well pads and 10,000 wells once drilling is up to full capacity.

The bottom line: Marcellus Shale is a big fracking deal. Are you prepared for the natural gas boom?

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