Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cool Cities is another way you can get involved
Do you live in a Cool City? I don’t mean are the nightspots fun. I mean has your city (or village) signed the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement? More than 500 have and you can find out if yours is among them by going to

By signing on, these cities commit to having their local government meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol goal of 7% cut in greenhouse gases by 2012 (as compared with 1990 levels); to urge the state and feds to meet or beat Kyoto; and to press Congress to pass GHG reduction legislation and establish a national emissions trading system. The program was started by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in 2005, when Kyoto took effect without U.S. participation. Frustrated by federal inaction, many local leaders decided to act on their own.

The crux of Cool Cities is what the city governments can do locally. They focus on:
• Cleaner vehicles
• Energy efficiency
• Renewable energy.

Cleaner vehicles solutions
1. Green fleets – hybrids and other fuel-efficient autos.
2. Hybrid incentives – free parking, lower registration fees and taxes
3. Clean buses – buses that run on compressed natural Gas (CNG) that emits 25% less GHG or that have hybrid electric/diesel engines.

Best practices include:
* Houston – Converted a substantial portion of its city fleet to hybrids. An estimated 80% of new purchases could be hybrid by 2010.
* Charlotte, N.C. – Bought 2 dozen hybrids by the end of 2006
* Washington, D.C. – Over 4 years the Washington Metro Transit Authority replaced 414 diesel buses with CHG.

Energy efficiency solutions:
1. Making new buildings energy efficient – by changing municipal codes and/or adopting Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
2. Retrofitting old buildings – modernizing lighting, heating and cooling in public buildings like schools, police and fire stations, and city offices.
3. Street lighting and traffic signals – changing to super-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.
4. Combined heat and electric power (CHP) in a single power plant to recover heat that is normally wasted and funnel it to nearby buildings.

Best practices include:
*Salt Lake City – Plans to convert all 1,630 traffic signals to LED. Replaced conventional bulbs with condensed fluorescent lights (CFLs) in city and county office buildings.
*Scottsdale, Ariz. – Requires all new city buildings to meet the LEED Gold Standard.
*Twin Falls, Idaho – Honeywell fronted the money to improving heating, air conditioning and lighting in schools.
*St. Paul, Minn. – Uses combined heating and power in winter in more than 80% of the downtown and adjacent areas, including the State Capitol. The plant is powered by biomass.

Renewable energy solutions
1. Renewable Energy Standards – require a certain percent of renewable power by a certain date.
2. Solar or wind – fund and/or construct wind turbines or put solar panels on public and private buildings, often in partnership.

Best practices include:
*Ft. Collins, Colo. – Plans to have 15% renewables by 2017 and reduce per capita energy consumption 10% by 2012. Expects to reduce total emissions by 472,000 metric tons. 2% rate increase.
*Columbia, Mo. – By wide margin, voters approved 15% by 2022.
*Waverly, Iowa – First municipal utility to install its own wind turbines on land leased from farmers. Goal is 10% wind.

For more details, you can go to and download the Cool Cities Guide pdf.

Do something

OK, here’s how you can make a difference. Many cities and villages have not yet signed on. The Sierra Club runs workshops for concerned citizens, one of which was June 9 in Chicago. People came from cities in Illinois and Wisconsin to learn how to organize to make their cities cool. Here’s what they were told:
1. Get a few like-minded people together and decide you are committed to doing this.
2. Forge a coalition of progressive groups, religious institutions, businesses, sympathetic government people and local organizations. Your city council/village board is much more likely to pay attention if you represent a broad spectrum. (You may need to make presentations about Global Warming to persuade some of these groups to join you.)
3. Research what has being done already.
4. Understand your city government.
5. Complete your game plan.
6. Go to the mayor and city council (or president and village board) and ask them to sign on. Make it easy for them by taking the appropriate form. (Again, you may need to make a presentation to educate them.)
7. After they sign, make it public, probably at a news conference with the mayor or villager president.
8. Hold their feet to the fire.
9. Move the mayor or president from talk to action.
10. Help move the campaign forward.

The Sierra Club, which oversees Cool Cities, can be very helpful in providing organizing materials and giving advice. E-mail or call in Chicago (312-236-0059), in Washington, D.C. (202-547-1141), in St. Louis (314-645-2032) or in Portland, Maine (207-761-5616). They can also point you to other resources.

Even if your mayor has already signed the agreement, many of them are moving slowly and need to be pushed. Find out what stage they are at and how you can get involved to make things happen.

Chicago, for example, though one of the first to sign on, is still at the research and planning stage. It has a grant from the Clinton Foundation to assess where greenhouse gases are coming from and what actions would be most effective. The city expects to show a draft plan to environmental groups like Sierra Club this summer to get feedback and then announce a plan in November. Some steps Chicago has already been taken: It bought 20 hybrid buses and more than 50 Ford Escape hybrids and 30 Priuses for the municipal fleet, put more than 20 solar installations on top of museums, schools and other buildings, and passed an energy-efficiency standard derived from LEED, so new construction and renovation needs LEED certification. The city has been praised for its green roofs, but long criticized for it blue-bag recycling program, which is now changing, but slowly. It was recently reported that city government uses 22% more electricity than it did in 1998-2001. The city says climate control systems are being installed. An earlier plan to buy wind energy fell through, as did a plan to buy wind credits this month. So there is still much to do.

Though it's hard, working at the local level can often be most effective. So get involved.
Good luck!

Congressional round-up

*In what may be a pivotal moment for a U.S. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) pledged this week to draft a bill this fall to establish an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce GHG, with limited negative effect on the economy. While they gave no target, an aide said they would meet the goal endorsed by the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which is 60-80% by mid-century. The announcement was applauded by Senate Environment Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who said her committee would take up the bill before the end of the year. Two environmental groups also praised the action. “This is huge,” said a spokesman for Environmental Defense. And the Natural Resources Defense Council called it a “great development.”

* In the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chair of the Energy Committee, said his panel would work on economy-wide curbs on GHG of 60-80% in the fall and would look at both cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, as well as the role of coal and nuclear energy, auto fuel efficiency, expansion of alternative fuels, carbon sequestration and coal-to-liquid. Meanwhile, the committee is marking up a bill for debate after July 4, which will cover less controversial issues – the “low-hanging fruit.” Dingell has been criticized by his fellow Democrats for his failure to bring up corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) legislation this summer, especially after it was passed in the Senate. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that despite Dingell’s desire to put it off, he would offer a CAFE amendment to the energy package on the floor in an effort to capitalize on the measure passed by the Senate.

* The southern utility lobby apparently made the difference in the failure of a 15% renewable energy mandate to come to a vote in the Senate. According to Greenwire, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Valley Power Providers Assn., Southern Company and Duke Energy convinced enough Senators that it would undermine the stability of the electricity market in the South, which doesn’t have much wind or solar capacity. The measure fell 3 votes short of the 60 required to bring it to a vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he plans to revive the measure.
(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire)

News briefs

1. ‘Perfect drought’ conditions now in Southern California
Scarce water and population growth have converged in Southern California to create conditions for extreme drought. It’s rained just 3.2 inches in the year ending June 30, which would make it the driest 12 months on record since 1877. And experts are predicting no more rain until September. “I call it the Incendiary Summer of 2007,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA in Pasadena. The Sierra Nevada, which usually supplies half the area’s water, has the lowest snowpack in 2 decades and the volume of water is down to 20% of its usual flow. At the same time, Southern California’s population has grown 2-4 times faster than the national average in the past half-century, putting much more pressure on scarce water resources. Because of Global Warming, high temperatures and a lack of rain may become the norm in the area, experts say, and that will require much better water management. Potable water shouldn’t be used on golf courses, the head of the water board said. And they need to stop storm drains from channeling rainwater into the sea. "We spend $1 billion to import water and $500,000 to throw local [rain] water into the ocean," said Melanie Winter of the River Project in LA. (Source: The Guardian UK)

2. Heat wave drives temps up to 115 F in Southeast Europe
A heat wave in Southeastern Europe the early part of last week drove temperatures as high as 115 degrees. Greece will see its hottest June ever. By Wednesday, 5 had died from the heat in Greece and least 30 in Romania. In Greece air conditioning pushed energy use to an all-time high. In Western Turkey the mercury hit 111. Forest fires broke out in several of Turkey’s Mediterranean resorts and brush fires started in Southern Italy. Severe heat is expected to last throughout the summer, though temperatures will ease somewhat soon, forecasters said. Bulgaria’s wheat crop is predicted to be down 30% this year from the drought and heat, while in Greece cereal crops and hydropower have been hurt. Meanwhile, England was seeing torrential rain and flooding. The Wimbledon tennis matches were postponed by rain Monday. Extreme weather is an expected byproduct of Global Warming. Is this a preview of what’s to come? (Source:

3. Report: Europe must think about moving ports, coastal cities
The European Commission, which is light years ahead of us in recognizing the threats posed by Global Warming, is urging in a new report that Europe look at such extreme measures as relocating ports and cities on the coast and in flood plains, to protect them from climate change. The report foresees increasing disasters threatening Europe’s social and economic fabric and security. It says EU countries must protecting their power stations, transportation systems and agriculture from the flooding, droughts, landslides and wildfires that will result from Global Warming. "What is tricky about this is that we are going to have to spend billions preparing and adapting, and that is going to compete for money to stop climate change getting worse," said Tom Burke, a visiting professor at Imperial and University Colleges in London. (Source: Greenwire)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

News extra

1. Senate OKs weakened energy bill; Reid vows to try again
Half a loaf. That’s what we got Thursday night after weeks of wrangling and intense lobbying over renewable energy, tax incentives, auto fuel economy, biofuels and what to do about coal. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the vote he plans to revive the parts of the package that didn’t make it. The good news – as you no doubt have heard – is that the Senate, for the first time in 30 years, increased corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, to 35 mpg by 2020, including light trucks and SUVs. That’s about 10 mpg above the current level. It means each auto company must average that mileage for its new vehicles. To sweeten the deal, the majority gave auto companies financial incentives to improve technology and dropped a requirement for yearly 4% increases in CAFE from 2021-2030. The Senate also approved a biofuels mandate of 26 billion gallons by 2022, 21 billion of which must be “advanced” biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, which is much more environment-friendly than corn. Also in the bill: higher energy efficiency standards for appliances and lighting. The bad news is they couldn’t quite muster the 60 senators needed to vote on a mandate for utility companies to use 15% renewable energy by 2020, even after a compromise allowing 4% of that 15% to be in efficiency. Nor were they able to vote on a plan to cut tax subsidies for oil and gas to finance research and production of renewables like wind and solar, which would have helped the clean energy sources compete. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he’ll keep working on the tax bill, and Reid vowed to revive both that and the renewables mandate later in the year. CAFE still faces rough going in the House, where Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) is a friend of the auto industry. (Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM, AP)

2. House puts off controversial issues like CAFE and coal until fall
The House is behind the Senate but still hopes to pass an energy package by July 4. Energy Chair Dingell has put off “controversial” issues like CAFE, an alternative fuels mandate and coal-to-liquid fuel until fall. "My own judgment is that we are going to have to adopt a cap-and-trade system and some form of carbon emission fee to achieve the reductions we need," he said. An economy-wide restriction on GHG emissions could take some heat off the auto industry. His committee still intends to mark up for summer passage energy legislation dealing with efficiency standards, a smart electricity grid, incentives for a renewable fuels infrastructure and programs for development of alternative vehicle technology, according to E&E Daily. The House Ways and Means Committee has sent an energy bill to the floor (H.R. 2776), which uses a rollback in oil tax breaks to finance $16 billion in incentives for renewable energy and efficiency. Included are a first-time incentive for wave and tidal energy as well as extension of tax credits for wind and biomass (8 years), solar and fuel cells (4 years), and biodiesel (2 years). It closes the “SUV loophole” that give tax credits to businesses to buy larger vehicles, restricting them to several specific uses, and there’s a new $4,000 credit for plug-in hybrids. A 50-cent-per-gallon credit for cellulosic fuel would be added to the existing 50-cent one for ethanol. In addition, $6 billion in "green" tax credit bonds would be available to local governments for efficiency and alternative energy projects. And the Transportation Committee has OK’d H.R. 2701, which provides $850 million each of the next 2 fiscal years to expand mass transit service, subsidize alternative-fuel equipment, buy cleaner locomotives and improve regional railroads. (Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire)

3. Earth in ‘imminent peril’ from Global Warming, scientists say
While Congress fiddles, the planet burns. Six leading scientists have published a stark warning that the Earth is in imminent danger from a sea-level rise of several meters (a meter is about 39 inches) by 2100, much higher than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which didn’t consider feedbacks. Civilization itself, and the infrastructure it built, are threatened by Global Warming, they said in a paper published in the peer-reviewed Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society A. "Recent greenhouse gas emissions place the Earth perilously close to dramatic climate change that could run out of control, with great dangers for humans and other creatures," they wrote, and only intense efforts to curb man-made GHG emissions can keep climate near the range of the past million years. We have about 10 years to put into effect the draconian measures needed to curb CO2 emissions quickly enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperature, according to lead author James Hansen, of NASA. The scientists concluded that “planetary rescue almost surely requires a means of extracting [GHG] from the air." (Source: The Independent UK)

4. LiveEarth concerts July 7 will launch worldwide campaign
The 24-hour LiveEarth event, on 7 continents with more than 100 top musicians, is much more than entertainment. It is the start of a global campaign by the Alliance for Climate Protection, the Climate Group, corporations, governments and others to take on Global Warming. The concerts will be broadcast on NBC, with Internet coverage at Al Gore, chairman of the Alliance, is asking people to host house parties and will furnish a short video to those who sign up, at When it’s over you can upload pictures of your party. But more important, everyone will be encouraged to get involved and take action against climate change. The concerts will be in New York, London, Johannesburg, Rio de Janiero, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, Hamburg, Istanbul and Antarctica. Artists for the New York concert include The Police, Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Matthews Band, Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Melissa Etheridge and many others. For more information, go to (Sources:,

5. Sacred Ganges River at risk as Himalayan glaciers shrink
The rapid retreat of the glacier feeding the Ganges River in India may be the first example of Global Warming interfering with religion. The Ganges (or Ganga, as it’s called there) attracts millions of pilgrims and is known as a place for prayer rituals. Many believe cremation beside the Ganga helps Hindus reach a state of nirvana. Yet the river could just about dry up in another generation, as the Gangotri glacier, which feeds it in dry summer months, retreats 40 yards a year, twice as fast as 20 years ago. Scientists say the Himalayan glaciers could be gone by 2030. If they are, it would threaten much of Asia’s water supply, as well. Environmentalists in India are calling for strict reductions in greenhouse gases, but the government has taken the position that the U.S. and other industrialized countries should act first. (Source: Washington Post)

6. Worldwide investment in renewable energy is booming
$70.9 billion was invested in renewable energy last year, a U.N. report said last week. This is a 43% increase from 2006. And first-quarter growth in 2007 confirms the trend is continuing. The report, “Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2007,” says the renewables boom has already surpassed the boom in duration and investment, “and shows no sign of abating.” Other findings:
* While renewables are getting 18% of the investment in energy production, they are still is just 2% of the market.
* European energy companies like BP and Shell are investing more than U.S. firms.
* 60% more venture capital and private equity were invested first quarter this year than the same period last year.
* Investment in wind power leads with 38% of the total, followed by biofuels (26%) and solar (16%).
* While the strongest markets are in the U.S. and Europe, there is also increased investment in Brazil, China and India. Biofuels lead in Brazil, while wind is first in India, and solar in China. (Source: Greenwire)

7. California must wait until year’s end for EPA decision on autos
The EPA said last week California will have to wait a few months longer – like maybe till the end of the year – to learn if it can enforce its strict tailpipe emissions law. Administrator Stephen Johnson said he needs time to weigh public comments and scientific information. Five years ago, California passed the law to cut auto GHG emissions 20% by 2012 and 30% by 2016. Since then 11 other states have followed suit. But California has been blocked from enforcing its law, first by auto industry lawsuits, and then while the Supreme Court weighed whether the EPA had authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. After the Court’s ruling earlier this year, that the EPA did indeed have that authority, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) immediately asked for a waiver so he could finally begin enforcing California’s law. Other states are watching intently to see what happens. A spokeswoman for the increasingly impatient governor said he had not reversed an earlier plan to sue EPA if he didn’t get an answer by Oct. 22. (Source: E&E Daily)

Monday, June 18, 2007

What’s happening in Congress with climate bills?
As dozens of Global Warming bills move through committee and go to the floor, if very little gets put into law you can blame Sen. James “Global Warming is a hoax” Inhofe (R-Okla.) for his threat to filibuster anything with teeth (60 votes need to stop that); or President Bush (67 Senate votes to override a veto); or the congressmen and senators from the coal states, who fear the demise of their states’ lifeblood; or the “oil patch” congressmen and lobbyists; or the Senators and reps from Michigan and auto industry; or even congressmen from low-wind states, who don’t see wind power as an option. There are some formidable obstacles for those in Congress who want to do right by the planet. But there is hope. During the past week, dozens of harmful amendments have been rejected, including one to have new federal fuel-economy standards pre-empt more aggressive ones in the states, and another adding coal-to-liquid (twice as bad as oil for Global Warming) as an “alternative fuel.” The biggest question now is can the Senate get the votes to sustain its fairly ambitious energy package. (The all-important matter of mandated GHG cuts was put off.)

The status of bills now being debated includes:

* Auto efficiency – The current language calls for 35 mpg corporate average fuel economy for both cars and light trucks by 2020, exempting only “work trucks” over 8,500 lbs. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) unveiled an industry-friendly alternative at the end of last week, which asks for CAFE standards of 36 mpg for passenger cars by 2022 but only 30 mpg for light trucks and SUVs by 2025. It also shifts oversight from the EPA to the National Highway Safety Administration. And it mandates new research dollars for hybrid, plug-in, diesel, biolfuel and hydrogen technologies, with incentives for the auto industry to develop these technologies. Some senators say they have enough votes to pass the original bill.

* Renewable energy – Energy Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) aims to require utilities to get 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020. He wants a Renewable Portfolio Standard in which this power comes from carbon-free sources like wind, solar or geothermal, with penalties for utilities not meeting the standard. The ranking Republican on that committee, Pete Domenici, also from New Mexico, had a different plan: adding nuclear, hydro dams, fuel cell and low-emission coal plants to the mix. Domenici’s amendment didn’t pass, but he said he was ready filibuster Bingaman’s version and it appeared Bingaman didn't have the votes to overcome that. So now Bingaman has signed on to a compromise amendment for $10 billion in loans for capture-and-sequestration equipment for coal-to-liquid projects, so long as 75% of the CO2 is captured, which may get him the votes he needs.

* Tax credits – Bingaman will try to extend energy tax credits for wind power more than two years, to ensure continued growth of the industry. A tax package by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) extends credits for wind, solar and other renewable sources until 2010, with additional incentives for biofuels, energy efficiency and “clean coal,” to be paid for by the repeal of oil industry incentives. But those who provide wind power say the on-again, off-again subsidies are hurting the wind industry in this country.

Other bills up for consideration in the Senate would:
• Expand biofuels to 36 billion gallons by 2022, with 21 billion of those gallons coming from advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol.
• Increase efficiency for appliances and federal buildings.
• Encourage demonstration projects for carbon capture and sequestration.
• Create a registry for industries’ release of greenhouse gases (a first step toward any cap-and-trade system).

In the House, it's tough going, with powerful auto state Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) sticking to his guns and apparently reaching a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to put off the most controversial bills, including CAFE and coal-to-liquids, until fall. That means a much more limited package in the House this summer.

We should know a lot more as this week progresses. Stay tuned.

(Sources: Greenwire,, E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

How you can help: Call the Capitol switchboard at (202)224-3121, and asking to be connected to your senators’ offices. Tell them you support Bingaman’s energy package as a first step and want the strongest bills possible to fight Global Warming. Votes are likely to be taken early this week so do it right away.

News briefs

1. World’s CO2 emissions growing faster than expected
The growth in carbon dioxide emissions is speeding up. The rate of increase the last few years was 3% year, compare with 1% in the ‘90s, according to two recent reports. That puts it at the high end of predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, faster than IPCC’s worst-case scenario. Even the trend toward reducing “intensity,” the amount of energy used per unit of gross domestic product, seems to be growing, said one study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The U.S. government boasts a drop in intensity here of 1.5%, but study co-author Gregg Marland says that is partly because much of the high-carbon manufacturing has been moved overseas, often to China, which then sells the products back to the U.S. The developing countries, with 80% of the world’s population, account for 73% of the recent growth, though the richest countries still contributed 60% of GHG in 2004 and 71% of what has gone into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Marland said the bottom line is that the world is consuming more. (Source:

2. Demand from China leads to illegal logging, loss of forests
Tropical forests, which store CO2, are being lost at the rate of 32 million acres a year. And China’s insatiable demand for wood is driving much of the destruction. China is now the top exporter of furniture, flooring and plywood. And most of the raw product is coming from places like Africa, the Amazon and Indonesia. Much of the logging is illegal, as governments have trouble controlling what goes on in remote areas. In Indonesia, three-quarters of the logging is illegal, and the U.N. says 98% of the forest that remains could be gone by 2022, hurting people and endangered animals like tigers and rhinos. There’s a growing effort to identify where wood is coming from, to determine if it’s illegal. But perhaps the best solution is to pay poor nations for keeping forests alive, thus counteracting the money that can earned by cutting them down. (Source: Reuters)

3. Antarctic Live Earth concert July 7 will be pretty cool
It is perhaps fitting that scientists will be the ones to perform the Live Earth concert in Antarctica July 7. That’s because no one else can get in or out during their frigid “winter.” The rock-folk band Nanatuk has never performed for anyone but the musicians’ 17 colleagues. But this time they’ll be broadcast over the Internet on Al Gore personally asked them to play so there could be concerts on all 7 continents. Scientists, of course, are the ones who keep warning us about Global Warming and do all the research to back it up. They are the real heroes of this effort. (Source: E&E News PM)

4. Costa Rica expects to be the first carbon-neutral country
The Central America country of Costa Rica aims to have zero carbon emissions by 2030. Plans call for cleaning up fossil fuel plants, using hybrid vehicles and planting trees. They have good head start, getting 78% of their energy from hydropower and 18% from wind and thermal sources. Costa Ricans emit only 1.5 metric tons of carbon per person now. Norway, a short time ago, announced its plan to be carbon-neutral by 2050, through a combination of tough restrictions and carbon credits. Norwegians emit 10 tons per person. (Source: Greenwire)

5. Amish find solar energy fits their lifestyle perfectly
Amish and Mennonite communities in Pennsylvania Dutch country are turning to solar power to meet their electricity needs. Of course, those needs are scant compared with the average American's. These groups shun modern conveniences like cars and TVs. But they can use the solar energy to recharge batteries for headlights on their horse-drawn buggies, as well as sewing machines, medical devices and the like. Solar plays right into their desire to stay independent of the outside world. Homeowners need buy only one or two 130-watt solar panels to serve their needs. Amish and Mennonites also believe in sustainable farming. (Source: Greenwire)

Do something

Next time you rent a car, ask for a hybrid. Enterprise already has 3,000 on the road, according to Greenwire. And both Avis and Hertz are starting to provide the Toyoto Prius in some markets. Hertz is buying 3,400 Priuses, and Avis says it will have 1,000 available starting this week in California, Seattle, Portland and Washington, D.C. Expansion is expected as demand requires. So help create the demand. It will also give you a chance to test drive a Prius. You might end up buying one if you don’t have one already.

If you live in Illinois, support Clean Cars legislation to adopt the strict standards passed by California and 11 or 12 other states. If Illinois is successful, the state may be big enough to tip the balance so that automakers will seriously consider making most or all of their cars and light trucks to meet these standards. Go to and sign the petition.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

News brief extra

1. Half of U.S. abnormally dry or in drought conditions
As summer approaches, half the nation is unusually dry, with droughts in many states, causing worry about water shortages and wildfires. The Southwest, Southeast and northern Minnesota are especially dry. The Southeast, where drought is unusual, is having its driest spring in recorded history. In the West, California and Nevada just had their driest 12 months since 1924, and 11 other states are severely dry as well. In one area of California, ranchers are either selling their cattle or taking them out-of-state. Water managers are not reacting forcefully enough to the crisis, Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, told USA Today. In the Southeast, crops are withering and lakes are drying up. The Kissimmee River in Florida has been dry for more than 200 days. Drought is one of the extreme weather conditions predicted from Global Warming, as rain patterns shift and higher temperatures cause more evaporation. (Source: USA Today)

2. House Dems split over CAFE bill that pre-empts states regs
As the Senate gets set to vote this week on a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) increase to 35 mpg by 2020, a battle is brewing in the House over a CAFE bill offered by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), and supported by Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) and others from the auto state, that would pre-empt states that have stricter emissions standards. There is strong opposition from California and 12 other states that have passed strong tailpipe legislation. The Boucher bill calls for CAFE standards of 36 mpg for passenger cars by 2021, and 30 mpg for non-passenger cars by 2024. The average on passenger cars now is 27.5 mpg. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he would offer an amendment in committee to kill the pre-emption provision and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she won’t support the bill. Neither will Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), head of the new Global Warming panel; and 15 state attorneys general sent a letter of objection. A recent poll shows nearly 75% of the pubic wants CAFE at 40 mpg, which would cut 14% of tailpipe emissions by 2018, compared with 3% at 35 mpg. (Sources: Greenwire, E&E News PM, Los Angeles Times)

3. China aims to cut energy for production 20% by 2010
Unveiling China’s first climate action plan last week, Ma Kai, Minister of National Development and Reform, said the country would reduce energy for economic production by 20 percent by the end of the decade and have hydropower, wind, solar and biomass supply 16 percent of its energy needs by 2020. He also said China would expand its forests from 18 percent of its land area to 20 percent by 2010 to help absorb carbon dioxide from the air. But he rejected caps on emissions and again blamed industrialized countries for 75% of the CO2 put in atmosphere during the second half of the 20th century. (Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, AP, Environmental Law and Policy Center)

4. Calif., Conn., Vt. do best job on energy-efficiency policies
California, Connecticut and Vermont have the most energy-efficient public policies in the U.S., according to a scorecard released last week by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The scorecard measures such factors as utility spending, building codes, tax incentives and transportation. Others in the top 10 were Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington. North Dakota ranked last. States are spending about three times as much on energy-efficiency programs as the federal government. Although it's important to reducing greenhouse gases, cap-and-trade programs do not give credit for efficiency improvements. (Source: E&E News PM)

5. Developing countries want credit for GHG they didn’t emit
Fast-developing countries, like China, India, Mexico and Brazil, have slowed the rate of potential growth of their GHG emissions as a byproduct of other policies, they say. Cutting other types of pollution has the side benefit of cutting GHG, and China’s one-child policy has held back population growth, and therefore energy demand. As a result of such policies, developing countries have reduced the growth of GHG emissions by about 500 million tons per year during the past three decades, as compared with what would have happened without them, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These countries now want credit for slowing their GHG growth. They point out that much of Europe’s reductions under the Kyoto Accord also are the result of other factors. Russia‘s 32% drop from 1990-2004 resulted largely from the collapse of its economy, not from mitigation policies, and the same holds true in much of Eastern Europe, including East Germany. (Source: Reuters)

6. Conditions right for big wind farm in downstate Illinois
Construction could begin this year on a 532-turbine wind farm in downstate Knox and Henry counties. It will be one of the largest in the world. Landowners are paid between $4,000 and $8,000 per turbine to lease the land. Some of the energy will be used locally but developers hope most will be sold to utilities in urban centers like Chicago. A couple of companies are looking to put smaller wind farms in downstate Illinois, as well. Open land, enough wind and transmission infrastructure are attracting the business. (Sources: Environmental Law and Policy Center, Galesburg Registered-Mail)

7. Mayan civilization may have been wiped out by climate
Ancient Egyptian and Mayan civilizations may have collapsed because of climate change, according to British researchers. St. Andrews and University of Wales researchers took samples from the sediment under Lake Tana in Ethiopia, which furnishes water to the lower Nile, and found it could have dried up and ruined Egypt’s farm-based economy 4,200 years ago. And in China and Mexico, evidence suggests lack of rainfall may have caused droughts and famine and contributed to the disappearance of civilizations in both countries more than 1,000 years ago, according to German scientists publishing in the journal Nature. (Source: Greenwire)

8. U.S. companies circumvent tariff on Brazilian ethanol
Some U.S. companies are avoiding a 54-cent/gallon tariff to export cheap and plentiful sugar ethanol from Brazil by moving their operations to the Caribbean. To protect corn ethanol here, the government said the tariff will remain in place until at least 2009. Sugar ethanol is more environmentally friendly and less expensive to make than corn ethanol. Under a Reagan-era law, the companies can buy the inexpensive and abundant Brazilian ethanol, dehydrate it in the Caribbean and ship it to U.S. refiners who will add gasoline to make it useable here. (Source: Greenwire)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Wave of the future? Ocean power could be ready to surge
When I was a kid, I loved to dive through the waves in Rhode Island with my summer friends (including “little Sammy” Waterston, if that name rings a bell). I remember one day my father, alarmed at the size of the waves, called me back to shore and as I turned to go I got pounded. I thought I was going to drown. From then on, I’ve had a healthy respect for the power of waves.

So harnessing waves and tides for their energy seems like a no-brainer, and for a growing number of countries and companies it is. Waves are more reliable than wind or sun, and tides are as steady as, well, clockwork. In many ways they are ideal for producing electricity, the next generation of hydropower.

Testing the waters
ScottishPower is building a “wave farm” off Orkney that will generate 3 megawatts of electricity and power about 3,000 homes. Ocean Power Delivery, which makes the sausage-shaped generators for the project, says the seas could eventually supply three times the energy the U.K. uses today. OPD envisions the typical wave farm providing enough energy for 20,000 homes. The Orkney project, which begins operation next year, is one of 9 wave and tidal projects now planned for the U.K., which, surrounded by water, is ideally situated.

Scotland's OPD also has a commercial-scale wave farm off Portugal, where it laid 3 big tube-and-hinge devices that generate about 2.5 megawatts, with plans to put down another 30, increasing the output to 30MW.

In Australia, a wave-generated power station will soon supply 500 homes south of Sydney with clean electricity and drinking water. In this project, electricity results from waves washing into a funnel and driving air through a pipe into a turbine. The plant also desalinates enough drinking water for as many homes as it powers, an important benefit for drought-stricken Australia. This plant is a prototype for another 10 to be built along the country’s southern coast.

Here at home
Clean Power Technologies, Inc., a New Jersey company, is partnering with the Navy to test a floating buoy off Hawaii, which moves up and down with the waves, generating electricity. That company just went public on the NASDAQ (OPTT), offering 50 million shares at $20, and it plans to pour $90 million back into wave demonstration projects, technology, development and marketing. It has exclusive rights to test its product, PowerBuoy, off Reedsport, Ore., and will develop other sites off New Jersey, Spain and France.

Also off Oregon, which has fearsome waves, Canadian company Finavera Renewables Inc. has exclusive rights to test a 100MW project near Coos Bay starting this summer. It uses interconnected floating devices called AquaBuOYs, which then send the power to shore through a cable on the ocean floor.

And Pacific Gas & Electric has filed preliminary applications for two wave-energy projects off Northern California. The WaveConnect projects would provide a total of 80MW of electricity, PG&E says.

The U.S. Energy Regulatory Commission has received more than 50 applications for wave-energy projects in the past two years and is now issuing preliminary permits to keep developers from grabbing multiple sites to keep them away from competitors.

Riding the tide
A small tidal project is already operating in the East River in New York City, the only one in the U.S. connected to the electric grid. Verdant Power started with 2 turbines anchored to the riverbed, with another 4 to follow. The turbines turn in the direction of the tidal flow, forcing rotors to spin, as water surges from the Long Island Sound to Atlantic Ocean and back. Verdant hopes to get a license next year to install 300 turbines.

And in Washington state, Snohomish County Public Utility District has permits to investigate 8 tidal sites in Puget Sound, a joint project with Tacoma Power. They believe Puget could handle 1,000 turbines and power 60,000 homes.

No incentives
Probably the biggest drawback in the U.S. is the lack of federal incentives, like there are for wind and solar. But that may soon change. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) has introduced a bill asking for a 30% tax credit for the equipment and a production tax credit for making the electricity. It also asks $50 million a year for research and development. Oregon’s two senators also are pushing legislation for tax credits to put waves on a par with wind and solar.

One concern is the impact on the marine environment. As Puget Sound is eyed for tidal projects, the Orca Network is worried the noise will disrupt the whales. Others fear turbines in the water will damage salmon and marine mammals by stirring up toxic sediment on the bottom.

As these demonstration projects go forward, and a search for the best technologies is under way, environmental impact will be carefully scrutinized as well.

But wave and tidal power hold out a lot of hope as one of the clean, renewable energy sources of the future.

(Souces: Greenwire,, and E&E News PM, with a special thank-you for most of the information to astute Greenwire reporter Michael Burnham, whom I had the pleasure of teaching at Northwestern a few years back.)

News briefs

1. India says it can cut GHG 25% by 2020, but don’t push
India’s government predicted last week its policies will allow it to cut greenhouse gas emissions more than 25% by 2020, but that outside pressure for mandatory targets could hurt its economy and efforts to lift its people out of poverty. The Indian environment secretary said policies on efficiency and renewable sources will help the country meet its goal. Few details were provided, but India is 4th in the world in both wind energy and solar use. Industrial countries and scientists point to China and India as likely to produce much of the increase in GHG in the next few decades because of their booming economies, and say they must be a part of any post-Kyoto agreement. India now produces 3% of the world’s GHG, with emissions growing 2-3% annually. The country is likely to be among those most adversely affected by Global Warming. (Sources:, The Telegraph UK,,

2. Bush thwarts G8 with his own plan for climate talks
President Bush threw a monkey wrench into European leaders’ plan to get G8 agreement next week on mandatory GHG cuts of 50% by 2050, by announcing his own more lenient plan. The president said Thursday he will lead talks with the 15 most-polluting countries to craft a long-range “aspirational goal” for 2050. For the next decade or two, he said, each country should decide what it will do to help meet that goal. Nothing mandatory here. Environmentalists were upset. “It’s too late to slide by on vague calls for unenforceable long-term goals,” said Avid Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Some European officials politely said they were pleased Bush was finally joining the conversation. Meanwhile, NASA chief and Bush appointee Michael Griffin caused a stir by implying there’s no need to act to stop Global Warming. NASA’s high-profile top climate scientist, James Hansen, was shocked. He said he almost fell off his chair when he heard. “We’re at a tipping point,” he said. “If we don’t start to make some changes … we’re going to get some really large climate changes.” (Sources: E&E News PM, Greenwire, New York Times)

3. ‘Enhanced geothermal’ could equal nuclear power in energy
The U.S. could generate as much power by 2050 from heat deep underground as it does from now nuclear energy – about 10%. A study commissioned by the Energy Department said that by drilling holes in rock and shooting water 2-3 miles down to be warmed by the 400 degree temperatures, then up again, we could produce steam to power electricity. Europe, Australia and Japan are using this method successfully. Estimated cost would be $1 billion over 15 years. (Source: New York Times)

4. Wind lobby says it could provide 15% of Europe’s energy by 2020
Wind will play a major role in powering Europe, growing to 12-15% of energy sources by 2020, says the Wind Energy Association, which of course has an interest in saying so. Europe is the world’s largest wind market, and has averaged 23% growth a year during the past 6 years. Half the turbines could be offshore by 2030, said EWEA President Arthouros Zervos. But he warned wind’s success will require a more competitive market, with better connections between countries and an offshore power grid. (Source:

Congressional round-up

*In rare bi-partisan action by presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) attached to the 2008 defense authorization bill a provision requiring the military to check its readiness for Global Warming. An almost identical provision is in the House-approved version of the defense authorization. This implements the recommendation of 11 retired Pentagon officials. Bush has threatened a veto.

*Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has union support for a draft of a bill he will introduce this month, to set mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, probably at 15% by 2030. The electrical workers and mine workers this week joined the boilermakers in supporting the draft. The AFL-CIO is seen as likely to sign on too. The latest supporters urge trade penalties on China and India if they don’t take similar action. They also ask that federal law pre-empt the states, some of which have much stronger restrictions. That’s not likely to fly in California and the Northeast. Bingaman is chair of the Senate Energy Committee.

*Congress could pass an RPS mandate this year. After several years of success in the House, but not in the Senate, supporters are hopeful a renewable portfolio standard will mandate increasing amounts of power from renewable sources. The idea got a boost from GE, BP, Google, the National Venture Capital Assn. and others who sent Congress a letter saying RPS would increase energy independence, limit volatile prices, reduce GHG and create jobs. Sen. Bingaman plans to offer an RPS amendment calling for 15% in renewables by 2020. In the House, Reps. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.) have a bill mandating 20% by 2020. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) calls RPS “the single most important thing that would drive green, renewable energy.”

*Improved efficiency by utilities is the goal of a bill from Markey. It requires gas and electric companies to increase efficiency up to 10% for electricity and 5% for natural gas by 2020. To accomplish this, utilities would combine heat and power, recycle energy and help consumers conserve. 7 states have such a law and 7 more are working on it.
(Sources for Round-up: E&E Daily, Greenwire, E&E News PM)

Do something

Energy conservation is the quickest, cheapest way to cut greenhouse gases. And there is much an individual can do. If you haven’t bought condensed fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs yet, it’s time. You can get them at just about any hardware store. They cut electricity use for lights by two-thirds to three-quarters. An energy audit of your home by your power company can help point the way for better insulation and more efficient use of appliances. Meanwhile, unplug. Unplug those chargers for your cell phone, laptop, even your electric toothbrush, once it is charged. They continue to use energy even when the appliance is fully charged. Unplug your toaster, coffee pot, etc. when they’re not in use. Maybe you use these things one hour a day. For the other 23 you’re just wasting energy. It means developing new habits, and that’s not easy. But it all ads up, both in energy use and in cost. And don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave a room.