Saturday, June 28, 2008

Antiquated electricity grid won't be able to carry renewable energy to customers

(Photo of transmission lines from Flickr and photographers Vicki and Chuck Rogers)

Weekly Angst: A wind farm can be built in about a year. But it takes 5-10 years to construct the high-voltage power lines that will transmit the electricity to where it is needed.

And the lack of current capacity (excuse the pun) in transmission lines is blocking growth of renewable energy here, especially wind.

Many renewable projects simply won’t happen if policymakers don’t expand the power grid to accommodate them, alternative energy executives warned last week at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York.

What happens with transmission “will define whether 2% or 20% of U.S. electricity is renewable,” said Dan Reicher, the executive in charge of Google’s green push.

Transmission lines aren’t a sexy subject, but I’m sure you’ll agree there’s not much point in building a wind farm or solar plant if it can’t get connected to a grid. And that is the risk here. Substantially more construction of towers and power lines is needed to for the U.S, to reach a goal of 15% renewable energy, a target passed by the House but not the Senate.

In Minnesota, for example, if just one-third of the applications for wind farms are granted, the 7,500 megawatts of power they would create for the Twin Cities would exceed the 2,000MW capacity of the grid.

Why it takes so long
One problem is that the ideal places for large wind farms (Midwest plains) and solar installations (Mojave Desert) are far from the cities where the electricity is needed.

And it costs $1.5 million per mile to put up high-voltage transmission lines. While that expense ultimately is passed on to the consumer, utilities are reluctant to build the lines before a wind farm or solar plant is built – and vice versa. So a chicken-and-egg struggle is going on here.

Also the permitting process can take forever. One issue is where to put the lines. Nobody wants them.

In California, there’s a battle over San Diego Gas & Electric’s plan to build a 150-mile transmission line from a desert solar plant to San Diego through a state park. Environmentalists argue it would ruin the park, while the utility says it can’t meet California’s renewable requirement without it.

A lag in investment
Investment in the electricity grid was neglected from 1975-2000, as funding dropped from $5 billion a year to just $2 billion by the turn of the century. Since then increased demand has sparked investment of about $60 billion, but the system is antiquated, causing such problems as the 2003 blackout in the Northeast and rolling brownouts in California. Lack of capacity remains a serious drawback that may well prevent states with mandated renewable electricity standards (RES)from reaching their goals.

Some in Congress are calling for “national renewable energy zones” to reduce bottlenecks in delivering power. Bills offered by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would have the government identify zones with the capability to produce significant amounts of renewable energy but insufficient transmission capacity. Inslee’s bill would spread the cost of construction and requires the president to identify specific high-voltage lines for renewal within a year of establishing a national zone.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act allows the federal government to designate “national interest electric transmission corridors” where it could extend needed lines despite state and local objections. But there is resistance from states and environmentalists.

Some states and regions are searching for their own solutions. Texas, the state with the most wind power, has such zones, originally through the Western Governors Association, now in a project with the Department of Energy, which will help it bring wind to Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Colorado, Minnesota and New Mexico are taking similar steps.

Grid should be high priority
NASA climate scientist James Hansen said last week that the next president needs to make it a priority to create a nationwide low-loss electrical grid so the country can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. The technology exists to bury direct-current high-voltage lines, he said.

Environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says it’s important for the next president to work with governors to get rid of arcane and conflicting state rules and open up the grid so clean energy can compete fairly with fossil fuels.

The energy sector “needs an initiative like the 1996 Telecommunications Act,” which required open access to phone lines, Kennedy said. As with telephones, he said, eliminating constraints will encourage investment, and utilities and entrepreneurs will revitalize the grid. Like Hansen, he argues for direct current, saying too much energy is lost in alternating current.

The transmission grid also needs to use “smart” technology to send electricity where and when it is needed, experts say.

Demand for electricity is expected to grow 40% by 2030, according to North American Electric Reliability Council. To meet that demand with renewable sources we must take action immediately to provide an adequate grid.

(Sources: PlanetArk, Greenwire, ClimateWire, E&E Daily, USA Today, The Guardian, Vanity Fair)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

We’ve used up all the slack time to avoid global warming tipping point -- Hansen

(Night photo of coal-fired power plant in Ohio from Flickr and and photographer Daniel Shea

Washington Report: NASA scientist James Hansen, who first warned Congress about global warming exactly 20 years ago, testified Monday a new administration and Congress must make a “transformational” energy change next year or be plunged into catastrophic, unstoppable climate change.

The main points of his statement, published in advance in The Guardian in England:
• CO2 in the atmosphere must be reduced and kept below 350 parts per million to avoid climate change disaster (it is now at 385 ppm and the Lieberman-Warner bill targeted 450).
• The first requirement is to halt use of coal unless the CO2 is captured and stored. He called for a moratorium on new plants that don’t do that.
• A price on emissions is essential. A carbon tax, with all the money going back to the public in the form of a “dividend,” would be best, he said, with a full share to every adult and half-share to children.
• Fossil fuel CEOs have known about the damage CO2 was doing, but like the tobacco companies, encouraged doubt about a link to global warming. “In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”
• The next President must make a low-loss electricity grid a priority, so renewable energy can replace fossil fuels for power generation.
• Fossil fuel interests must be blocked from squeezing every last drop of oil from public lands, offshore and wilderness areas. It will only delay the real change that is needed to avoid a tipping point.

The tipping point has already been reached in the Arctic, Hansen said, and regardless of new emissions, summer sea ice will disappear. The risk now is passing a tipping point in West Antarctica and Greenland, which will rise the seas if they melt. Without a big change, he predicted a sea level increase of 2 meters (6 feet) by century’s end, which would bring constantly unstable shorelines and hundreds of millions of refugees.

Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Congress June 23, 1988, that the world was warming, that the cause was man-made, and that it would lead to erratic weather with floods, droughts and wildfires. Some call him a prophet and some have said he is “nuts.”

This week Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), R-Okla., said, "Hansen, Gore and the media have been trumpeting man-made climate doom since the 1980s. But Americans are not buying it."

Hansen has suggested he might campaign against some of the obstructionists in Congress. Inhofe is facing a challenge this year from Democrat Andrew Rice in Oklahoma.

(Sources: The Guardian, ClimateWire,,
Associated Press)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fed report links global warming to extreme weather, predicts more floods and droughts

(Photo of flood in downtown Cedar Rapids from Flickr and The U.S. Geological Survey and photographer Don Becker.)

News Update 1: In the midst of record flooding in the Midwest, causing at least $3 billion in crop loss alone, and an almost decade-long drought in the Southwest, a new government report links extreme weather with human-produced heat-trapping gases and has some dire predictions for more deadly weather events in the future. The report, “Weather Extremes in a Changing Climate,” released last week, expressed high confidence that extreme rainfalls, such as the ones that caused the floods, as well as intense droughts and more heat waves will hit the U.S. as temperatures continue to rise. The rains are expected primarily in the North and the droughts in the Southwest. The changes are already apparent, the report said. It also predicted stronger and more frequent hurricanes (though there is some scientific disagreement about that), winter storms with higher winds and waves by century’s end, and disappearing summer sea ice that could erode shorelines in Alaska and Canada. The report, led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was an acknowledgment by the Bush Administration that global warming is and will cause catastrophic weather. But do something about it? Naaa. (Sources: ClimateWire,
the Daily Green
,, CNN)

Melting Arctic ice can signal permafrost thaw and more greenhouse gas emissions

News Update 2: Last summer saw a record Arctic sea ice melt and another record is forecast for this year, according to a new study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). When the sea ice melts, the temperature over land heats up as far as 900 miles away, the study found, and is likely to thaw permafrost in Alaska, Canada and Russia. Permafrost is the long-frozen earth beneath the top layer of ground. When it thaws it releases methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than CO2. It also can cause the collapse of infrastructure, such as highways, houses, oil rigs and pipelines. Last August-October the temperature over land in the west Arctic was unusually warm, more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit above the average for 1978-2006. Rapid sea ice thaw could lead to rapid permafrost thaw, the scientists said. (Source: Reuters PlanetArk)

Honda starts producing hydrogen fuel-cell cars

(Photo of Honda FCX Clarity from Flickr and photographer BBQ Junkie/Luis Ramirez)

News Update 3: Honda is betting that the future is in fuel cells, and is starting production of 200 FCX Clarity hydrogen-powered cars that will emit only water vapor (which by-the-way is also a heat-trapping gas, but stays in the atmosphere a much shorter time than carbon dioxide and does less damage.) The auto company announced actress Jamie Lee Curtis will be among the first of the 200 drivers, who will lease the new cars for $600 a month for 3 years. The FCX can run about 270 miles before it needs refueling, which of course brings up the main drawback. There aren’t many (if any) refueling stations around, though one is being built near the LA airport. Honda has one solution to that problem – a home energy station that generates hydrogen from natural gas and can also heat and cool the home. To see the car and learn more, go to the Honda Web site. (Sources: Greenwire, CNN, Honda)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

China struggles with growth and greenhouse gases: the good, the bad and the Hummer

(Photo of power plant in China from Flickr and photographer Sinosplice/John Pasden)

Weekly Angst:
Last week we learned China significantly passed up the U.S. in CO2 emissions – by 14%. With 80% reliance on coal for power and a fast-growing economy, China is likely to continue pouring the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere unless drastic steps are taken. So it was of interest that the U.S. and China signed a climate agreement last week – and that the government raised its fixed gasoline prices.

The good ...
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (known as an environmentalist when he ran Goldman Sachs) and Vice Premier Wang Qishan signed a “10-year Energy and Environmental Cooperation Framework” in Washington. They said businesses, government and research universities would work together on “making necessary technological advances to preserve the health of our planet.” They didn’t give targets to cap emissions but said they’ll jointly develop cleaner technologies, policies and incentives. They also will discuss steps to diversify power sources and develop alternatives to fossil fuels for transportation, as well as safeguard clean water and wildlife. A few other hopeful signs:

* GreenGen, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Huaneng Group, is building an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) demonstration power plant that will be more efficient and eventually capture 80% of its CO2. Since coal is relatively cheap and plentiful, China is likely to use huge amounts for the foreseeable future, so carbon capture and sequestration is pretty much essential to cutting down on CO2 emissions.

* China has a goal of 15% renewable energy by 2020 and 25% by 2025. Today, it gets about 8.5% from sources such as wind, solar and hydropower.

* Energy conservation became a national priority last April, which means managers in state-owned plants ignore it at their peril.

* The Chinese government is working with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Asian Development Bank to improve conservation in a country where poor execution has lead to enormous energy waste.

The bad …

Last year China added an average of 2 new coal-fired power plants a week. Hundreds more are slated for the future, even with a renewable portfolio.

GreenGen’s investment in the IGCC project, which could be the first of many, is looking for international support in the new technique of capture and sequestration. In particular, it was looking to the U.S. for its now-cancelled FutureGen demonstration project, which is now more likely to be a series of small carbon-capture projects. Whether that will dampen the Chinese enthusiasm for CCS remains to be seen.

In international discussions, China continues to reject mandatory caps on emissions. Its current 5 Year Plan set a target of a 10% cut in energy use per unit of GDP (or “intensity”) by 2010. GDP has been rising about 10% a year, so that means energy use will continue to grow – and so will emissions.

… and the Hummer
While Americans are scaling back on auto size, because of the rising cost of gas, and General Motors is thinking of selling or changing its Hummer, wealthy Chinese are falling in love with it. In Beijing alone, 15 car dealers are selling Hummers and a couple of local auto companies are making similar military-style vehicles, which are increasingly popular with urban-dwellers who see them as status symbols, according to the Financial Times.

Demand for SUVs is increasing too, up 40% in the first 4 months of this year, as well as for luxury imports.

Although China is the second largest importers of oil (after the U.S.), and demand for oil there is increasing about 8% a year, gasoline and diesel are subsidized so until this week they were costing about 40% of what we pay at the pump.

Late this week Beijing raised the price of gas about 17% to $3.06 per gallon, according to Greenwire. (Bloomberg says the official price is under $3 and the New York Times says its $3.83, so something’s being lost in translation. I’m going with the Greenwire number, which cites China's National Development and Reform Commission as its source.) U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson had recommended raising the price to curb demand. Under the old price, Chinese refineries were losing money because they had to pay more for crude than they could get for the gas. Diesel prices were raised as well.

Interestingly, the average fuel-economy mandated for cars in China is considerably better than ours, about 35 mpg, which is what we’re aiming for by 2020.

To read more and see a chart of vehicle sales in China, go to The Financial Times.

(Sources: E&E PM, Greenwire, The Financial Times, Bloomberg.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New House global warming bill could bypass Energy Chair Dingell, causing jurisdiction dispute

(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer Tolka Rover/Eamonn O'Brien-Strain)

Washington Report 1: Three members of the House Ways and Means Committee are about to introduce a cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gases 80% (below 1990 levels) by 2050 and auction 85% of the credits. Democrats Lloyd Doggett (Texas), Ed Blumenauer (Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said they will give the Treasury Department, not the EPA, authority over key parts of the bill. That means Ways and Means can have jurisdiction. The bill has 17 co-sponsors including Rahm Emanuel (lll.) the 4th most powerful Democrat. While W&M Chair Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) is expected to hold hearings this summer, the bill is not likely to go to the floor until a new president and Congress are in place, to give it a better chance. Energy Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.), an ally of the auto industry, has had jurisdiction over global warming legislation for the past 18 months, during which time he has issued 4 white papers and held subcommittee hearings, but made no substantial progress. This is not the first effort to bypass Dingell. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a cap-and-trade bill earlier this month that went to Ways & Means, as well as Energy and 8 other committees. Dingell and his colleague on the Energy Committee, Rick Boucher (D-Va.) responded that while they welcome the thoughts and work of other committees, they will take the lead on any cap-and-trade legislation. (Source: E&E PM)

Emanuel, Markey ask for speed-up in fuel efficiency

Washington Report 2: In a letter to the Bush Administration this week, Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked the president to pick up the pace in fuel-economy standards, as a draft EPA memo showed is possible. The memo, leaked to the Wall Street Journal, revealed that EPA staff thought that with hybrids and new technology autos could average better than 35 mpg between 2020 and 2025. The letter from Emanuel and Markey asked for a maximum effort to reach 35 mpg by 2015. (The CAFE standards passed by Congress last year mandated 35 by 2020, with some allowance for flex-fuel cars that would lower the real amount to about 34 mpg). Some Congressmen fear the EPA administrator will ignore the staff recommendations, as he has done in other matters in the past. (Source: E&E News PM)

Renewable energy tax credit extensions fail again

Washington Report 3: Senate leadership again this week failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to extend tax credits for renewable energy and efficiency. After tweaking the bill, they picked up 2 progressive Republicans, Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Susan Collins (Me.), since last week but most of the GOP caucus was steadfast in its opposition to other taxes being used to pay for the extensions. The vote was 52-44, with 4 likely ‘yea’ votes missing – Byrd, Kennedy, Clinton and Obama. With them, it still would have fallen 4 votes short. The next step is uncertain. Republicans don’t oppose extending the credits but rather paying for them with other taxes affecting offshore and international businesses. The tax credits expire at the end of this year. (Source: E&E News PM)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

China’s CO2 emissions 14% higher than U.S. in 2007

(Photo of coal stored in Beijing power plant from Flickr and photographer kafka4prez/JJ W)

News Update 1: China emitted 14% more carbon dioxide last year that the U.S., according to a Dutch report published last week. China, which passed up the U.S. in 2006, saw its emissions rise 8% year over year, while those in the U.S. grew 1.8%. China’s emissions came mostly from burning of fossil fuels coal, oil and natural gas; its electricity is 80% coal-fired. China was responsible for 24% of new CO2 emissions, compared with 21% from the U.S., 12% from the EU’s 15 oldest countries, 8% from India and 6% from Russia. The U.S. still ranks highest in per-capita emissions however – with the typical American's carbon footprint 19.4 metric tons. Russia is next with 11.8 tons, followed by the EU 8.6, China 5.1 and India 1.8. The study did not include carbon emissions from deforestation. (Source: Greenwire)

Australia can meet energy needs with solar power

(Photo of solar station in Australia from Flickr and photographer Richard Gifford)

News Update 2:
Australia can harness enough energy from the sun to meet all its energy needs, a respected Australian National University scientist told a climate conference last week. All that is needed is the political will and ability to overcome entrenched interests, said physicist Mike Rapauch. Australia must cut its emissions 80-90% by 2050, he said. A second scientist, who agreed, said he sees a growing gap between what scientists say is necessary to avoid climate change calamity and what economists say is feasible. "It is a damning indictment of our collective vacillation, inaction and deliberate stalling to date," said Barry Brook, director of the University of Adelaide’s climate research program, "that in facing up to this problem -- with Australia and the United States being two prominent curmudgeons -- we are facing the stark choice between a bad situation, a catastrophic situation and a civilization-terminating situation." (Source: Canberra Times)

Climate scientists have breakthrough on ‘scrubber’ to remove carbon in atmosphere

(Photo of coal-fired power plant from Flickr and photographer d1v1d/David S.)
News Update 3: A team of scientists have made a breakthrough in developing a device that would suck carbon out of the air. They expect to have the carbon “scrubber” operational within 2 years, at an initial cost of less than $200,000 a year, said Klaus Lackner of Columbia U., lead scientist on the project. Each device would be able to absorb about 1 ton of CO2 per day. To put that in perspective, that’s the amount of CO2 emitted for each passenger on a London-New York flight. So millions of these devices would be needed to suck up a substantial amount of carbon. And then disposal of the CO2 would be an issue. But Lachner thinks this discovery is important because he doesn’t believe people will stop using fossil fuels, and maybe the scrubbers could help keep global warming from reaching dangerous levels. (Source: The Guardian)

PM says 1,000 nuclear plants needed worldwide

(Photo of inside Dungeness nuclear power station from Flickr and photographer gravyphig/Graham Smith)

News Update 4: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants his country to play a major role in an effort to build 1,000 nuclear plants worldwide to end the global “addiction to oil.” He also anticipates a 7-fold increase in renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass. Nuclear must be part of the global warming solution, he said, and communities would get government funding to bury the waste . Green groups attacked the plan as “bribery.” Britain already has problems burying existing nuclear waste. (Source: The Independent)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

High gas prices driving Americans to more fuel-efficient smaller cars, and to trains

(Photo of the cost of filling up a F-150 pickup, with graffiti, from Flickr and photographer ugas1/Christy C)

Weekly Angst: With the price of gasoline climbing ever higher, Americans are seeing green. Whether it’s all economics or in part concern about global warming, train ridership is up and sales of motor vehicles are shifting from trucks and SUVs to compact cars, all to the benefit of the environment. The trend is hard to miss. Here are some news items from the past two weeks:

Train ridership up; Amtrak funding bill faces Bush veto

Amtrak ticket sales rose 15.6% in May, over a year ago, and officials say ridership is up about 11% for the year. They attribute half the increase to high gas prices. Train advocates are asking more federal money to help trains compete with airplanes here. About 1% of passenger miles are by train in the U.S., while France, Britain and Germany see 6-8% and Japan 18%. Amtrak is slow and inefficient while France, Germany and Japan have high-speed trains on dedicated tracks with special signals, allowing them to go 150-185 mph. A House-approved Amtrak bill faces a veto from the White House because it doesn’t contain reforms. Dem presidential candidate Barack Obama said he’d fight for funding with reforms. GOP candidate John McCain has in the past voted against subsidies for Amtrak. (Sources: Reuters/New York Times)

Train industry asks incentives to expand nation’s rail system
The railroad industry defended recent profits before a Senate panel last week and asked for incentives to expand rail nationwide. Saying rail profits are lower than most industries, the Association of American Railroads pointed to the environmental benefits of trains, noting that they are 3 times more fuel-efficient than trucks. An industry ad campaign says freight trains can carry a ton of freight 436 miles on a gallon of diesel. (Source: E&E Daily)

GM to close 4 truck plants, re-evaluate its Hummer

General Motors announced it will close 4 North American plants that make pickup trucks and SUVs and will add a shift to 2 plants that make smaller cars. GM reaffirmed its commitment to its plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, and said it would re-evaluate the Hummer.

Ford Motor Co. says it will cut back on trucks and SUVs too

Ford also is following demand and cutting production of trucks and sport utility vehicles and focusing more on smaller cars like the Focus and Edge. The F-150 pickup, which has long driven profits for the company, is in less demand. Further cuts may be required, officials said.

GM to help set up filling station for hydrogen fuel-cell cars
General Motors is partnering with Clean Energy Fuels Corp. on a hydrogen fuel-cell refueling station near Los Angeles International Airport, as the first step toward a network of such stations in California. For now, it will be used by test drivers for the fuel-cell Chevy Equinox, expected to be for sale by 2014 at the latest. Fuel-cell cars emit only water vapor. (Sources: Greenwire and Reuters/New York Times)

Toyota plugs its electric/gas plug-in hybrid, expected in 2010

Toyota said it will introduce a plug-in hybrid with a next-generation lithium-ion battery in Japan, the U.S. and Europe in 2010. Sales of smaller Toyota cars rose sharply last month, the company said, with the Corolla up 17%. Hybrid sales are flat – for the simple reason that they are in very short supply, due to a backlog in getting parts. Toyota plans to open plants for hybrids in Thailand and Australia, to sell cars to the developing world. (Sources: Greenwire, Bloomberg)

Industry leaders ask for federal help in jump-starting plug-ins

Top auto officials told a forum in Washington, D.C., this week that U.S. companies need government support for R&D to compete with Asia, which dominates in development of batteries for electric plug-ins. There’s also a need for consumer tax breaks to encourage early adopters to buy this type of car and break down resistance to something new. (Bills stalled in the Senate call for such consumer incentives.) With that help, plugs-in, which are technically feasible, can become a booming market, said GM President for North America Tom Clarke. In the same week, the Bush administration announced a $30 million R&D program for plug-ins. (Source: Greenwire)

Chicago considers switching all taxis to hybrid by 2014

Following the lead of New York City, key Chicago Ald. Ed Burke (14th ) and Transportation Committee Chair Tom Allen (38th) want all taxi cabs in the city to be hybrids by Jan. 1, 2014. Cabs are replaced every 4 years. The two said they want, starting next year, to mandate that all replacement cabs be either hybrid or run on alternative fuels, such as compressed natural gas, biodiesel or hydrogen. At this point there are 50 hybrid taxis on the street. I rode in one last week and the driver was please it cost him about a third as much for gas. (Chicago Sun-Times)

This is the kind of movement we need, away from gas guzzlers. Let’s hope it continues, even if high prices are a pain in the pocketbook. (Easy enough for me to say. I have a Prius.) Europe’s petrol prices are much higher than ours and they have long had smaller cars and better trains.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Windfall profits tax on oil, tax incentives for renewable energy both fail in Senate this week

(Photo of oil rig in Catalina Channel from Flickr and photographer arbyreed)

Washington Report 1:
The repeal of $17 billion in tax breaks for major oil companies and “price gouging” penalties for unseemly oil profits garnered only 51 of the 60 votes needed to get to a vote Tuesday in the Senate. Also going down to defeat was yet another bill to extend tax credits due to expire this year on renewable energy and efficiency. On the first bill, GOP Sens. Collins and Snowe from Maine, Coleman from Minn., Smith from Ore., Grassley from Iowa and Warner from Va. voted with the Democrats. Mary Landrieu from La. was the lone Dem against. On the second bill, Republicans Snowe, Smith and Bob Corker of Tenn. voted with the majority, but that made only 50 votes. Key Democrats Obama, Clinton, Kennedy and Byrd were absent, as was Republican John McCain. Both bills faced a veto from the White House. However, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he intends to revive the renewable tax credit bill, which passed the House last fall in a different form. Both parties seem to favor extending the credits, needed to maintain growth in renewable energy, but there’s a dispute about how and whether to pay for it with other taxes. (Sources: Greenwire, E&E News,
AP/Washington Post

House approves funding for Amtrak, high-speed trains, study of biofuel use

(Photo of an Amtrak train in Bloomington-Normal, IL, from Flickr and photographer Jim Frazier)

Washington Report 2: The House of Representatives voted 311-104 Wednesday for an Amtrak reauthorization bill that includes $1.75 billion over 5 years for developing 11 high-speed intercity rail corridors. It also provides $2.5 billion for states to provide new or improved intercity rail. Another provision funds studies of how a biofuel blend instead of straight diesel could cut CO2 emissions and the feasibility of bio-based lubricants. The Senate passed a similar bill in October. Now the two go to conference to resolve their differences. President Bush has threatened a veto but both chambers passed their bills by more than a two-thirds majority so would likely be able to override a veto. A bipartisan transportation panel had recommended a high-speed network across the country, costing an estimated $66.3 billion by 2015. (Source: E&E Daily)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

IEA says global ‘energy revolution’ needed to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2050

(Photo of wind turbines in Italy from Flickr and photographer gorillaradio/Sebastiano Pitruzzello)

News Update 1: A worldwide “revolution” in the way we use energy is needed in the next 40 years, the International Energy Agency said last week. The cost will be $45 trillion, the agency said. But failure to act will result in an energy shortage and a slowdown in the global economy. Massive changes will be needed on a worldwide basis, including:
• Retrofitting 35 coal-fired plants and 20 natural gas plants each year to capture and store carbon dioxide.
• Building 32 nuclear plants a year.
• Installing 17,500 new wind turbines a year.
• Increasing solar energy and second-generation biofuels that won’t compete with food.
One of the most challenging changes will be to drastically reduce fossil fuel use for transport, at a time when auto and plane use is skyrocketing in developing nations. Oil demand needs to be cut to 27% of 2005 levels, said the agency, which advises 27 nations on energy policy. The task at hand is gargantuan, but without it oil demand will likely grow 70% and GHG emissions will increase 130% by mid-century, IEA said. The impact would be calamitous, with more severe droughts, famines, floods and rising seas that engulf coastal cities. IEA urged the G-8 to endorse the goal to reduce GHG in half by 2050 at its meeting in July. (Sources: Greenwire, New York Times)

Nuclear wins, renewables lose in DOE's R&D budget

(Photo of nuclear power plant on Lake Erie from Flickr and photographer mandj98/James Phelps)

News Update 2: Nuclear energy is the big winner in the Department of Energy’s fiscal 2009 budget for research and development, and renewable energy and efficiency are the losers. Funds for research, development and deployment in the nuclear sector are up 46%, while RD&D money for renewable energy and efficiency is down 50%, said a report released last week by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Also cut, by 15%, was much-needed improvement to the electricity transmission and distribution system. The weatherization program was eliminated. The budget doesn’t reflect the technologies needed for a low-carbon energy supply, said the report, which urged a drastic increase in spending for new technologies, efficiency and energy storage. The budget “is a far cry from the Manhattan Project for clean energy technology some have proposed,” the report said. The breakdown in the new budget:
*Nuclear fusion 15%
*Nuclear fission 21%
*Fossil fuels 23%
*Renewable energy 17%
*Efficiency 16%
*Hydroelectric 5%
*Electricity transmission 3%
(Sources: E&E News PM, Kennedy School of Government Belfer Center Report)

Freight trains slowed by congestion; more investment needed to expand rail system

(Photo of freight train from Flickr and photographer mre770/Bill Wooten)

News Update 3: Getting freight off the highways and onto trains would be good for the environment. But rail industry leaders are saying there already is too much freight congestion on the nation’s 140,000 miles of track and the system is strained, with freight cars sitting for hours because of one-track lines. At a recent Congressional hearing on rail congestion, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said, “The amount of money invested nationally is pathetic.” In Chicago, the country’s rail hub, trains sometimes are sidelined for as long as 36 hours, according to Jason Breslow on Medill Reports. Freight traffic is expected to nearly double in the next 2 decades, and that is without a nationwide effort to make more use of rails to cut carbon emissions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates expansion would cost $148 billion over 3 decades, most of it paid by the rail companies. (Sources: Greenwire, Medill Reports)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ten key Dem Senators had problems with global warming bill -- what happens next?

(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer Gawnesco/Scott Gawne.)

Weekly Angst: Following a 48-36 vote (60 were needed) to end debate on the Climate Security Act Friday, 10 keys Dems, 9 of whom voted with the leadership, said they had problems with the bill that would have kept them from ultimately voting for it.

In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Environment Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the 10 said their states would be the most adversely affected by the bill, as written. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin (Mich.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Jim Webb (Va.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) said they favored a cap-and-trade bill but it must “ensure consumers and workers in all regions of the U.S. are protected from undue hardship.” The following issues need to be addressed, they said:
* Make sure there’s a short-term cushion to ensure technologies will be there to help meet early emissions targets.
* Fold state laws into the federal system.
* Expand agriculture and forestry offsets.
Advocates are now looking to a new President and new Congress to get a cap-and-trade bill passed. With Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) retiring, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he is looking for a new partner to continue working on the Climate Security Act.

Next on the Senate agenda

While the global warming bill may be dead for now, Senate leadership is moving on to other energy bills: the unfinished business of passing an extension of renewable tax credits (approved by the House) and a “windfall profits” bill to tax major oil companies and address “price gouging.”

The renewable tax credit extentions (HR6049) would continue wind farm production credits 1 year and solar energy investment credits 6 years, as well as continue credits for other renewable energy sources and efficiency. The credits are due to expire the end of this year and without them renewable projects face an uncertain future.

The windfall profits bill (S3044) will probably come up first and is intended to address high oil and gasoline prices. In addition to a new tax and the repeal of tax breaks for major oil companies, the bill has a price-gouging provision and also allows the Justice Department to bring anti-trust actions against OPEC. This one is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster and President Bush has threatened a veto.

And across the way in the House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected a GOP challenge to debate global warming on the floor of the House before the 4th of July and said any activity this year will be in Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.)’s committee. She indicated chances for passing a strong bill will be much better next year.

Dingell has announced his subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, headed by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), will hold hearings on the bill that just died in the Senate, as well as the two strong bill introduced in the House by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) Waxman’s bill calls for an emissions cut of 80% by 2050, with 100% of the credits auctioned, and Markey mandates an 85% reduction, with 94% of credits auctioned. Dingell and Boucher are expected to produce their own bill at some point.
(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Senate global warming bill dies without debate

(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer Matt Wright.)

Washington Report:
America’s Climate Security Act died an ignominious death Friday morning, when those who wanted to limit debate and move toward a vote lost a cloture motion 48-36 (60 votes were needed). Seven Republicans – Collins, Snowe, Warner, Smith, Sununu, Martinez and Dole – joined 39 Democrats and 2 Independents to support the motion. An additional 6 senators – Obama, McCain, Clinton, Kennedy, Biden and Coleman -- sent written messages that they would have voted for cloture if they’d been there. The vote followed several days of filibustering by the GOP leadership, including the forced 9-hour reading of the entire 492-page bill aloud by clerks. A point of contention was Majority Leader Harry Reid’s refusal to allow unlimited amendments. And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the move was a protest against Democrat delay on judicial appointments. Along with McConnell, others using procedural motions to delay debate included Sens. Allard, Inhofe and Cornyn. A GOP lobbyist’s memo that was leaked pointed to a strategy to “make political points” by linking the debate to the high price of gasoline every day. Democrat leaders now say they are looking to next year and a new administration to carry the ball forward. In an effort to rally support in the final hours, bill co-sponsor Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told colleagues a new president could have the EPA draft global warming regulations under the Supreme Court decision Massachusetts vs. EPA, and Congress would have little input. Republicans’ main argument against the bill was cost. Four Democrats broke with their colleagues and voted no: Sens. Dorgan, Johnson, Brown and Landrieu. For more on the bill see the blog Grist. (Sources: E&E News PM, E&E Daily, Greenwire, Grist, Sierra Club)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hawaii, West Coast metro areas have lowest per capita residential carbon footprints -- why?

(Photo of Honolulu from Flickr and photographer Christopher Dale.)

News Update 1: If you want to reduce your personal carbon footprint, it might be a good idea to move to the West Coast, or possibly Hawaii. In a study of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S., measuring highway driving and residential energy use, Honolulu came in first. California, Oregon and Washington all did well – in part because of the mild climate and use of hydropower, but also because of aggressive policies on energy pricing, efficiency, and availability of mass transit. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana was second, Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton third and New York City-Long Island-Northern New Jersey 4th. In California, 8 of the 10 largest metro areas were in the top 25. Washington, D.C. ranked last and had a per capita footprint 10 times that of Seattle, which was sixth. Also low on the list were Lexington, Ky., Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Toledo. Among the study’s recommendations for the federal government:
• Set a price on carbon emissions
• Pass a renewable electricity standard
• Invest more in research and development
• Help states reform electricity regulations to reward efficiency
• Give more support to mass transit
For more on the carbon footprint of the 100 metro areas see the Brookings site. (Sources: ClimateWire, New York Times)

Great Lakes threatened by climate change

(Photo of Lake Michigan at Petoskey from Flickr and photographer .jowo/Joel Dinda.)

News Update 2: Climate change will hurt the Great Lakes ecosystem, a report released last week says. Even worse, it will put pressure on the 8 states and 2 Canadian provinces bordering the lakes to sell water to other states and even other countries as droughts get worse and the value of water goes up. To meet the diversion threat, states in the Great Lakes basin have formed a compact not to divert the water. Wisconsin was the 6th state to sign on last week. But the agreement must be ratified by Congress. Will reps from other regions be willing to do that? The Great Lakes contain 20% of the world’s fresh surface water. Other climate change threats to the lakes include invasive species interrupting the food chain for fish, shallow water disrupting shipping, and stronger storms sending more pollution into the lakes. Tourist activities like fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and swimming will likely be hurt by the warming of the region and changes in the lakes. Learn more and download the report. (Sources: ClimateWire, National Wildlife Federation)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cost of doing nothing about global warming: up to $3.6 trillion a year for losses in the U.S.

(Photo of damage from Hurricane Katrina from Flickr and and photographer SAsqrd/Steve.)

Weekly Angst: Every time I hear that it will cost too much to fight climate change and will “wreck the economy,” I say to myself (or sometimes out loud), “But what will it cost if we DON'T do anything?” So I was happy to see that Tufts University has just released a report on the cost of doing nothing, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The study determined that continuing business-as-usual in terms of greenhouse gases could end up costing the U.S. economy as much as $3.6 trillion a year by the end of the century.

They also estimated that the cost of four major climate change impacts – coastal hurricanes, real-estate damage from rising seas, increased energy costs to meet hot temperatures, and water scarcity – would rise over time and could cost $1.9 trillion annually by 2100. The breakdown for that year:
• Hurricane damages $422 billion
• Real estate losses: $360 billion
• Increased energy costs: $141 billion
• Water costs: $950 billion

Other hard-hit sectors include tourism and agriculture.

“The longer we wait, the more painful and expensive the consequences will be,” said Dan Lashof, director of NRDC’s Climate Center.

The report predicted an average temperature increase of 13 degrees Fahrenheit in most of the U.S. in the next century and 18 degrees in Alaska, which is warming faster. Seas were predicted to rise 23 inches by 2050 and 45 inches by 2100, engulfing coastlines.

If global warming continues unchecked, the analysis found, New York City will have the climate of Las Vegas, and San Francisco will feel like New Orleans.

“Climate change is on a collision course with the U.S. economy,” warned Frank Ackerman, lead author of the study. The researchers used a new British model for figuring overall costs. They looked at economic losses, non-economic damages and the increased risk of catastrophe.

Climate disasters
And speaking of the increased risk of catastrophe, an op-ed piece in the New York Times Saturday by Charles M. Blow pointed out that we’re already experiencing more costly extreme weather disasters.

There have been four times as many weather disasters worldwide in the past 30 years as in the preceding 75, he said, citing the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. The U.S. has suffered most of them.

Of the 30 costliest hurricanes in the U.S. history, 10 have occurred since 2000, according to the National Hurricane Center. The worst year, of course, was 2005 (Katrina et al), with an estimated $39 billion loss.

Report’s recommendations

But getting back to the Tufts/NRDC report – it concludes with three overriding recommendations for action:
1. Enact comprehensive mandatory limits on global warming pollution to stimulate investment and guarantee that we meet emission targets.
2. Overcome barriers to investment in energy efficiency.
3. Accelerate development and deployment of emerging clean energy technologies.

Do it and do it now. Then we can avoid most of these costs (not all, though, because GHG in the atmosphere now will be there for many years.) And, of course, it’s not just financial cost. Think about the human cost of all these disasters. It’s mind-boggling.

Download the report.

(Sources: NRDC, Greenwire, New York Times)