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Warm weather cuts short US maple sugaring season


MILWAUKEE – Temperatures in Wisconsin had already hit the high 60s when Gretchen Grape and her family began tapping their 850 maple trees. They had waited for the state's ceremonial tapping to kick off the maple sugaring season. It was moved up five days, but that didn't make much difference.

Maple sap drips from a tap in Calais, Vt., on Wednesday. Many maple-syrup producers in the Midwest and Northeast have had their harvests cut short by warm weather, a setback that could be hard for smaller producers to overcome.

For Grape, the typically monthlong season ended nine days later. The sap had stopped flowing in a record-setting heat wave, and the 5-quart collection bags that in a good year fill in a day were still half-empty. Instead of their usual 300 gallons of syrup, her family had about 40.
Maple syrup producers across the North have had their season cut short by unusually warm weather. While those with expensive, modern vacuum systems say they've been able to suck a decent amount of sap from their trees, producers like Grape, who still rely on traditional taps and buckets, have seen their year ruined.

"It's frustrating," said the 69-year-old retiree from Holcombe, Wis. "You put in the same amount of work, equipment, investment, and then all of a sudden, boom, you have no sap."


Here in Maine, the sap started running in mid-February - if you didn't catch that run you were SOL.

The 80 degree weather this week caused the trees to flower.

It's over - even though Maple Syrup Sunday is next week.

Ties That Bind Oil and Dollar Snap


Rising tensions between Iran and the West are overwhelming a bedrock principle that has dominated the oil market for nearly a decade: Oil prices move in the opposite direction of the dollar.

U.S. oil prices have climbed 12% since early November, with most of those gains coming after U.N. inspectors issued a report saying they suspected Iran was renewing efforts to produce nuclear weapons. The dollar also has strengthened over that period, gaining 4.8% as measured by the ICE U.S. Dollar Index, which weighs the dollar against a basket of other currencies.

The shift has occurred amid a collision between the two investments: The surge in oil prices, caused by fears Iran could block oil shipments or halt production in the event of military conflict, coincided with a deepening of Europe's debt crisis, which bolstered the dollar as the euro flagged. It is unusual because a higher dollar makes dollar-denominated oil more expensive for those buying in other currencies, reducing demand.

It has thrown some trading strategies into disarray. John Kilduff, founding partner of hedge fund Again Capital, says he has at times adjusted his firm's position in oil futures daily based on movements in the dollar, but began disregarding it in December as Iran tensions drove oil prices up and the pairing no longer held. Without the indicator to guide investment direction, his fund has trimmed oil holdings 20%.


Maine company ready to install tidal power unit


PORTLAND, Maine — With its federal license in hand, a Maine-based tidal energy company is ready to install its underwater power system for the first time on the floor of the ocean.

Ocean Renewable Power Co. aims to begin installation of its first grid-connected power unit in mid-March at a 60-acre site in Cobscook Bay at the nation’s easternmost tip.


Eventually, Ocean Renewable hopes to install more units to bring its electrical output to 4 megawatts at sites off both Lubec and Eastport. Ocean Renewable holds permits for three sites in the area, one of the world’s best tidal sites, where twice a day the tide rises and falls 20 feet.

All told, the company sees up to 50 megawatts of tidal power potential in the Eastport and Lubec areas, enough to power thousands of homes, Sauer said.


U.K. Could Save $5.6 Billion by Linking Offshore Wind Farms


The U.K. could save as much as 3.5 billion pounds ($5.6 billion) by connecting offshore wind farms to each other, cutting down on construction and operating costs.

As much as 15 percent could be knocked off the estimated 24 billion-pound bill for building wind infrastructure, according to a joint statement today from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and energy regulator Ofgem.

The U.K. is seeking to have about 18 gigawatts of turbines at sea installed from 2 gigawatts at present to meet climate change goals. A European “supergrid” linking Britain’s electricity network to the continent could reduce the cost of connecting offshore wind farms by a quarter, according to the U.K. parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee.

“Linking up power cables between offshore wind farms could make some serious savings, so we would be crazy not to encourage it,” Energy Minister Charles Hendry said in the statement. The government is seeking to lower the cost of offshore wind to 100 pounds a megawatt-hour by 2020 from about 150 pounds.


Wind power growth in Asia is part of the region’s future


Annual statistics recently released by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) once again show the massive growth in cumulative wind farm capacity in Asia, to 82,398 MW last year from 61,106 MW at the end of 2010.

Wind energy growth in Asia is part of the region’s future. Annual statistics recently released by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) once again show the massive growth in cumulative wind farm capacity in Asia, to 82,398 MW last year from 61,106 MW at the end of 2010.

When matched with Asia’s continuing population increases, the GWEC statistics seem to indicate that the region as a whole is well placed to incorporate even greater amounts of wind power into its grids in coming decades as the world replaces dirty carbon energy sources with green sustainable electricity.

Trailing behind only the EU, which had a total of 93,957 MW of installed wind turbines capacity by the end of 2011, Asia was the second place regional leader with a total of 82,398 MW of installed wind farm capacity.


Can Battery Storage And Solar Work Together? Arizona's Largest Utility To Find Out


Last week, Phoenix-based APS, Arizona’s largest utility, began testing a 1.5-megawatt-hour energy storage system. The shipping container-sized unit, developed by lithium-ion battery maker Electrovaya Inc., can dispatch power equivalent to 1,200 hybrid Prius sedans or 300,000 cell phone batteries. Here is a video with a description of how the unit works.

The energy storage system, located in Flagstaff, will see double duty over the two-year pilot. At its first stop, an electrical distribution substation, the unit will store electricity when demand and prices are low and dispatch it at peak, usually late afternoon and early evening, when demand surges. In about a year, the unit will be trucked a few miles away, to a neighborhood solar zone, to interact with a 500-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) farm and cluster of rooftop solar arrays (more on this below).

Once installed at the Doney Park Renewable Energy site, home to the 500-kW PV farm, APS will use the energy storage system to supply power when solar output dips, as when a cloud passes overhead, and to help meet higher demand at peak after dark.

“One of the busiest times on our system is between 5 and 9 p.m. That’s when many customers get home from work, turn on the lights, the TV and the air conditioner. However, by that time, solar systems have largely stopped producing for the day,” APS Energy Storage Project Manager Joe Wilhelm said in a statement. “With storage, we can gather solar energy during the day and dispatch it in the evening.”

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