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2000 BC - Chinese First to Use Coal as an Energy Source
"According to the report of an early missionary to China, coal was already being burned there for heating and cooking, and had been so employed for up to 4000 years. Likewise, in early medieval Europe, the existence of coal was no secret, but the 'black stone' was regarded as an inferior fuel because it produced so much soot and smoke... Thus, until the 13th century, it was largely ignored in favor of wood.
As wood shortages began to appear, poor people began heating their homes by burning coal."
200 BC - Chinese Develop Natural Gas as an Energy Source
"The first practical use of natural gas dates to 200 BCE and is attributed, like so many technical developments, to the Chinese. They used it to make salt from brine in gas-fired evaporators, boring shallow wells and conveying the gas to the evaporators via bamboo pipes."
200 BC - Europeans Harness Water Energy to Power Mills
"The vertical waterwheel, invented perhaps two centuries before the time of Christ, spread across Europe within a few hundred years. By the end of the Roman era, waterwheels powered mills to crush grain, full cloth, tan leather, smelt and shape iron, saw wood, and carry out a variety of other early industrial processes. Productivity increased, dependence on human and animal muscle power gradually declined, and locations with good water-power resources became centers of economic and industrial activity."
1st Century - Chinese First to Refine Petroleum (Oil) for Use as an Energy Source
"More than 2,000 years ago, our ancestors discovered oil seepages in many places in northwest China. A book titled Han Book Geography Annals written by a historian of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Ban Gu (32-92 AD), wrote of flammables in the Weishui River. Located at the east of the Yanan city, the river now is called the Jian.
There was also a detailed description about petroleum in the famous Sketch Book at Meng Xi written by the distinguished scientist Sheng Kuo (1031-1095). He reported that there was a lot of oil in the subsurface, 'and it is inexhaustible.'
Long ago, our ancestors already applied petroleum for lamps, as lubricants, in medicine and for military actions. Similarly, the technology of heating and evaporating brine from flowing brine wells for producing edible salt was also developed more than a thousand years ago (East Jin Dynasty, 347 AD) in China."
Lidian Chen "China's Petroleum Industry," www.worldenergysource.com (accessed July 21, 2009)
10th Century - Windmills Built in Persia to Grind Grain and Pump Water
"For the tenth century, we have material proof that windmills were turning in the blustery Seistan region of Persia. These primitive, vertical carousel-type mills utilized the wind to grind corn, and to raise water from streams to irrigate gardens... [T]heir use soon spread to India, other parts of the Muslim world, and China, where farmers employed them to pump water, grind grain, and crush sugarcane."
Historic Dutch windmill at Kinderdijk, circa 1740s. Source: www.mariajohannahoeve.nl (accessed June 3, 2009)
"The mill reached its greatest size and its most efficient form in the hands of the Dutch engineers toward the end of the sixteenth century... The Dutch provinces... developed the windmill to the fullest possible degree: it ground the grain produced on the rich meadows, it sawed the wood... and it ground the spices...
Above all, the windmill was the chief agent in land reclamation. The threat of inundation by the sea led these North Sea fishermen and farmers to attempt not only to control the water itself, but by keeping it back, to add to the land...
Once the dykes were built, however, the problem was how to keep the area under the level of the sea clear of water: the windmill... was the means of raising the water of the rising streams and canals: it maintained the balance between the water and the land that made life possible in this precarious situation."
1600s - Development of Coal Coke in England Aids Iron Production and Helps to Pave the Way for the Industrial Revolution
"Experimenters... discovered that the roasting process used to make charcoal [from wood] could be adapted to coal, the result being an extremely hot-burning fuel called coke. The use of coke in iron and steel production, beginning in England in the 17th century, would so transform those industries as to constitute one of the key developments paving the way for the industrial revolution."
1700s - Coal Begins to Displace Use of Other Energies
"The great shift in population and industry that took place in the eighteenth century was due to the introduction of coal as a source of mechanical power, to the use of new means of making that power effective - the steam engine - and to new methods of smelting and working up iron. Out of this coal and iron complex, a new civilization developed...
By the end of the eighteenth century coal began to take the place of current sources of energy... Wood, wind, water, beeswax, tallow, sperm-oil - all these were displaced steadily by coal and derivatives of coal...
In the economy of the earth, the large-scale opening up of coal seams meant that industry was beginning to live for the first time on an accumulation of potential energy, derived from the ferns of the carboniferous period, instead of upon current income."
1712 - First Steam Engine Developed in England to Pump Water Out of Coal Mines
Diagram of Newcomen Engine. Source: www.uh.edu (accessed May 21, 2009)
"By 1700 [coal] mine shafts were as deep as 200 feet. There were problems down there with gases and especially with flooding... Muscle, animal and human, and sometimes watermills and windmills were put to work lifting the water out of the mines, but it was an endless battle that technology circa 1700 could not win...
Coal, the Carboniferous legacy of stored sunlight, would solve that problem. Coal would be burned to power the heat engine...
[Thomas] Newcomen... built a steam machine close by a coal shaft... in 1712... Newcomen's first machine made twelve strokes a minute, raising 10 gallons of water with each stroke. Its strength is estimated at 5.5 horsepower, not impressive to us, but the 'fire engine,' as it was sometimes called, was a sensation in power-starved Britain and Europe. Soon there were scores of Newcomen engines, most nodding at the pitheads of Britain's mines, which now could be dug twice as deep as before. In 1700, Britain produced 2.7 million metric tons of coal; in 1815, 23 million tons. That sum was twenty times in energy equivalent what the existing woodlands of Britain could produce in a year...
Thomas Newcomen's invention was the first machine to provide significantly large amounts of power not derived from muscle, water, or wind... If I were to attempt anything so simple-minded as to pick a birthday for the industrial revolution, it would be the first day that Newcomen's machine began operating in 1712."
1748 - First Commercial Coal Production in US Begins in Richmond, Virginia
"In 1701, coal was found by Huguenot settlers on the James River in what is now Richmond, Virginia. By 1736, several 'coal mines' were shown on a map of the upper Potomac River near what is now the border of Maryland and West Virginia.
The first coal 'miners' in the American colonies were likely farmers who dug coal from beds exposed on the surface and sold it by the bushel. In 1748, the first commercial coal production began from mines around Richmond, Virginia. Coal was used to manufacture shot, shell, and other war material during the Revolutionary War.
By the late 1700s, coal was being mined on 'Coal Hill,' now Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dug from the steep hillsides, the coal was used by early settlers to heat their homes and sent across the Monongahela River in canoes to provide fuel for the military garrison at Fort Pitt."
Gas street lamp. Source: www.fossil.energy.gov (accessed May. 7, 2009)
"In 1821, the first well specifically intended to obtain natural gas was dug in Fredonia, New York, by William Hart. After noticing gas bubbles rising to the surface of a creek, Hart dug a 27 foot well to try and obtain a larger flow of gas to the surface. Hart is regarded by many as the 'father of natural gas' in America...
During most of the 19th century, natural gas was used almost exclusively as a source of light. Without a pipeline infrastructure, it was difficult to transport the gas very far, or into homes to be used for heating or cooking. Most of the natural gas produced in this era was manufactured from coal, as opposed to transported from a well. Near the end of the 19th century, with the rise of electricity, natural gas lights were converted to electric lights."
"The first major boon for coal use occurred in 1830 when the Tom Thumb, the first commercially practical American-built locomotive, was manufactured. The Tom Thumb burned coal, and in rapid fashion, virtually every American locomotive that burned wood was converted to use coal. America's coal industry had begun taking shape."
1830s - First Coal Powered Iron Forges Are Developed in New England
"In the early 1830's... American iron was still being produced by charcoal. New England still relied on Europe for most of its iron supply, little metal was yet used in machinery, and steam was hardly employed at all as a source of power. This lag in the use of iron and steam appears to have held back high volume factory production in all industries except textiles. Then in the 1830's and 1840's, these patterns began to change quickly. A revolution in American iron making began in the 1830's with the use of coal in the making of wrought iron, and then in the 1840's in the production of cast iron with the adoption of the coal-using furnaces in eastern Pennsylvania. In the same decades, steam began for the first time to be used extensively in industrial production."
Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., PhD "Anthracite Coal and the Beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the United States," The Business History Review, Summer 1972
1830s - Ethanol Blend Becomes Popular Lamp Fuel in US, Displacing Whale Oil
Camphene lamp, circa 1830s. Source: www.museum.state.il.us (accessed June 8, 2009)
"In the 30 or 40 years before petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania, the leading fuel was 'camphene' (sometimes simply called 'burning fluid'). It was a blend of high-proof ethyl alcohol with 20 to 50 percent turpentine to color the flame and a few drops of camphor oil to mask the turpentine smell. Alcohol for camphene was an important mainstay for distilleries, and many sold between one third and 80 percent of their product on the fuel market. The first U.S. patent for alcohol as a lamp fuel was awarded in 1834 to S. Casey, of Lebanon, Maine...
By the late 1830s, alcohol blends had replaced increasingly expensive whale oil in most parts of the country... By 1860, thousands of distilleries churned out at least 90 million gallons of alcohol per year for lighting."
Bill Kovarik, PhD "Henry Ford, Charles Kettering and the Fuel of the Future," Automotive History Review, Spring 1998
1838 - First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Developed to Generate Electricity
"William Robert Grove (1811 -1896), a Welsh lawyer turned scientist, won renown for his development of an improved wet-cell battery in 1838. The 'Grove cell,' as it came to be called, used a platinum electrode immersed in nitric acid and a zinc electrode in zinc sulfate to generate about 12 amps of current at about 1.8 volts...
In 1800, British scientists William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle had described the process of using electricity to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen. But combining the gases to produce electricity and water was, according to Grove, 'a step further that any hitherto recorded.' Grove realized that by combining several sets of these electrodes in a series circuit he might 'effect the decomposition of water by means of its composition.' He soon accomplished this feat with the device he named a 'gas battery'– the first fuel cell."
1850s - Windmill Becomes Popular Water Pumping Tool of Western Homesteaders and Railroad Builders
Drawing of a Halladay Mill water pumping station for the railroad, 1885. Source: www.photolib.noaa.gov (accessed May 21, 2009)
"Wind as the force behind water-pumping windmills proved quite pivotal in the settling of the West. Such water pumps assisted early pioneers and they are still in use today... This windmill represented intermediate technology at its best. It transformed the abundant wind into an agent to alleviate the shortage of water. It liberated groundwater for a moisture-poor region, providing the technology necessary to settle vast tracts of the rangeland...
Although it was the Western environment that created the demand for a new windmill, a Connecticut mechanic, by the name of Daniel Halladay, provided the inventive genius. In 1857, Halladay, having perfected his windmill, formed the Halladay Wind Mill Company...
It was Western railroad builders who first used the Halladay windmill. Hand in hand with the first transcontinental railroad came the windmill, providing water to the thirsty Union Pacific steam locomotives...
In the years to follow... water-pumping windmills dotted the US landscape. There is no way accurately to estimate their numbers, but some authorities have offered a figure of more than six million."
1859 - First Commercial Oil Well Drilled by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania; Kerosene Begins to Displace Other Lamp Fuels
Drake's Well. Source: www.dcnr.state.pa.us (accessed May 21, 2009)
"By the middle decades of the nineteenth century, coal gas was displacing whale oil lamps for city lighting, public and private. But it was far from an ideal illuminant. Storing it and piping it to the customer was burdensome and expensive, and it was poisonous and explosive.
Kerosene, which Abraham Gesner, a Canadian chemist, discovered how to distill from petroleum in 1853, proved in many circumstances to be a better choice... In 1859, E.L. Drake... was searching for it [petroleum] at the suitably named Oil Creek in Titusville, Pennsylvania. He rejected the idea of digging for it, and chose to seek it out with a drill driven by a small steam engine. He hit it on August 29 at 71 feet, initiating America's and the world's first petroleum rush... Before that boom ended in 1879, Oil Creek spouted 56 million gallons of petroleum, kerosene lamps were spreading everywhere, and the American whale fishery was a business of minor importance."
1860 - First Solar Power System Developed in France to Produce Steam to Drive Machinery
Engraving of Mouchot's Solar Power Collector at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878. Source: www.humboldt.edu (accessed May 21, 2009)
Worried by the possibility of fossil fuels, such as coal, running out, Augustine Mouchot develops a solar powered steam generation system to drive industrial machinery.
Mouchot felt it was possible that the sun's heat could replace the burning of coal to run Europe's industries.
Mouchot's research into mirror technology led him to develop the first sun motor. The sun motor used the heat from concentrated sunlight to produce steam which was used to drive machinery.
John Perlin From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity, 1999
1862 - Abraham Lincoln Enacts an Ethanol Tax to Help Finance the Civil War, Severely Hampering the Ethanol Fuel Industry
"In 1860, ethanol was one of the nation's best-selling chemicals, used as an illuminant and solvent. When the Civil War broke out, President Abraham Lincoln imposed a $2.08 per gallon Spirits Tax [in 1862] to finance the war effort. Ethanol was subject to the tax...
Industrial and fuel ethanol disappeared for 45 years.
In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt, seeking a competitor to Big Oil, convinced Congress to lift the Spirits Tax. The ethanol industry was back in business. By the end of World War I it was producing some 50 million gallons a year."
1870 - John D. Rockefeller Forms Standard Oil and Develops Petroleum as a Major Energy Source in the US
Photograph of John D. Rockefeller, 1885. Source: ohiohistorycentral.org (accessed May 20, 2009)
"After the American Civil War, the petroleum industry made continual technological advances that allowed it to emerge as society's major source of energy and lubrication during the twentieth century. The immense potential of petroleum resources and applications became evermore apparent, attracting the interest of one of the most effective businessmen in history, John D. Rockefeller. Working within the South Improvement Company for much of the late 1860s, Rockefeller laid the groundwork for his effort to gain absolute control of the industry, covering each phase of the process. Rockefeller formed the Standard Oil Company of Ohio in 1870. In the early 1870s, oil exploration in Pennsylvania's Oil Creek region grew significantly, and the effort would expand to other states and nations during the next decade. By 1879, Standard controlled 90 percent of U.S. refining capacity, as well as the majority of rail lines between urban centers in the northeastern U.S. and many leasing companies at various sites of oil speculation throughout the country. Due to Rockefeller's efforts and developments, petroleum became the primary energy source not only in the U.S., but for societies around the world."
Brian Black, PhD "Petroleum History, United States," www.eoearth.org (accessed May 18, 2009)
1876 - First Demonstration of Generating Electricity Directly from Sunlight in a Selenium Solar Cell
"When William Grylls Adams and his student, Richard Evans Day, discovered that an electrical current could be started in selenium solely by exposing it to light, they felt confident that they had discovered something completely new. Werner von Siemens, a contemporary whose reputation in the field of electricity ranked him alongside Thomas Edison, called the discovery 'scientifically of the most far-reaching importance.' This pioneering work portended quantum mechanics long before most chemists and physicist had accepted the reality of atoms. Although selenium solar cells failed to convert enough sunlight to power electrical equipment, they proved that a solid material could change light into electricity without heat or without moving parts."
John Perlin "The History of Solar Energy," www.californiasolarcenter.org (accessed May 19, 2009)
Sep. 4, 1882 - First Electric Plant Built by Thomas Edison in New York
"In New York he [Thomas Edison] built the first commercial electric utility near Wall Street...
At 3pm on September 4, 1882, Edison threw the switch that would start up America's first power plant, serving a square-mile area that included some very wealthy and influential customers: J.P. Morgan, the Stock Exchange, and the nation's largest newspapers."
Sep. 30, 1882 - First Commercial Scale Hydroelectric Plant Goes into Operation in Appleton, Wisconsin
"It was on Saturday night, September 30, 1882, that one of the world's first hydro-electric central stations was placed in successful operation in Appleton, Wisconsin. As late as 1977, local enthusiasm identified the installation as the 'world's first hydro-electric central station.' This statement has since been corrected to read 'the first hydro-electric central station to serve a system of private and commercial customers in North America.' Whether first built or first in service, it was a significant engineering achievement for its time...
Three buildings were lighted initially- two paper mills and one residence. The people of Appleton reportedly went to view them in those early fall evenings and marveled, declaring them to be 'as bright as day.'...
Progress was rapid. A second dynamo was purchased in 1882 and placed into service on November 25th. Early in 1883 the Waverly House was wired, reportedly becoming the first hotel in the western part of the United States with electric light. Two larger generators were acquired in 1886 and placed in a new central plant to which the original dynamos were also moved.
The Vulcan Street Plant had an 'Elmer' waterwheel, so named because it was patented by Mr. Elmer of Berlin, Wisconsin. The output of the original dynamo was 12.5 KW and was capable of lighting 250 sixteen-candlepower lamps."
1888 - First Windmill to Generate Electricity Developed in Cleveland, Ohio
Photograph of the Brush Windmill. Source: www.brushwind.org (accessed May 20, 2009)
Charles F. Brush develops the world's first windmill that can generate electricity as described in an 1890 issue of Scientific American:
"With the exception of the gigantic windmill and electric plant shown... we do not know of a successful system of electric lighting operated by means of wind power.
The mill here shown, as well as all of the electrical apparatus used in connection with it... have been designed and carried out according to the plans of Mr. Charles F. Brush, of Cleveland Ohio...
The speed of the dynamo at full load is 500 revolutions per minute, and its normal capacity at full load is 12,000 watts...
In the basement of Mr. Brush's house there are 408 secondary battery cells arranged in 12 batteries of 34 cells each...
The house is furnished with 350 incandescent lights... two arch lights and three electric motors. It is found after continued use of this electric plant that the amount of attention required to keep it in working condition is practically nothing. It has been in constant operation more than two years, and has proved in every respect a complete success."
1892 - World's First Geothermal District Heating System Built in Boise, Idaho
"Folks in Boise, Idaho, feel the heat of the world's first district heating system as water is piped from hot springs to town buildings. Within a few years, the system is serving 200 homes and 40 downtown businesses. Today, there are four district heating systems in Boise that provide heat to over 5 million square feet of residential, business, and governmental space. Although no one imitated this system for some 70 years, there are now 17 district heating systems in the United States and dozens more around the world."
1900 - First Diesel Engine to Run on Vegetable Oil Demonstrated at World's Fair in Paris
"The first public demonstration of vegetable oil based diesel fuel was at the 1900 World's Fair, when the French government commissioned the Otto company to build a diesel engine to run on peanut oil. The French government was interested in vegetable oils as a domestic fuel for their African colonies. Rudolph Diesel later did extensive work on vegetable oil fuels and became a leading proponent of such a concept, believing that farmers could benefit from providing their own fuel. However, it would take almost a century before such an idea became a widespread reality. Shortly after Dr. Diesel's death in 1913 petroleum became widely available in a variety of forms, including the class of fuel we know today as 'diesel fuel'. With petroleum being available and cheap, the diesel engine design was changed to match the properties of petroleum diesel fuel. The result was an engine which was fuel efficient and very powerful. For the next 80 years diesel engines would become the industry standard where power, economy and reliability are required."
1901 - Birth of the Modern Oil Industry: Lucas Gusher and the Discovery of Texas' Vast Spindletop Oil Field
Photograph of the Lucas Gusher at Spindeltop Oil Field, Texas, Jan. 10, 1901 Source: www.priweb.org (accessed May 27, 2009)
"The modern oil industry was born on a hill in southeastern Texas. This hill was formed by a giant underground dome of salt as it moved slowly towards the surface. As it crept, it pushed the earth that was in its path higher and higher. This dome was known by several names, but the one that stuck was 'Spindletop'. Through the later half of the 19th century, Pennsylvania had been the most oil-productive state in the country. All that changed on January 10th, 1901...
'Black Gold' erupted from [Spindletop's Lucas Gusher]... to a height greater than 150 feet (nearly 50 meters) on January 10th, 1901. It was not brought under control for 9 days... A device now called a 'Christmas Tree' was invented on the spot to control the flow of oil. Christmas trees are now commonplace in the industry to prevent just such an occurrence. An estimated 850,000 barrels of oil was lost. By today's standards, that's a loss of about $17,000,000. Of course, given the huge amount of oil which glutted the market after this discovery, the price of oil dropped from $2 to $.03 per barrel."
1905 - Albert Einstein Publishes First Theoretical Paper Describing the Photoelectric Effect
Photograph of Albert Einstein, 1946. Source: www.loc.gov (accessed May 27, 2009)
In 1905 Albert Einstein publishes the first theoretical work describing the photovoltaic effect titled "Concerning an Heuristic Point of View Toward the Emission and Transformation of Light." In the paper "he showed that light possesses an attribute that earlier scientists had not recognized. Light, Einstein discovered, contains packets of energy, which he called light quanta...
Einstein's bold and novel description of light, combined with the  discovery of the electron... gave scientists in the second decade of the twentieth century a better understanding of photo electricity. They saw that the more powerful photons carry enough energy to knock poorly linked electrons from their atomic orbits in materials like selenium. When wires are attached, the liberated electrons flow through them as electricity... by the 1920s scientists referred to the phenomenon as the photovoltaic effect."
John Perlin From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity, 1999
June 8, 1906 - The "Free Alcohol Bill" Is Signed to Promote the Use of Alcohol as an Alternative to Gasoline
"The President [Theodore Roosevelt] today signed the Denatured Alcohol bill [Free Alcohol Bill].
This measure provides that alcohol manufactured for use in the arts or industries shall be free from the internal revenue tax when so treated as to be made a poison and so unfit for drinking. It is designed to start a great industry that will furnish cheap fuel for many purposes for which gasoline is now used."
"In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt, seeking a competitor to Big Oil, convinced Congress to lift the Spirits Tax. The ethanol industry was back in business. By the end of World War I it was producing some 50 million gallons a year."
1906-1908 - Studies on Alcohol Fuel (Ethanol) Find Advantages over Petroleum Fuels Such as Gasoline and Kerosene
"Studies of alcohol as an internal combustion engine fuel began in the U.S. with the Edison Electric Testing Laboratory and Columbia University in 1906. Elihu Thomson reported that despite a smaller heat or B.T.U. [British Thermal Unit] value, 'a gallon of alcohol will develop substantially the same power in an internal combustion engine as a gallon of gasoline. This is owing to the superior efficiency of operation...' Other researchers confirmed the same phenomena around the same time.
USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] tests in 1906 also demonstrated the efficiency of alcohol in engines and described how gasoline engines could be modified for higher power with pure alcohol fuel or for equivalent fuel consumption, depending on the need. The U.S. Geological Service and the U.S. Navy performed 2000 tests on alcohol and gasoline engines in 1907 and 1908 in Norfolk, Va. and St. Louis, Mo. They found that much higher engine compression ratios could be achieved with alcohol than with gasoline.
When the compression ratios were adjusted for each fuel, fuel economy was virtually equal despite the greater B.T.U. value of gasoline. 'In regard to general cleanliness, such as absence of smoke and disagreeable odors, alcohol has many advantages over gasoline or kerosene as a fuel,' the report said. 'The exhaust from an alcohol engine is never clouded with a black or grayish smoke.' USGS [United States Geological Service] continued the comparative tests and later noted that alcohol was 'a more ideal fuel than gasoline' with better efficiency despite the high cost."
Bill Kovarik, PhD "Henry Ford, Charles Kettering and the Fuel of the Future," Automotive History Review, Spring 1998
1908 - Worlds First Flex Fuel Vehicle, the Ford Model-T, Goes into Mass Production
Photograph of a 1908 Ford Model-T. Source: www.hfmgv.org (accessed May 27, 2009)
"Ethanol-fueled vehicles date back to the 1880s when Henry Ford designed a car that ran solely on ethanol. He later built the first flex fuel vehicle: a 1908 Model T designed to operate on either ethanol or gasoline."
May 15, 1911 - US Supreme Court Orders Dissolution of Standard Oil Trust for Engaging in Monopolistic Practices
"Final decision was returned late this afternoon [May 15, 1911] by the Supreme Court of the United States in one of the two great trust cases which have been before it for so long - that of the Standard Oil Company. The decree of the Circuit Court for the Eighth Circuit directing the dissolution of the Oil Trust was affirmed [in an 8-1 decision], with minor modifications...
Broadly speaking, the court determines against the Standard Oil Company on the ground that it is a combination in unreasonable restraint of inter-State commerce [under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act]..."
New York Times"Standard Oil Company Must Dissolve in 6 Months; Only Unreasonable Restraint of Trade Forbidden," May 16, 1911
"Rockefeller's cutthroat business tactics and near monopolization of the domestic industry led to an anti-trust suit brought by the Federal Government. In 1911, a decision of the Supreme Court forced the breakup of Standard Oil Company into Standard Oil of New Jersey (which later became Exxon), Standard Oil of New York (Mobil), Standard Oil of California (Chevron), Standard Oil Of Ohio (Sohio, later acquired by BP), Standard Oil of Indiana (Amoco, now BP), Continental Oil (Conoco), and Atlantic (later Atlantic Richfield, then ARCO, then sun, now BP). Rockefeller eventually profited handsomely from the split, and the new companies carefully avoided directly competing with one another."
1921 - World's First Geothermal Power Plant Is Built in California
"The Geysers [72 miles north of San Francisco] were discovered in the early 1800's but were an untapped energy source for many years... [In 1921] John D. Grant drilled a geothermal well and ran a small direct-current generator which was used to provide electricity for lighting The Geysers resort. However, because the materials used at that time could not withstand the geothermal steam environment and because of the difficulties of drilling for geothermal steam, this resource could not compete at that time with other low-cost, easier-to-develop energy resources."
1924 - First Federal Law Established to Control Pollution from the Oil Industry
"The federal government established a precedent for combating oil pollution when it passed the Oil Pollution Control Act in 1924. The contamination of water from tanker discharges and seepage problems on land were the primary problems. The former attracted the most attention largely because the polluting of waterways and coastal areas affected commercial fishermen and resort owners...
The Oil Pollution Act of 1924 had inadequate enforcement provisions and dealt only with dumping fuel at sea by oil-burning vessels.
Although the Oil Pollution Act disappointed [US President Herbert] Hoover and the conservationists, it was the first serious attempt to deal with the issue on a national scale. The problem did not receive serious attention again until the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969."
Martin V. Melosi, PhD "Energy and Environment in the United States: The Era of Fossil Fuels," Environmental Review, Fall 1987
1927 - First Commercial Wind Turbines Sold to Generate Electricity on Remote Farms
Photograph of Marcellus with a Jacobs Wind Turbine. Source: www.enflo-systems.li (accessed May 27, 2009)
Marcellus and Joe Jacobs develop the first commercially available wind turbine for electricity generation.
The brothers knew that many remote farms were unable to electrify without using gasoline generators. Gasoline generators were too costly and inconvienient for many remote farms since gasoline had to be constantly transported in bulk over large distances. As a result, many farms remained unelectrified.
The Jacob brothers created a wind powered turbine based on the design of earlier water pump mills. The design succeeds when they replace the blades of the water pump mills with modern air plane propellers.
In 1927 the Jacobs Wind Electric Company is formed. Between 1927 and 1957 the company sells over 30,000 units.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s hundreds of thousands of wind-electric systems were in operation around the country with a similar design to the
1930s - Alcohol Fuel Production Promoted to Combat the Great Depression
Gas station selling corn alcohol gasoline, 1933. Source: www.radford.edu (accessed June 8, 2009)
"By the 1930s, with the country caught in the depths of the Great Depression, new ideas were welcome. Corn prices had dropped from 45 cents per bushel to 10 cents, it was only natural that people in Midwestern business and science would begin thinking about new uses for farm products...
[T]he movement for alcohol fuels... came to be seen as part of a broader campaign for industrial uses for farm crops to help fight the Depression...
By 1937 motorists from Indiana to South Dakota were urged to use Agrol, an ethyl alcohol blend with gasoline. Two types were available -- Agrol 5, with five to seven percent alcohol, and Agrol 10, with twelve and a half to 17 and a half percent alcohol. 'Try a tankfull -- you'll be thankful,' the Agrol brochures said. The blend was sold to high initial enthusiasm at 2,000 service stations... However, Agrol plant managers complained of sabotage and bitter infighting by the oil industry...
By 1939, the Atchison Agrol plant closed its doors, not in bankruptcy, but without viable markets to continue."
Bill Kovarik, PhD "Henry Ford, Charles Kettering and the Fuel of the Future," Automotive History Review, Spring 1998
1935 - Hoover Dam, the World's Largest Hydroelectric Power Plant, Is Built
Photo of Hoover Dam in Arizona. Source: www.centralbasin.org (accessed July 30, 2009)
Hoover Dam is completed on the Colorado River in Arizona in 1935, four years after construction began in 1931. At the time of its completion, the Hoover Dam was the largest hydroelectric producer in the world. The dam remains the largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world until 1948.
1938 - Natural Gas Act: First Direct Federal Regulation of Natural Gas Industry
"In 1938, the federal government became involved directly in the regulation of interstate natural gas with the passage of the Natural Gas Act (NGA). This act constitutes the first real involvement of the federal government in the rates charged by interstate gas transmission companies. Essentially, the NGA gave the Federal Power Commission (the FPC, which had been created in 1920 with the passage of the Federal Water Power Act) jurisdiction over regulation of interstate natural gas sales. The FPC was charged with regulating the rates that were charged for interstate natural gas delivery, as well as limited certification powers...
The rationale for the passage of the NGA was the concern over the heavy concentration of the natural gas industry, and the monopolistic tendencies of interstate pipelines to charge higher than competitive prices due to their market power."
Dec. 1942 - First Controlled Nuclear Chain Reaction
"As the world went to war in the 1940s, [Physicist Enrico] Fermi and other physicists in Europe and America came to understand that a uranium atom split by a neutron would cause a self-perpetuating chain reaction of atom splitting that would release enormous energy. This process, called nuclear fission, suggested possible military applications, and Fermi and his colleagues at Columbia University joined with Albert Einstein to persuade the U.S. Government to study the idea. Meanwhile, at Columbia, Fermi sought to develop a controlled nuclear fission chain reaction. In 1942, when President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the 'Manhattan Project,' Fermi's work was relocated to the University of Chicago, where in December of that year, he and his team achieved the first controlled nuclear chain reaction."
1946 - Atomic Energy Act of 1946: US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Created
"The use of atomic bombs against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 ushered in a new historical epoch, breathlessly labeled in countless news reports, magazine articles, films, and radio broadcasts as the 'Atomic Age.' Within a short time after the end of World War II, politicians, journalists, scientists, and business leaders were suggesting that peaceful applications of nuclear power could be as dramatic in their benefits as nuclear weapons were awesome in their destructive power...
Developing nuclear energy for civilian purposes, as even the most enthusiastic proponents recognized, would take many years. The government's first priority was to maintain strict control over atomic technology and to exploit it further for military purposes. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946, passed as tensions with the Soviet Union were developing into the cold war, acknowledged in passing the potential peaceful benefits of atomic power. But it emphasized the military aspects of nuclear energy and underscored the need for secrecy, raw materials, and production of new weapons. The 1946 law did not allow for private, commercial application of atomic energy; rather, it created a virtual government monopoly of the technology. To manage the nation's atomic energy programs, the act established the five-member Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)."
1950s - Natural Gas Becomes a Major Fuel in US with Extensive Construction of Natural Gas Pipelines
Natural gas was not a widespread home fuel before the 1950s. Home use of natural gas required a large pipeline network for delivery and the cost of such a system was considered prohibitive.
However, "improvements in metals, welding techniques and pipe making during the War [World War II] made pipeline construction more economically attractive. After World War II, the nation began building its pipeline network. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of miles of pipeline were constructed throughout the United States. Today, the U.S. pipeline network, laid end-to-end, would stretch to the moon and back twice."
Dec. 20, 1951 - First Nuclear Power Reactor to Generate Electricity Built in Idaho
Photo of experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I) lighting four bulbs to demonstrate the first electricity generation from nuclear energy Source: www.anl.gov (accessed May 27, 2009)
"On Dec. 20, 1951, a nuclear reactor produced useful electricity for the first time.
It was barely enough to power a simple string of four, 100-watt light bulbs, but the 16 scientists and engineers - all staff members of Argonne National Laboratory, which designed and built the reactor - recorded their historic achievement by chalking their names on the wall beside the generator.
The reactor was Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I), housed in a small building that today still sits alone on a wind-swept plain in southeastern Idaho. EBR-I spawned a huge international industry that now plays a major role in meeting the world's energy needs."
1953 - First Silicon Solar Cell Developed at Bell Laboratories
"In 1953, Bell Laboratories (now AT&T labs) scientists Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin and Calvin Fuller developed the first silicon solar cell capable of generating a measurable electric current. The New York Times reported the discovery as 'the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of harnessing the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.'"
Southface "A Brief History of Solar Energy," www.southface.org (accessed May 18, 2009)
Aug. 30, 1954 - US Congress Passes Atomic Energy Act of 1954
"In 1954, Congress passed new legislation that for the first time permitted the wide use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. The 1954 Atomic Energy Act redefined the atomic energy program by ending the government monopoly on technical data and making the growth of a private commercial nuclear industry an urgent national goal. The measure directed the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] 'to encourage widespread participation in the development and utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.' At the same time, it instructed the agency to prepare regulations that would protect public health and safety from radiation hazards. Thus, the 1954 act assigned the AEC three major roles: to continue its weapons program, to promote the private use of atomic energy for peaceful applications, and to protect public health and safety from the hazards of commercial nuclear power."
June 1956 - M. King Hubbard Develops the "Hubberts Peak Theory" for Measuring Oil Supply; Peak of US Oil Production Correctly Predicted
The Hubbert's peak theory states that for any given geographical area, oil production follows a bell shaped curve where oil production will rise to a peak, followed by a sharp decline.
"In 1949, he [M. King Hubbert] used statistical and physical methods to calculate total world oil and natural gas supplies and documented their sharply increasing consumption. Then, in 1956, on the basis of his reserve estimates and his study of the lifetime production profile of typical oil reservoirs, he predicted that the peak of crude-oil production in the United States would occur between 1966 and 1972. At the time, most economists, oil companies, and government agencies (including the USGS) [United States Geological Service] dismissed the prediction. The actual peak of US oil production occurred in 1970."
Hubbert's theory came to be known as the "Hubbert's Peak Theory" and continues to be one of the primary theories used to study the peaking of oil supplies.
Sep. 2, 1957 - Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act of 1957 Passed to Stimulate the Development of the Private Nuclear Energy Industry
"[T]he Atomic Energy Act of 1954 authorized private industry to build, own, and operate nuclear power plants and to engage in a variety of other nuclear activities...
Unwilling to risk huge financial liability, private companies viewed even the remote specter of a catastrophe as a major roadblock to their participation in the development of nuclear technology...
The Price-Anderson Act of 1957 was designed to deal with these problems. The solution outlined by the act retained the traditional approach of providing recovery to accident victims through common law liability, which could be covered by private insurance. It combined this approach, however, with an unprecedented provision for Government indemnification (reimbursement). Specifically, the act required that certain licensees must maintain financial security against offsite liability for a nuclear accident in an amount equal to that available through private insurance. Liability beyond this amount would be assumed by the Federal Government up to a limit of $560 million per incident."
Dec. 2, 1957 - First Commercial Nuclear Power Plant Begins Operation in Shippingport, Pennsylvania
Photograph of the Shippingport Nuclear Power Plant. Source: www.eoearth.org (accessed July 27, 2009)
"The first large-scale nuclear power plant in the world began operating in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, on December 2, 1957 - exactly 15 years after Enrico Fermi demonstrated the first sustained nuclear reaction. The Duquesne Light Company of Pittsburgh built and operated the Shippingport plant on a site it owned on the Ohio River. The company also contributed to the cost of developing the government-owned reactor. Three years later, the Shippingport plant began supplying electricity to the Pittsburgh area. The Shippingport nuclear power plant was retired in 1982. Congress assigned the decontamination and decommissioning of this commercial reactor to DOE [Department of Energy]. This was the first complete decontamination and decommissioning of a reactor in the United States. The reactor vessel was shipped to a low-level waste disposal facility at the Hanford Site in Richland, Washington. The reactor site was cleaned and released for unrestricted use in November 1987. Government officials proclaimed the seven-acre site is suitable for picnicking or for a children's playground."
1958 - First US Satellite in Orbit Utilizes Solar Cells for Power
"While efforts to commercialize the silicon solar cell faltered, the US Army and Air Force saw the device as the ideal power source for a top-secret project - earth-orbiting satellites. But when the Navy was awarded the task of launching America's first satellite, it rejected solar cells as an untried technology and decided to use chemical batteries as the power source for its Vanguard satellite. The late Dr. Hans Ziegler, probably the world's foremost expert in satellite instrumentation in the late 1950s, strongly differed with the Navy. He argued that conventional batteries would run out of power in days, silencing millions of dollar worth of electronic equipment. In contrast, solar cells could power a satellite for years. Through an unrelenting crusade led by Dr. Ziegler to get the Navy to change its mind, the Navy finally relented and as a compromise, put a dual power system of chemical batteries and silicon solar cells on the Vanguard. Just as Ziegler predicted, the batteries failed after a week or so, but the silicon solar cells kept the Vanguard communicating with Earth for years."
John Perlin "The History of Solar Energy," www.californiasolarcenter.org (accessed May 19, 2009)
1960s - General Electric (GE) Develops Hydrogen Fuel Cells to Generate Electricity for Apollo and Gemini Space Missions
Scientists building fuel cells for the Apollo spaceship. Source: americanhistory.si.edu (accessed May 27, 2009)
"General Electric [GE] developed workable proton-exchange membrane cells [aka fuel cells] for use as power supplies in the Apollo and Gemini space missions. The cells were big and very expensive, but they performed faultlessly, delivering an unwavering supply of current as well as a very useful byproduct in space, drinkable fresh water.
Fuel-cell technology can be compared to that of a car battery, in that hydrogen and oxygen are combined to produce electricity. But while batteries store both their fuel and their oxidizer internally, meaning they have to be periodically recharged, the fuel cell can run continuously because its fuel and oxygen are external. Fuel cells themselves are stackable flat plates, each one producing about one volt. The size of the stack determines the power output."
Jeremy Rifkin "They Hydrogen Economy: After Oil, Clean Energy from a Fuel-Cell-Driven Global Hydrogen Web," E magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2003
1960 - First Commercial Scale Geothermal Electric Plants in the US Built in California
Photograph of a geothermal power plant at The Geysers. Source: www1.eere.energy.gov (accessed May 27, 2009)
"The first geothermal power plants in the U.S. were built in 1962 at The Geysers dry steam field, in northern California. It is still the largest producing geothermal field in the world."
Sep. 10-14, 1960 - Formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Baghdad, Iraq
First meeting of OPEC in Baghdad, Sep. 1960. Source: www.opec.org (accessed May 27, 2009)
"The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a permanent, intergovernmental Organization, created at the Baghdad Conference on September 10-14, 1960, by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The five Founding Members were later joined by nine other Members: Qatar (1961); Indonesia (1962) - suspended its membership from January 2009; Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (1962); United Arab Emirates (1967); Algeria (1969); Nigeria (1971); Ecuador (1973) - suspended its membership from December 1992-October 2007; Angola (2007) and Gabon (1975-1994).
OPEC's objective is to co-ordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers; an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry."
Jan. 28, 1969 - Santa Barbara Oil Spill Draws National Attention
Photograph of part of the oil slick released into the Santa Barbara waters, Jan. 1969 Source: www.latimes.com (accessed May 27, 2009)
"Neither strip mining nor air pollution riveted attention on the environmental consequences of energy exploitation like the Santa Barbara oil spill. At the time of the spill in January 1969, 925 wells had been drilled along the coastal tidelands from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. Moreover, industrial concern over oil leaks was negligible; faith in the existing technology and the drive for profit limited the incentive to protect against the worst case...
When Union Oil's well, A-21, blew on January 28, it leaked 235,000 gallons of crude, creating a slick of 800 miles. Although Washington responded with investigations and studies, that process offered little immediate relief to Santa Barbara. Commercial fishermen and owners of beach-front property brought lawsuits against Union Oil, and the state initiated lawsuits against the federal government. While Union Oil assumed liability for the blow-out, the financial settlements were well below the total damage. Congress tightened regulations on leases and made offshore operators liable for cleaning spills."
Martin V. Melosi, PhD "Energy and Environment in the United States: The Era of Fossil Fuels," Environmental Review, Fall 1987
1970 - Geothermal Steam Act of 1970 Passed to Allow the Leasing of Federal Land for Geothermal Energy Development
"To encourage the development of geothermal energy [energy generated by the heat of the earth], the United States government passed the Geothermal Steam Act in 1970 allowing the leasing of land containing geothermal resources; however, Congress excluded any lands within the National Park System, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, and any other lands prohibited from leasing by the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920."
Ida Kubiszewski, PhD "Geothermal Steam Act of 1970, United States," www.eoearth.org (accessed June 3, 2009)
1970s - Solar Cells Begin to Lower in Price and Become Cost Effective for Use on Land
"While the use of solar cells in space flourished during the 1960s and early 1970s, down on Earth electricity from the sun seemed as distant as ever. Cost was never a factor for space cells. Manufacturers worried more about size, efficiency and durability: the cost of the launch, and the continuing operation of equipment once in space far outweighed the price of power in space applications. But on Earth, the primary criterion is price per kilowatt hour.
Solar-cell technology proved too expensive for terrestrial use until the early 1970s when Dr. Elliot Berman, with financial help from Exxon Corporation, designed a significantly less costly solar cell by using a poorer grade of silicon and packaging the cells with cheaper materials. Bringing the price down from $100 a watt to $20 per watt, solar cells could now compete in situations where people needed electricity distant from power lines. Off-shore oil rigs, for example, required warning lights and horns to prevent ships from running into them but had no power other than toxic, cumbersome, short-lived batteries. Compared to their installation, maintenance and replacement, solar modules proved a bargain. Many gas and oil fields on land but far away from power lines needed small amounts of electricity to combat corrosion in well heads and piping. Once again, electricity from the sun saved the day. Major purchases of solar modules by the gas and oil industry gave the fledgling terrestrial solar cell industry the needed capital to persevere."
John Perlin "A History of Photovoltaics," www.usc.edu (accessed May 28, 2009)
1970 - Oil Production Peaks in the Lower 48 States
Crude oil production in the lower 48 States reaches its highest level in 1970, peaking at 9.4 million barrels per day, confirming the 1956 prediction of M. King Hubbert.
1973 - OPEC Oil Embargo Against the US Causes Gas Shortages and Rationing
Photograph of gas lines during the 1973 oil embargo. Source: www.clemson.edu (accessed May 28, 2009)
"During the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an embargo against the United States in response to the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military during the war. Arab oil producers also extended the embargo to other countries that supported Israel. The embargo both banned petroleum exports to the targeted nations and introduced cuts in oil production. Several years of negotiations between oil producing nations and oil companies had already destabilized a decades-old system of oil pricing, and thus the Arab oil embargo was particularly effective.
Implementation of the embargo, and the changing nature of oil contracts, set off an upward spiral in oil prices that had global implications. The price of oil per barrel doubled, then quadrupled, leading to increased costs for consumers world-wide and to the potential for budgetary collapse in less stable economies. Since the embargo coincided with a devaluation of the dollar, a global recession appeared imminent. U.S. allies in Europe and Japan had stockpiled oil supplies and thus had a short term cushion, but the longer term possibility of high oil prices and recession created a strong rift within the Atlantic alliance. European nations and Japan sought to disassociate themselves from the U.S. Middle East policy. The United States, which faced growing oil consumption and dwindling domestic reserves and was more reliant on imported oil than ever before, had to negotiate an end to the embargo from a weaker international position."
Due to gasoline shortages, Oregon and many other states impose gasoline rationing. "[O]fficials in Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, B.C., Bade County, Fla., and other areas... adopted Oregon-type rationing schemes that will allow motorists with even-numbered license plates to buy gas on even-numbered dates, and those with odd-numbered plates to buy on odd-numbered dates. Some states have begun requiring a $3 minimum purchase."
Nov. 16, 1973 - Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act of 1973 Passed to Increase Domestic Oil Supplies in Wake of Oil Embargo
Photograph of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. Source: www.treehugger.com (accessed May 28, 2009)
"After the discovery of a large oil field in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 1968, U.S. Congress decided to construct a pipeline transversing Alaska as a means of transporting the oil to the nearest ice-free port at Valdez, Alaska. Congress passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act in 1973 as an authorization for the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). Many environmentalists protested the construction, concerned about the effects that the pipeline would have on the surrounding environment, as well as the potential risk of an accident that could devastate the region.
In 1972, before the Act went to Congress, the Secretary of the Interior released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stressing the importance of minimizing the nation's dependence on foreign oil. The Arab oil embargo of 1973, which occurred immediately prior to the vote of Congress, reinforced this perception and positively swayed public opinion towards expansion of the domestic oil market."
Ida Kubiszewski, PhD "Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act of 1973, United States," www.eoearth.org (accessed May 28, 2009)
Oct. 11, 1974 - Congress Creates the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Replace the Atomic Energy Commission
"By 1974, the AEC's [Atomic Energy Commission] regulatory programs had come under such strong attack that Congress decided to abolish the agency. Supporters and critics of nuclear power agreed that the promotional and regulatory duties of the AEC should be assigned to different agencies. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC]; it began operations on January 19, 1975.
The NRC (like the AEC before it) focused its attention on several broad issues that were essential to protecting public health and safety."
1975 - Federal Involvement in Wind Energy Development Advances Wind Energy Technology
Photograph of a Mod-2 wind turbine. Source: www.boeing.com (accessed May 28, 2009)
"From the mid 1970's through the mid 1980's the United States government worked with industry to advance the technology and enable large commercial wind turbines. This effort was led by NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] at the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was an extraordinarily successful government research and development activity. With funding from the National Science Foundation and later the Department of Energy (DOE), a total of 13 experimental wind turbines were put into operation including four major wind turbine designs. This research and development program pioneered many of the multi-megawatt turbine technologies in use today, including: steel tube towers, variable-speed generators, composite blade materials, partial-span pitch control, as well as aerodynamic, structural, and acoustic engineering design capabilities. The large wind turbines developed under this effort set several world records for diameter and power output. The Mod-2 wind turbine cluster produced a total of 7.5 megawatts of power in 1981."
1975 - Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards Set by the Energy Policy Conservation Act
"The 'Energy Policy Conservation Act,' enacted into law by Congress in 1975, added Title V, 'Improving Automotive Efficiency,' to the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act and established CAFE standards for passenger cars and light trucks. The Act was passed in response to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo. The near-term goal was to double new car fuel economy by model year 1985...
To meet the goal of doubling the 1974 passenger car fuel economy average by 1985 (to 27.5 mpg), Congress set fuel economy standards for some of the intervening years. Passenger car standards were established for MY [model year] 1978 (18 mpg); MY 1979 (19 mpg); MY 1980 (20 mpg); and for MY 1985 and thereafter (27.5 mpg). Congress left the level of 1981-84 standards to the Department to establish administratively. Subsequently, standards of 22, 24, 26, and 27 mpg were established. For the post-1985 period, Congress provided for the continued application of the 27.5 mpg standard for passenger cars, but gave the Department the authority to set higher or lower standards. From MY 1986 through 1989, the passenger car standards were lowered. Thereafter, in MY 1990, the passenger car standard was amended to 27.5 mpg, which it has remained at this level."
Dec. 22, 1975 - Formation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; President Ford Signs into Law the Energy Policy and Conservation Act
"President Gerald R. Ford (tenure: 1974-1977) in December 1975 established the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) by signing into law the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA, Public Law 94-163) passed by the 94th US Congress. The purpose of the law was 'to reduce the impact of severe energy supply interruptions' such as a repetition of the economic dislocation cause by the 1973-1974 oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)...
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was a revolutionary idea in 1974. The new Department of Energy assumed management of the operations of the SPR in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter's Administration. 'It was generally believed that the mere existence of a large, operational reserve of crude oil would deter future oil cutoffs and would discourage the use of oil as a weapon. In the event of an interruption, introduction into the market of oil from the SPR was expected to help calm markets, mitigate sharp price spikes, and reduce the economic dislocation that had accompanied the 1973 disruption."
1977 - Formation of the Solar Energy Research Institute
In 1977 the US Department of Energy launches the Solar Energy Research Institute [Golden, Colorado], the first federal facility dedicated to harnessing power from the sun. In 1991 it was designated as a national laboratory by the US Department of Energy and renamed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is considered the "nation's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development (R&D)."
Apr. 18, 1977 - President Carter Delivers Famous Energy Speech Arguing for Conservation and Alternative Fuels
President Jimmy Carter makes a famous speech on energy, detailing how the US is facing an imminent energy shortage and arguing that the country must make profound changes in the way it uses energy. The following is an excerpt from the speech:
"Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly...
This difficult effort will be the 'moral equivalent of war'...
The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about six percent a year. Imports have doubled in the last five years. Our nation's independence of economic and political action is becoming increasingly constrained. Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980s the world will be demanding more oil that it can produce...
Because we are now running out of gas and oil, we must prepare quickly for a third change, to strict conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power...
If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions."
Aug. 3, 1977 - Federal Surface Mining Control Act Signed to Lessen Environmental Impacts of Surface Coal Mining
Photograph of a mountain top removal coal mining operation in West Virginia. Source: www.climatechange.umaine.edu (accessed June 3, 2009)
"The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was enacted in 1977 after the US Congress recognized the need to regulate mining activity, rehabilitate abandoned mines, and protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of mining operations.
Before 1977, surface coal mining landowners had abandoned 1.1 million coal mine sites in the United States.
The SMCRA directed owners of coal mines to contribute bonds for land rehabilitation and environmental damages caused by mining activities... The SMCRA did not prohibit mountaintop coal mining, an activity that steadily increased after 1977.
Robyn Kenny, MA "Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, United States," www.eoearth.org, Nov. 15, 2007
Aug. 4, 1977 - Department of Energy Organization Act Is Signed, Creating the US Department of Energy
President Carter signing the Department of Energy Organization Act. Source: www.fossil.energy.gov (accessed May 7, 2009)
"In 1977, with the Nation facing its most severe winter in decades, natural gas shortages caused thousands of factory and school closings and threatened cutoffs to residential customers. More unrest was also taking place in the Middle East, now the world's dominant supplier of crude oil. Islamic fundamentalism was on the rise in Iran and elsewhere, and within two years, the Shah of Iran, one of the world's most prolific exporters of crude oil, would be overthrown.
The rapidly escalating global energy issues convinced the U.S. Government that a sharper focus should be applied to federal energy programs. On August 4, 1977, President Carter signed the Department of Energy Organization Act, consolidating more than 30 separate energy functions carried out by various government agencies, including ERDA [Energy Research and Development Administration]. On October 1, 1977, the U.S. Department of Energy activated."
1978 - World's First Solar Powered Village; Tohono O'odham Reservation, Arizona
"NASA's Lewis Research Center (now NASA Glenn) dedicated a solar power system that it installed on the Papago [Tonono O'odham] Indian Reservation in Schuchuli, Ariz. It was the world's first solar-powered village. The system provided power for water pumping and residential electricity to 15 homes until 1983, when grid power reached the village. At that time, engineers hooked up the homes to the grid, and the solar system began pumping water from a community well."
[Editors Note: Soldier's Grove, Wisconsin also considers itself America's first solar village. By 1982, 50% of the community's heating was solar power generated.]
Nov. 4, 1978 - Solar Photovoltaic Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1978
"I am signing today H.R. 12874, the Solar Photovoltaic Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1978, a bill that authorizes an aggressive program of research, development, and demonstration of solar photovoltaic energy technologies.
The bill's long-term goal is to make electricity from photovoltaic systems economically competitive with electricity from conventional sources...
It is still too early to concentrate on commercialization of photovoltaics. Photovoltaic systems hold great promise, but in the short run we must emphasize research and development, including fundamental work on the physical properties of these systems...
Therefore, I will not propose to the Congress that a broad Federal solar photovoltaic purchase program tied to the specific goals of this act be undertaken soon. Rather, consistent with congressional intent, we will focus on research and development that will accelerate cost reductions. We will also continue, where appropriate, small, carefully targeted photovoltaic purchases to meet technical objectives. This approach should lay a firm foundation for the advancement of solar power from photovoltaics in the future."
Jimmy Carter "Solar Photovoltaic Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1978 Statement on Signing H.R. 12874 into Law," www.presidency.ucsb.edu, Nov. 4, 1978
Mar. 28, 1979 - Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident in Pennsylvania Creates Widespread Public Opposition to Nuclear Power
Photograph of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactors. Source: www.fda.gov (accessed May. 27, 2009)
"On March 28, 1979, an accident at one of the reactors at Three Mile Island near Middletown, in Pennsylvania, closed the era of rosy optimism about nuclear power. The accident began when the coolant flow stopped, various mechanisms malfunctioned, and the operators lost control of what was happening. There was enough uncontrolled radioactivity to make heat for explosions and a meltdown. The interaction of melting metals (including 50 percent of the core) and the coolant steam produced something unforeseen: a large hydrogen bubble. It could have exploded, conceivably splitting the containment dome and spreading radioactive dust over considerable areas of the thickly populated East Coast of the United States; but it didn't. Some radioactive materials escaped into the atmosphere, but most stayed put. There were no immediate casualties or, according to careful investigations years later, any in the long run. Thousands of people in the vicinity of the reactor were evacuated. The cleanup took years and cost millions of dollars.
Opposition to nuclear power soon became nearly as widespread as opposition to nuclear bombs."
Dec. 1980 - World's First Wind Farm Built in New Hampshire
"In December 1980, U.S. Windpower installed the world's first wind farm, consisting of 20 wind turbines rated at 30 kilowatts each, on the shoulder of Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire. Like many firsts, it was a failure: The developer overestimated the wind resource, and the turbines frequently broke. U.S. Windpower, which later changed its name to Kenetech, subsequently developed wind farms in California, and after experiencing machine failure there too, improved its designs and became the world's largest turbine manufacturer and wind farm developer before succumbing to the weight of aggressive development efforts, serious technical problems with its newest turbines, and a weak U.S. market, ultimately filing for bankruptcy in 1996."
1981 - Solar One: First Large Scale Solar-Thermal Power Plant Begins Operation in Daggett, California
Photograph of the Solar One test plant. Source: americanhistory.si.edu (accessed June 3, 2009)
"Solar One began the first test of a large-scale thermal solar tower, power plant. Solar One was designed by the Department of Energy (DOE), Southern California Edison, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the California Energy Commission. It was located in Daggett, California, which is about 10 miles east of Barstow.
Solar One's method of collecting power was based on concentrating the sun's energy to produce heat and run a generator. A total of 1818 mirrors, or heliostats, would track the sun across the sky and reflect the sun's light to the top of a large tower. A black-colored receiver, on top of the tower, transferred the heat to an oil heat-transfer fluid. The heated oil was then used to boil water, which turned turbines and generators. Solar One produced 10 MW [Mega Watts] of electricity. It was completed in 1981 and produced power from 1982 to 1986."
1981 - Construction Begins on the World's Largest Wind Farm in California's Altamont Pass; Bird Deaths from Wind Turbines Number in the Thousands
Wind turbines at the Altamont Pass wind farm. Source: www.energy.ca.gov (accessed June 3, 2009)
"[Altamont Pass]... in Northern California, is home to one of the oldest wind farms in the U.S. and the largest concentration of wind turbines in the world. Altamont Pass is located one hour east of San Francisco, California and serves as a temperature buffer for the city by separating it from the heat of the San Joaquin Valley. Altamont Pass wind farm construction began in 1981 in response to favorable federal and state legislation that resulted from the energy price increases of the 1970s.
The Altamont wind farm consists of about 4,800 small wind turbines with a capacity of 576 megawatts (MW) annual generation of about 1.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity. The Altamont wind resource area is one of three primary regions, the others being Tehachapi and San Gorgonio [California]."
"Every year, an estimated 75 to 110 Golden Eagles are killed by the wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA). Some lose their wings, others are decapitated, and still others are cut in half. The lethal turbines, numbering roughly 6,000, are arrayed across 50,000 acres of rolling hills in northeastern Alameda and southeastern Contra Costa counties...
[A]s many as 380 Burrowing Owls (also a state-designated species of special concern), 300 Red-tailed Hawks, and 333 American Kestrels are killed every year. In all, as many as 4,700 birds die annually as a result of the wind turbines."
1982 - First Complete Decontamination and Decommissioning of a Nuclear Reactor in the US
"The Shippingport nuclear power plant [the nation's first commercial nuclear power plant] was retired in 1982. Congress assigned the decontamination and decommissioning of this commercial reactor to DOE [Department of Energy]. This was the first complete decontamination and decommissioning of a reactor in the United States. The reactor vessel was shipped to a low-level waste disposal facility at the Hanford Site in Richland, Washington. The reactor site was cleaned and released for unrestricted use in November 1987. Government officials proclaimed the seven-acre site is suitable for picnicking or for a children's playground."
Apr. 26, 1986 - Largest Nuclear Accident Ever Takes Place at Chernobyl in the Former Soviet Union
Chernobyl Unit 4 Reactor after meltdown. Source: www.personal.psu.edu (accessed June 3, 2009)
"On April 26, 1986, an accident occurred at Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in the former USSR. The accident, caused by a sudden surge of power, destroyed the reactor and released massive amounts of radioactive material into the environment...
The Chernobyl accident caused many severe radiation effects almost immediately. Among the approximately 600 workers present on the site at the time of the accident, 2 died within hours of the reactor explosion and 134 received high radiation doses and suffered from acute radiation sickness. Of these, twenty eight workers died in the first four months after the accident. Another 200,000 recovery workers involved in the initial cleanup work of 1986-1987 received doses of between 0.01 and 0.50 Gy [gray- a measurement of absorbed radiation]. The number of workers involved in cleanup activities at Chernobyl rose to 600,000, although only a small fraction of these workers were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Both groups of cleanup and recovery workers may become ill because of their radiation exposure, so their health is being monitored.
The Chernobyl accident also resulted in widespread contamination in areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine inhabited by millions of residents."
Mar. 24, 1989 - Exxon Valdez Disaster in Alaska Becomes the Largest Oil Spill in US Waters
Section of Prince William Sound coastline covered in oil from the Valdez spill. Source: www.adn.com (accessed July 30, 2009)
"Early in the morning on Good Friday, March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. The grounding ripped the bottom of the single-hulled vessel, resulting in the rupture of 11 of the vessel’s crude oil tanks and the release of nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the environment. It was, and still is, the largest oil spill in United States waters...
[Two days later] on the evening of March 26, a severe winter storm blew into the Sound. The oil slick went from a relatively compact mass to a widely dispersed collection of patches and streaks, and response vessels were forced to run for shelter in the face of the storm. The oil soon hit the beaches in hundreds of places [across 1,300 miles of coastline], overwhelming any efforts to stop it...
Over the next five-and-a-half months the cleanup operations grew exponentially, ultimately becoming the largest private project in Alaska since construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. At one point more than 11,000 people were working on cleanup...
An estimated 250,000 seabirds were killed by oil in the weeks and months following the spill...
Carcasses recovered after the spill [also] included: 1,000 sea otters, 151 bald eagles, 838 cormorants, 1,100 marbled murrelets, and over 33,189 other birds."
In a criminal plea agreement, Exxon Corporation was fined $150 million - the largest fine ever imposed for an environmental crime. In addition Exxon also paid $100 million in criminal restitution for injuries caused as well as $900 million in civil penalties to be used for habitat restoration.
Jan. 23, 1990 - Congress Passes Act to Stimulate Development of Hydrogen Power
The US Congress passes the Spark M. Matsunaga Hydrogen Research, Development, and Demonstration Program Act of 1990 "to accelerate efforts to develop a domestic capability to economically produce hydrogen in quantities that will make a significant contribution toward reducing the Nation's dependence on conventional fuels."
The purposes of the Act were to develop "a comprehensive 5-year comprehensive program management plan that will identify and resolve critical technical issues necessary for the realization of a domestic capability to produce, distribute, and use hydrogen economically within the shortest time practicable; to direct the Secretary to develop a technology assessment and information transfer program among the Federal agencies and aerospace, transportation, energy, and other entities; and to develop renewable energy resources as a primary source of energy for the production of hydrogen."
Apr. 1996 - Solar Two Plant Demonstrates Low Cost Method of Storing Solar Energy
Photograph of Solar Two. Note the two large silver salt tanks for storing energy. Source: www.solareis.anl.gov (accessed June. 3, 2009)
Beginning operations in Apr. 1996, the "10-megawatt Solar Two power tower pilot plant near Barstow, California, successfully completed operations in April 1999, having met essentially all of its objectives. It demonstrated the ability to collect and store solar energy efficiently and to generate electricity when needed by the utility and its customers... Solar Two was conceived and built on the site of its predecessor, Solar One, by a consortium of U.S. utilities and industry and the Department of Energy (DOE). Over its three years of operation,
Solar Two achieved its overall goal of demonstrating advanced molten-salt power tower technology developed over the past decade at a scale sufficient to allow follow-on commercialization of the technology. Plant operations successfully proved that solar energy could be collected efficiently over a broad range of operating conditions and that the low-cost energy storage system operated reliably and efficiently. This unique storage capability allowed solar energy to be collected when the sun was shining and high-value, dispatchable electric power to be generated at night or whenever demanded by the utility, even when the sun was not shining."
Oct. 9, 1996 - Hydrogen Future Act of 1996 Is Passed to Further Expand Hydrogen Power Development
"The Hydrogen Future Act of 1996 expanded the research, and development, and demonstration program under the Matsunaga Act. It authorized activities leading to production, storage, transformation, and use of hydrogen for industrial, residential, transportation, and utility applications...
The long-term vision for hydrogen energy is that sometime well into 21st century, hydrogen will join electricity as one of our Nation's primary energy carriers, and hydrogen will ultimately be produced from renewable sources. But fossil fuels will be a significant long-term transitional resource. In the next twenty years, increasing concerns about global climate changes and energy security concerns will help bring about penetration of hydrogen in several niche markets. The growth of fuel cell technology will allow the introduction of hydrogen in both transportation and electricity sectors."
1997 - EV1 Electric Car Is Made Available to the Public For Lease; Lease Program and EV1 Later Dismantled by GM
Photograph of the Ford EV1 Electric Car. Source: www.time.com (accessed July 21, 2009)
General Motors releases the EV1 to the public for lease to meet a 1990 California mandate that 2 percent of all cars sold in the state in 1998 be zero-emission vehicles.
"A little over 1,000 EV1s were produced by G.M. before the company pulled the plug on the project in 2002 due to insufficient demand. Other major car makers also ceased production of their electric vehicles.
In the wake of a legal challenge from G.M. and DaimlerChrysler, California amended its regulations and abandoned its [zero-emission] goals. Shortly thereafter, automakers began reclaiming and dismantling their electrics as they came off lease."
NOW "Who Killed the Electric Car?," www.pbs.org (accessed July 27, 2009)
Feb. 2003 - President Bush Unveils the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to Promote Hydrogen Fuel Cell Development
Photograph of President Bush at a demonstration hydrogen filling station in Washington, DC. Source: www.apps1.eere.energy.gov (accessed June. 3, 2009)
"[T]he Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI) increased federal funding for hydrogen and fuel cell research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to $1.2 billion over five years. With this increase in funding, the HFI accelerated the pace of RD&D efforts focused on achieving specific targets that would enable hydrogen and fuel cell technology readiness in the 2015 timeframe."
In support of the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, President GW Bush stated:
"Hydrogen fuel cells represent one of the most encouraging, innovative technologies of our era... let us promote hydrogen fuel cells as a way to advance into the 21st century...
If we develop hydrogen power to its full potential, we can reduce our demand for oil by over 11 million barrels per day by the year 2040...
So I'm asking Congress to spend $1.2 billion on a new national commitment to take hydrogen fuel cell cars from the laboratory to the showroom...
Imagine a world in which our cars are driven by hydrogen and our homes are heated by electricity from a fusion power plant. It'll be a totally different world than what we're used to. The quality of life will be advanced. And people will say, gosh, I'm glad those folks went to Washington and were willing to think beyond the current."
George W. Bush, MBA "Hydrogen Fuel Initiative Can Make 'Fundamental Difference,'" www.georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov, Feb. 6, 2003
Feb. 27, 2003 - Plans Announced to Build FutureGen, the Worlds First Zero Emissions Coal Power Plant
Artist's rendition of the FutureGen clean coal plant. Source: www.fossil.energy.gov (accessed June. 3, 2009)
"On February 27, 2003, the President announced FutureGen as a cost-shared project between DOE [Department of Energy] and industry to create the world's first coal-fired, zero emissions electricity and hydrogen production power plant. The production of hydrogen was to support the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to create a hydrogen economy for transportation. The original FutureGen plant was planned to operate at a commercial scale as a 275 megawatt IGCC [Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle] facility that would capture and store at least 1 million metric tons of CO2 per year."
[Editor's Note: On Jan. 30, 2008, US Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman announced a "restructured" approach to the FutureGen project that focused on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and excluded hydrogen production as part of the project.]
Nov. 9, 2005 - US House Prevents Drilling for Oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
"Both the U.S. House and Senate budget bills included a provision that would allow for oil drilling in a small fraction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Senate passed its budget bill last week, but leaders in the House dropped the ANWR provision late November 9 after a small group of moderate Republicans threatened to withhold support for the budget if ANWR were included...
One of the moderates, Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH), wrote a letter opposing ANWR drilling that was signed by at least 24 of his Republican colleagues and delivered to House Rules Committee Chairman David Drier... Rep. Bass' objection to drilling is largely philosophical: "Including the drilling provision in the Deficit Reduction Act would undermine the protection of all public spaces by valuing the worth of the potential resources contained within these lands over their conservation value... Rather then reversing decades of protection for this publicly held land, focusing greater attention on renewable energy sources, alternate fuels, and more efficient systems and appliances would yield more net energy savings."
Nov. 17, 2007 - IPCC Report Concludes Climate Change Is Happening and Is Mostly Human Caused
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its "Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report," the fourth and final volume of its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) on Global Climate Change.
"This Synthesis Report (SYR), adopted in Valencia, Spain, on 17 November 2007, completes the four-volume Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was released in various steps throughout the year under the title 'Climate Change 2007'...
[The report] confirms that climate change is occurring now, mostly as a result of human activities; it illustrates the impacts of global warming already under way and to be expected in future, and describes the potential for adaptation of society to reduce its vulnerability; finally it presents an analysis of costs, policies and technologies intended to limit the extent of future changes in the climate system.
The AR4...[report involved] more than 500 Lead Authors and 2000 Expert Reviewers, building on the work of a wide scientific community and submitted to the scrutiny of delegates from more than one hundred participating nations."
The plant is "the first small scale waste wood commercial facility operating in the US... The current production facility is utilizing soft woods, but successful test runs have occurred making use of waste materials such as cardboard and paper."
Oct. 7, 2008 - National Biofuel Action Plan Unveiled
"Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Ed Schafer and Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel W. Bodman today released the National Biofuels Action Plan (NBAP), an interagency plan detailing the collaborative efforts of Federal agencies to accelerate the development of a sustainable biofuels industry...
The NBAP was developed in response to President Bush's plans to change the way America fuels its transportation fleets... The President's 'Twenty In Ten' goal calls for cutting U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years by investing in renewable and alternative fuel sources, increasing vehicle efficiency and developing alternative fuel vehicles...
Interagency working groups have been chartered with near term deadlines to deliver such key results as: the development of science-based sustainability criteria and indicators, 10- year R&D forecasts for research to develop cost-effective methods of producing cellulosic biofuels from non-food based feedstock, to advance these next generation biofuels to commercialization, and recommendations on infrastructure issues.
DOE has dedicated more than $1 billion to research, development, and demonstration of cellulosic biofuels technology through 2009."
Dec. 22, 2008 - Worst Coal Ash Spill in US History in Kingston, Tennessee
Photograph of coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee. Source: www.huffingtonpost.com (accessed July 22, 2009)
"In the early morning hours of December 22, 2008, the earthen wall of a containment pond at Tennessee's Kingston Fossil Plant gave way. The breach released 1.3 million cubic meters (1.7 million cubic yards) of fly ash - a coal-combustion waste product captured and stored in wet form... The spill infiltrated the Emory River, buried some 120 hectares (300 acres) in sludge, and even knocked a nearby home completely off its foundation...
A report released by the Tennessee Valley Authority stated that the plant's byproducts included arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese, and barium... Estimates of the time required to clean up the spill ranged from weeks to years."
Feb. 17, 2009 - American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Contains Billions of Dollars for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Developmets
President Barack Obama signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Source: www.guardian.co.uk (accessed June. 3, 2009)
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes billions in energy investments, including grants and loan guarantees for renewable energy development, fossil fuel development, energy efficiency programs, energy storage technology, and electric grid modernization.
Section H.R. 1-24 of the Act allocates $16.8 billion to the Department of Energy for "energy efficiency and renewable energy" programs. Out of this $16.8 billion, $3.5 billion will go to renewable energy projects such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels development. $11.3 billion will go to energy efficiency and conservation programs, and $2 billion will go to advanced battery development.
Section H.R. 1-24 also contains $4.5 billion for modernizing the electrical grid and an additional $6 billion is allocated to loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy transmission, carbon capture and storage technology, and other green house gas reduction technologies.
The section also contains $3.4 billion for fossil energy research and development.
In support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, President Barack Obama stated:
"[W]e are taking big steps down the road to energy independence, laying the groundwork for new green energy economies that can create countless well-paying jobs. It's an investment that will double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years...
[W]e will transform the way we use energy. Today, the electricity we use is carried along a grid of lines and wires that date back to Thomas Edison - a grid that can't support the demands of this economy. This means we're using 19th and 20th century technologies to battle 21st century problems like climate change and energy security...
The investment we're making today will create a newer, smarter electric grid that will allow for broader use of alternative energy."
Barack Obama, JD "Remarks by the President and Vice President at Signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," www.whitehouse.gov, Feb. 17, 2009
Apr. 22, 2009 - First Framework for Wind Energy Development on the US Outer Continental Shelf Announced
"President Barack Obama announced that the Department of the Interior has finalized a long-awaited framework for renewable energy production on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The framework establishes a program to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way for orderly, safe, and environmentally responsible renewable energy development activities, such as the sitting and construction of off-shore wind farms, on the OCS...
In addition to establishing a process for granting leases, easements, and rights-of-way for offshore renewable energy development, the new program also establishes methods for sharing revenues generated from OCS renewable energy projects with adjacent coastal States. Additionally the framework will enhance partnerships with Federal, state, and local agencies and tribal governments to assist in maximizing the economic and ecological benefits of OCS renewable energy development...
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 granted the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) the authority to regulate renewable energy development on the OCS, but no action had been taken under that authority until today."
Minerals Management Service (MMS) "President Obama, Secretary Salazar Announce Framework for Renewable Energy Development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf," www.mms.gov, Apr. 22, 2009
May 5, 2009 - President Obama Issues Presidential Directive to USDA to Expand Access to Biofuels; $786.5 Million in Biofuels Funding Announced
"President Obama issued a presidential directive today to Secretary Vilsack to aggressively accelerate the investment in and production of biofuels...
The Biofuels Interagency Working Group will develop the nation's first comprehensive biofuels market development program. The increased collaboration between federal agencies will accelerate the production of and access to sustainable homegrown energy options by coordinating policies that impact the supply, secure transport, and distribution of biofuels, as well as identifying new policy options to improve the environmental sustainability of biofuels feedstock production.
The Biofuels Interagency Working Group [comprised of the USDA, EPA, and the DOE] will also work to develop policies to increase flexible fuel vehicle production and assist in retail marketing efforts while also taking into consideration land use, habitat conservation, crop management practices, water efficiency and water quality, and lifecycle assessments of greenhouse gas emissions."
"As part of the ongoing effort to increase the use of domestic renewable fuels, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu today announced plans to provide $786.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to accelerate advanced biofuels research and development and to provide additional funding for commercial-scale biorefinery demonstration projects... The DOE biomass program will leverage DOE's national laboratories, universities, and the private sector to help improve biofuels reliability and overcome key technical challenges, with the goal of creating third-generation biofuels like green gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels."
May 27, 2009 - US Announces $467 Million in Recovery Act Funding for Solar Energy and Geothermal Energy Development
"President Obama this week announced more than $467 million in available funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to expand and accelerate the development, deployment, and use of geothermal and solar energy throughout the United States...
The Recovery Act makes a $350 million new investment in... [geothermal] technology, dwarfing previous government commitments. Recovery Act funding will support projects in four crucial areas: geothermal demonstration projects; Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) research and development; innovative exploration techniques; and a National Geothermal Data System, Resource Assessment and Classification System...
[In addition] DOE will provide $117.6 million in Recovery Act funding to accelerate widespread commercialization of clean solar energy technologies across America. These activities will leverage partnerships that include DOE's national laboratories, universities, local government, and the private sector, to strengthen the U.S. solar industry and make it a leader in international markets."
Oct. 27, 2009 - US Invests $3.4 Billion to Modernize Energy Grid
"President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system. The end result will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
The $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion."
Apr. 20, 2010 - BP Oil Rig Explodes & Causes Largest Oil Spill in US History
NASA satellite image of oil spill off the coast of Louisiana on May 23, 2010. Source: www.nasa.gov (accessed June 9, 2010)
On Apr. 20, 2010, the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil rig 52 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 crew members.
On Apr. 22 the drilling rig sank 5,000 feet to the ocean floor, causing a series of breaks in the oil pipeline. Initially it was estimated by BP that about 1,000 barrels of oil a day were leaking into the Gulf of Mexico from the broken pipe.
On Apr. 28, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated the pipe was leaking closer to 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf.
By May 27, the US Department of Interior's Flow Rate Technical Group (a group set up to monitor the rate of oil leakage) stated that the well was actually leaking between 12,000-19,000 barrels a day.
Based upon these May 27 estimates, as much as 30 million gallons of oil had leaked into the Gulf, making the leak/spill the largest in US history - nearly three times the amount spilled during the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
New York Times "Estimates Suggest Spill Is Biggest in US History," May, 27, 2010
Mar. 11, 2011 - Earthquake off Coast of Japan Damages Six Powerplants at Fukushima Dai-ichi; Nuclear Crisis Eventually Reaches Level 7, the Highest Level Possible
Photograph of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Reactors. "Timeline: A Nuclear Crisis Unfolds in Japan," www.npr.org (accessed May 5, 2011)
Mar. 11, 2011: "A magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan's northeastern coast, knocking out power and swamping the backup diesel generators needed to cool the six reactors and spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant."
Mar. 12, 2011: "Engineers scramble to prevent a nuclear meltdown. Some of the reactors begin to grow hotter with their cooling systems disabled. A hydrogen explosion rocks Unit 1, causing a radiation leak. Workers furiously pump seawater into the reactor's core."
Mar. 14, 2011: "Crisis depeens at Fukushima Dai-ichi. The pressure and heat continue to build in Unit 3, resulting in a hydrogen explosion that destroys the outer containment building. Fuel rods at Unit 2 are fully exposed to air twice, worrying officials. Workers pump seawater into the cores of Units 1, 2 and 3."
Mar. 15, 2011: "Unit 2 becomes the new focal point as a hydrogen explosion occurs there and its suppression pool is damaged. Explosion and fires also plague Unit 4, and leak radiation into the atmosphere. The government evacuates residents from the 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant."
Mar. 16, 2011: "Another fire at Unit 4 hinders efforts to get the reactors and spent fuel pools under control. Steam and smoke rise from Unit 3, due to evaporation of water in the spent fuel pool. Radiation levels surge. The U.S. government advises its citizens within 50 miles of the plant to evacuate."
Mar. 30, 2011: "Japanese officials say seawater outside of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant contains more than 3,300 times the normal amount of radioactive iodine."
Apr. 11, 2011: "Japan's nuclear regulators raised the severity level of the crisis at a stricken nuclear plant Tuesday to rank it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing the amount of radiation released in the accident. The regulators said the rating was being raised from 5 to 7 - the highest level on an international scale overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency."
Feb. 9, 2012 - US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Approves New Nuclear Power Plants for First Time Since 1978; Two New Reactors to Be Built in Georgia
On Feb. 9, 2012, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the first new nuclear power reactors to be built in the United States since 1978.
According to the NRC press release: "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded its mandatory hearing on Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s (SNC) application for two Combined Licenses (COL) at the Vogtle site in Georgia. In a 4-1 vote, the Commission found the staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors to issue the COLs."
Mar. 27, 2012 - EPA Announces First Clean Air Act Standard for Carbon Pollution from New Power Plants
On Mar. 27, 2012 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants. The rule applies to all new power plants that burn fossil fuel to create electricity including coal and natural gas fired power plants.
The new rule proposes that new fossil fuel power plants must meet an output-based standard of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.
According to the EPA 95% of the new natural gas combined cycle power plants that have been built since 2005 already meet the standard.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "the newest natural-gas-fired power plants [as of 2012] emit about 800 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour, new coal plants, between 1,600 to about 1,900 pounds per megawatt hour."
Los Angeles Times "Obama Administration Sets Limits On Power Plant Emissions," www.latimes.com, Mar. 27, 2012
Apr. 17, 2012 - EPA Issues First Ever Clean Air Rules for Natural Gas Produced by Fracking
On Apr. 17, 2012 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first ever federal rules on air pollution from wells that utilize hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) to produce natural gas.
"The final rules include the first federal air standards for natural gas wells that are hydraulically fractured, along with requirements for several other sources of pollution in the oil and gas industry that currently are not regulated at the federal level...
A key component of the final rules is expected to yield a nearly 95 percent reduction in VOCs [volatile organic compounds] emitted from more than 11,000 new hydraulically fractured gas wells each year...
[T]he reductions would yield a significant environmental co-benefit by reducing methane emissions from new and modified wells. Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas – more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide when emitted directly to the atmosphere...
Today’s final rules also would protect against potential cancer risks from emissions of several air toxics, including benzene."
June 25, 2013 - President Obama releases his climate action plan including increased use of renewable energy and carbon pollution restrictions for power plants
President Obama speaks about the release of his climate action plan Source: "President Obama is taking action on climate change," www.whitehouse.gov, June 25, 2013
"President Obama is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency to work expeditiously to complete carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants...
In 2012 the President set a goal to issue permits for 10 gigawatts of renewables on public lands by the end of the year. The Department of the Interior achieved this goal ahead of schedule and the President has directed it to permit an additional 10 gigawatts by 2020…
The Administration is also taking steps to encourage the development of hydroelectric power at existing dams…
Also, the Department of Defense – the single largest consumer of energy in the United States – is committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military installations, including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal, by 2025. In addition, federal agencies are setting a new goal of reaching 100 megawatts of installed renewable capacity across the federally subsidized housing stock by 2020…
In the coming weeks, the Department of Energy will issue a Federal Register Notice announcing a draft of a solicitation that would make up to $8 billion in (self-pay) loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy projects… that can cost-effectively meet financial and policy goals, including the avoidance, reduction, or sequestration of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases…
[T]he Administration is establishing a new goal: The federal government will consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 – more than double the current goal of 7.5 percent...”
Sep. 20, 2013 - EPA Issues New Proposed Rule to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Power Plants
Image of Big Bend coal-fired power plant in Apollo Beach, FL Source: "Big Bend Power Station," wikipedia.org, May 2011
"The Environmental Protection Agency's second stab at a proposal to set the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants would make it impossible for companies to build the kind of coal-fired plants that have been the country's biggest source of electricity for decades.
Under the proposal, released Friday, any new plant that runs on coal would only be permitted to emit about half as much carbon dioxide as an average coal plant puts into the air today...
The EPA proposal aims to help The White House to cut greenhouse gas emissions by attacking the largest single source in the United States: Power plants pump out 40 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases.
The EPA's new proposal sets a limit for future power plants of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour for large electricity generators that are powered by natural gas. And it sets a slightly higher limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour for small natural gas generators and for coal-fired generators...
The revised proposal comes after loud complaints from industry about the first version of the proposed rule, which was released 18 months ago."
[Editor’s note: The original Mar. 27, 2012 proposed rule to limit greenhouse gases from power plants was withdrawn by the EPA and replaced with this current Sep. 20, 2013 proposal. There will be a 60 day comment period on this proposal. After that, the EPA has one year to finalize the rule.]
Feb. 13, 2014 - Ivanpah, the World's Largest Concentrated Solar Power Generation Plant, Goes Online
Image of Ivanpah solar power generation plant, Mojave Desert, CA Source: "Celebrating the Completion of the World's Largest Concentrating Solar Power Plant," energy.gov, Feb. 13, 2014
"As the largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant in the world, Ivanpah harnesses the abundant sunlight of the Southwest United States to provide power on a massive scale. The facility has the capacity to generate 392 megawatts (MW) of clean electricity - enough to power 94,400 average American homes. Most of the power generated by the system will be sold under long-term power purchase agreements to Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison Company...
Ivanpah significantly expands the use of CSP technologies within the United States. Its innovative power-tower technology utilizes a field of mirrors called heliostats to track the sun and focus sunlight onto boilers that sit atop 459-foot tall towers. When the sunlight hits the boiler, it heats the water inside to create superheated steam used to spin an electricity-generating turbine."
[Editor’s Note: In April 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service released a report on bird deaths(10.2 MB) at the new Ivanpah concentrated solar power plant, and two other plants. They found that Ivanpah "may act as a 'mega-trap,' attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds, which are incapacitated by solar flux injury." While researching the report, staff observed birds entering the area of concentrated light (the solar flux) and igniting. During the study period, July 2012 to Dec. 2013, the remains of 141 birds were studied. At that time, Ivanpah was not yet fully operational, and was running at 33% capacity.]
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