Friday, April 30, 2010

What's the biggest renewable power source in the U.S.?

(Photo of turbines inside Hoover Dam from Flickr and photographer Mike Chen aka MetalMan)

It’s not wind or solar. It’s hydropower, which accounts for 7% of our electric power, and two-thirds of U.S. renewable energy today. The Obama Administration thinks hydro can play a bigger role in weaning us off fossil fuels, with their carbon footprint, and producing clean-tech jobs.

The Energy and Interior departments and the Army Corps of Engineers are eyeing ways to increase hydropower without harming the environment – most specifically migrating fish.

"I think that hydropower in the past was developed in a way that didn't protect local environments as it could have," said Energy Sec. Steven Chu. "We now know better how to design turbines that are kinder to fish."

"This is taking a look at existing facilities and low-impact hydro,” said Interior Sec. Ken Salazar. “This is an examination of what we can do with hydropower that does not necessitate the building of new dams."

The U.S. has 79,000 dams, but only 2,200 of them produce electricity.

The three departments will develop a strategy that would not only maximize efficiency at hydropower dams and put turbines in some dams that don’t produce power now, but also would look into new technologies, like putting turbines in major rivers and water pipelines.

And then there’s also the ocean. Wave action is just beginning to be seen as a powerful source of energy.

Clean tech jobs
There would be more than twice as many jobs in developing ocean power as in inland hydro, according to a recent report by Navigant Consulting.

Hydropower could provide a half-million to 1.4 million jobs, dependant upon the U.S. having an renewable energy standard of 10% to 25%, Navigant said.

Hydropower has the potential to produce 16,000 to 25,000 more megawatts of power, Chu has said. Navigant raises that to between 25,000 and 60,000 by 2025 if there’s an RES.

One good thing about hydro is its storage ability, something wind and solar are struggling with.

The federal government owns about half the existing hydropower dams, according to Linda Ciocci of the National Hydropower Assn. She said there need to be strong incentives to drive more private investment.

Most facilities are in the West, as well as in Tennessee and Pennsylvania. But Navigant said expansion can bring hydro jobs to all regions of the country.

Also involved is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has 9 pending applications for new nonfederal projects.

(Sources: ClimateWire Landletter, E&E Daily)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If Sen. Inhofe is for it, I’m against it; plus what’s the latest with Graham and Reid on climate vs. immigration reform?

Sen. James Inhofe from Oklahoma, global warming denier, and his Republican colleague George Voinovich (Ohio) are touting a bill to slash 3 pollutants from power plants – if the climate bill fails, which they hope it does. Inhofe and Voinovich are the two ranking Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

On the face of it, who could be against cutting soot-producing sulfur dioxide 80%, smog-forming nitrogen dioxide 50% and mercury 90%. This 3-pollutant legislation was introduced last week by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Tom Carper (D-Dela.)

The problem is this bill does nothing about carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, and nothing for renewable energy. It allows coal to continue being the energy of choice for power plants. Fortunately, the measure is unlikely to get legs, because Chair Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) committee has a majority of Democrats.

Voinovich also has a proposal to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, not only under the Clean Air Act, but also under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act. He's covering all his bases.

On climate bill is Graham in or out?
So far he's out. After cancellation of a news conference to unveil their comprehensive climate bill, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) huddled Monday but made no statement when emerging and headed off in different directions, reporters on the scene noted, as if that indicated discord.

At issue – in case you’ve been in a bunker the past few days – is Graham’s refusal to play ball on the climate bill if immigration reform is on agenda this year too. (See Saturday's post below)

Over the weekend and Monday it looked like Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was going to push immigration reform first. Graham, who is also a player on immigration, said he didn’t want to be part of a political ploy to get Hispanic votes for Democrats in November (including beleaguered Sen. Reid.)

But Tuesday Reid seemed to be saying climate change would, in fact, come first. Graham, however, is still sitting this one out. He wants assurance immigration won’t come up at all this year. He's moving the goalposts, as Kate Sheppard said in Mother Jones .

As Kerry tries to keep up the good fight and Lieberman tries to make peace, the two are sending their bill to the EPA for the necessary analysis that could take 4-6 weeks, keeping the bill off the floor.

Meanwhile two of the more moderate Republicans, Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) told E&E Daily Tuesday that they’d rather take up energy first, as did several other Senators on both sides of the aisle.

Immigration seems to be something the GOP has no taste for, at least not right now.

What if there’s no climate bill?
A couple of less comprehensive energy bills are waiting in the wings: the Collins-Cantwell CLEAR cap-and-dividend bill that would reduce emissions 20% by 2020. It has no support from labor, however, so its chances are not good.

There’s also the clean energy bill (S. 1462) that passed out of Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) Energy Committee many months ago, which includes a rather small renewable energy standard. At this point that has been merged with Kerry-Graham-Lieberman, but presumably it could stand on its own.
Not a very good bill, though.

And of course the fallback is to just go with EPA regulations for large-source power plants, as well as letting states continue passing their own bills and regional cap-and-trade plans. The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill’s most recent draft does not restrict the EPA and allows California and other states to regulate tailpipe emissions, something the House-passed Waxman-Markey (H.R. 2454) bill does not.

(Sources:, E&E Daily, govtrack,, Mother Jones, Sierra Club)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lindsey Graham says he’ll pull out of climate bill negotiations in Dems' sudden move to put immigration reform first

UPDATE 6:30 p.m CDT: Kerry has cancelled the Monday press conference, The Hill's E2Wire reports.

It looks like Lindsey Graham is going to rain on John Kerry’s parade

Sen. Graham (R-S.C.) said, in a letter obtained Saturday by CNN, that he is no longer negotiating on the climate bill and won’t appear at a news conference planned for Monday to unveil it. In dropping out, Graham takes the “bi-partisan” out of the so-called bi-partisan comprehensive climate bill, leaving Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) holding the bag.

A particularly cruel blow after they managed to get two or three major oil companies, GE, the Christian Coalition and other leaders to stand with them Monday in support of the bill.

Graham wrote to business and other leaders he’s been negotiating with that he is withdrawing because it appears immigration reform will now get first dibs on the Senate floor. Graham called it a “panicked … political ploy” by the Democrats, who are reacting to threats by Latinos to stay away from the polls in November. He says between that and the Supreme Court nomination, it’s hardly likely climate will be on the agenda before year’s end.

It’s easy to see how he would be peeved. The trio working on the bill has toiled long and hard to make it palatable to enough Senators to get 60 votes. But politics being what they are, I suspect there are a few other reasons he may be backing out:

• They simply don’t have the votes they need for the climate bill. Other Republicans aren’t coming forward and Graham doesn’t want to be hanging out there alone. He has already caught hell from constituents for even working with the enemy on climate – not to mention some blogger who said he’s gay and Dems are blackmailing him to get his support.

• He’s hoping his threat to back out will make Dem leadership put climate first because, as a good Republican, he’d like to see immigration reform delayed until after Election Day.

• He’s trying to protect his buddy Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) from having to deal with immigration as he tries to veer to the right before a tough primary, as some Democrats suggested to CNN.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman met with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Thursday to talk about the timing of climate vs. immigration. Reid reportedly was non-committal but said he planned to bring both to the floor before August. As I noted in an earlier post, Reid is running behind in Nevada and definitely needs Latino votes if he is to have a chance at re-election.

Graham has also been working on the immigration issue, but said that bill is far from written.

(Sources: CNN , E&E News PM)

Friday, April 23, 2010

62% in U.S. support environmental movement, but 48% say global warming is exaggerated -- Gallup Poll

Most Americans support the environmental movement, a new Gallup Poll says, but support has fallen in the past decade, especially where global warming is concerned. Some 48% said global warming is exaggerated.

More respondents put a priority on energy over environment for the first time since Gallup started these environmental surveys 10 years ago. Exactly half favored development of fossil fuels over environmental protection, while only 43% put environment first.

Political polarization over global warming is one reason for the loss of environmental support, with climate skeptics, fossil fuel industries and some elected officials beating the drums of doubt. The recession and loss of jobs factors in too. People have much to worry about and are more easily scared by those who make dire warnings about the economic effects of regulations.

Political party, not surprisingly, makes a difference in people’s opinions. Asked if the environmental movement in general had done more good than harm:
• 74% of Dems said yes (down from 77)
• 59% of Independents agreed (down from 70)
• 51% of Republicans agreed (down the most – 13 points – from 64)

There was agreement about energy conservation, however. Across the board, 52% saw consumer conservation as a way to solve the energy problem.

Other findings:
• 61% were active or supportive of the environment movement (down 10% since 2000); 19% were active participants, 42% were sympathetic, 28% were neutral and 10% unsympathetic.
• 19% (and more women that men) were actively involved.
• 53% said global warming is real and the impact has begun or will soon.
• 46% rated the quality of the environment as good or excellent (up from 39% a year ago). That seems to go in tandem with “we don’t have to do so much about it.”

What was surprising (and frankly I don’t believe it) was the number of people saying they personally take steps to protect the environment:
• 90% said they have recycled.
• 85% said they’ve taken steps to reduce home energy use.
• 81% have replaced incandescent light bulbs with condensed fluorescent bulbs.
• 76% have bought products specifically because they are better for the environment.
• 70% have used reusable shopping bags.

This sounds like a case of telling the pollster what she wants to hear.

The poll results clearly send a warning that we need to educate the public more about global warming in order neutralize what the naysayers are telling them. Too many still don’t understand the damage fossil fuels are doing.

(Sources: Greenwire via New York Times )

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Will immigration (Nevada) politics get in way of climate bill?

(Photo of immigration rally in Chicago from Flickr and ProgressIL)

Rising pressure from Latinos to pass immigration reform is clearly on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) mind and those of others Senators running for re-election in states with a high Hispanic populations, such as Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who are at risk of losing to Republicans and badly need Latino votes.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) last week raised the prospect of Latinos staying home on Election Day next November if a vote on reform, promised by President Obama during the campaign, doesn’t come this year.

So there’s a real chance, as Latino leaders get increasingly vocal, that Democratic leadership may put immigration ahead of climate on the Senate floor, if it looks more likely to get bi-partisan support.

Meanwhile, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) continue to try to please all of the people all of the time (or at least 60). They are scheduled to introduce their comprehensive climate bill on Monday, but first have to figure out what to do about transportation. They had planned on a gas tax, but the president and others said that was a non-starter, so it’s off the table.

Moderates are suggesting it would be better to follow Sen. Byron Dorgan’s (D-N.D.) proposal to go ahead with the clean energy part now and put off trying to put a price on carbon. But climate bill advocates say no, that if they can’t link the more popular clean-energy incentives to a price on carbon to reduce emissions, the latter is never going to happen.

Meanwhile Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have their own proposal out there for a cap-and-dividend plan that would return revenue to residents to help pay increased energy bills.

(Sources: Wall Street Journal, The Hill’s E2 Wire , The Washington Post, PlanetArk, E&E Daily)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Aldermen, enviro groups fight uphill battle for Chicago ordinance to curb emissions at Fisk, Crawford coal plants

(Photo of Fisk Power Plant and proximity to Chicago Loop from Flickr and photographer Steven Vance)

Two old coal-fired power plants, spewing pollution in densely populated Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago, are the subject of a city ordinance introduced last week by five progressive aldermen.

You might expect the aldermen from those neighborhoods, Danny Soliz (25th Ward) and Ricardo Muñoz (22nd Ward), to be co-sponsors since the health of constituents is at stake, but they aren’t. Muñoz says he’s worried about jobs and development in the neighborhood if the plants shut down. The owner, Midwest Generation, has contributed to his election campaigns and to community groups, but he told WBEZ in December that didn’t affect his judgment about the city regulating the plants.

The two power plants, Fisk and Crawford, belch thousands of tons of soot and millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Pollution from these two plants contributed to an estimated 2,800 asthma attacks, 550 emergency-room visits and 41 deaths, according to a 2001 Harvard School of Public Health study.

It’s not just the immediate neighborhoods that are affected. Fisk is within 2 miles of Soldier Field, Cellular Field and the University of Illinois. Chicago is the only large city with 2 coal-fired power plants inside city limits. They affect air quality for everyone.

What's in the ordinance?
The Clean Power Ordinance, introduced by Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward), would requires the plants to cut particulates by 90% and CO2 to 120.36 lbs./million BTU of heat input, within 2-4 years. For particulates they could add scrubbers, for CO2 they could convert to natural gas.

The fine would be $5,000-$10,000 per violation, with violations measured by the hour for particulate matter and by the day for CO2.

Midwest Gen says in its defense that it has cleaned up mercury emissions 60% since buying the plants in 1999 and plans to take additional steps to reduce pollution.

The plants produce local jobs but not local electricity. The power from these plants is sold on the wholesale market. Little of it goes to Illinois, and none to Chicago.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of a Clean Power Ordinance. Back in 2003 it was on the ballot as a non-binding referendum. People in the immediate neighborhoods voted overwhelmingly for its passage. But nothing happened.

Mayor Daley – despite his commitment to reduce greenhouse gases 25% from 1990 levels by 2020 – has maintained it’s not the city’s role to regulate the plants.

Federal and state action
Last year the Justice Department filed suit against Midwest Generation on behalf of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the EPA for illegal emission of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. It did so following the threat of a suit by five environmental and public health organization. And the state worked out an agreement for Midwest Generation to install scrubbers at Fisk by 2015 and Crawford 2018, respectively, or shut down the plants.

But that’s too long to wait, Moore and several other alderman, believe. Their ordinance would speed up compliance by several years and adds greenhouse gases to the mix.

Groups supporting the ordinance include the Respiratory Health Assn., Environmental Law and Policy Center, Eco-Justice Collaborative, Environment Illinois, Loyola University, Natural Resources Defense Council and Pilsen Environmental Rights & Reform Org. (Complete list at

With the mayor and two most affected aldermen in likely opposition, the ordinance has a steep uphill climb. It needs a groundswell of supporters talking up their aldermen to have a chance.

A lobby-training session is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, at the Sierra Club’s offices, 70 E. Lake St. Contact for details.

(Sources: Chicago Clean Power Coalition, NBC Chicago Ward Room blog, Progress Illinois, Chicago Reader, WBEZ)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Coal as energy source will grow, Arch exec testifies

(Photo of Arch Coal mine in West Virginia from Flickr and
Photograper Doc Searls

Coal is the fuel of the future, three industry executives told a House committee this week, and the government needs to help clean it up.

“The world will continue to use coal, period,” Arch Coal CEO Steven Leer, told the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Coal, which is cheap and plentiful, will grow rapidly as an energy source and the question is whether CO2 emissions will grow with it, Leer said.

Coal is irreplaceable both here and abroad, said execs from Arch, Peabody Energy and Rio Tinto, and they need federal support for carbon capture and sequestration.

Leer said CCS is needed “to stabilize CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere within the next 40 years.”

Because CCS will not be available for use on a commercial scale until the 2020s, Peabody CEO Greg Bryce said, government should wait until then to regulate carbon. The feds also have a responsibility to fund CCS and research, he said.

Bryce criticized the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House last summer, because it put a price on carbon. Rio Tinto exec Preston Chiara took a softer stance. He’s a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), which supported the House bill.

The coal execs warned against a “rush to gas” as an alternative energy, questioning estimates about its availability and noting price volatility in the past. And they warned that tens of thousands of jobs could be lost if coal emissions are overly regulated or utilities switch to gas.

Meanwhile oil and gas exec T. Boone Pickens, who sees natural gas as a bridge to renewable wind energy, was testifying on behalf of gas before the House Ways and Means Committee. He said growth of cleaner technologies (gas has fewer emissions than coal) are needed to “protect American jobs” in the global competition to lead in the energies of the future. He apparently doesn’t agree with the three coal execs that coal is the fuel of the future.

See Grist blog's take on the Select Committee hearing.

(Sources: Greenwire story picked up by NYT , E&E Daily)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wind power 39% of new energy installed here in 2009

(Photo of wind turbines in Kansas from Flickr and photographer Brent Danley)

Wind energy provided 39% of the new power in the U.S. in 2009, but still represents only a tiny part of total energy – 1.8%.

Wind advocates are asking Congress for a renewable energy standard (RES) that will speed up the use of new forms of energy like wind and solar.

So says the U.S. Wind Energy Association Annual Market Report, released last week.

Some highlights:

• 10,000 megawatts of new generating capacity were installed in 2009, a record year. That’s enough to power 2.4 million homes.
• Texas leads with the most wind power, followed by Iowa, California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Colorado and North Dakota.
• Iowa leads with percent of power generated by wind, at 14%.
• About 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry here.
• 36 states have utility-scale wind projects.
• 10 new manufacturing facilities came on line to build wind equipment, 20 were planned, and 9 expanded. There are now 200 manufacturing plants on line.
• Wind provides about half the renewable energy in the U.S., followed by biomass and geothermal. Solar only generates 1%.
• Offshore wind power is coming of age, with 7 projects planned.
• Use of wind power is conserving about 20 billion gallons of water annually, which would be needed for cooling in conventional power plants.

The utility using the most wind power is Xcel Energy. The largest wind power owner is NextEra Energy Resources. And GE is the top turbine supplier in the U.S., followed by Vestas (Denmark), Siemens (Germany) and Mitsubishi (Japan).

More highlights and charts can be downloaded from the AWEA Web site. If you want more than highlights, a full report will cost you $550 at the AWEA store. I didn’t think so. Then you’ll have to make do with highlights.

See an interactive map of wind projects by state. You can click on your state for more detail.

(Sources: Greenwire, American Wind Energy Association)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

U.S. greenhouse gases likely to grow 4% by 2020 if steps aren't taken, new Climate Action Report to UN warns

(Photo of coal-fired power plant in Utah from Flickr and photographer arbyreed)

The U.S. is on a trajectory to increase greenhouse gas emissions 4% (over 2005) by 2020, in a business-as-usual scenario that includes government measures in place as of March 31, 2009.

President Obama assured the world at Copenhagen that we would reduce our emissions 17% (over 2005) by 2020.

Clearly additional steps need to be taken to close the gap.

The projection, in the 2010 U.S. Climate Action Report to the UN, does not include the recent automobile standards set by the EPA.

By 2020, the report forecasts the GDP will have grown 40%.

While CO2 is forecast to grow just 1.5%, other greenhouse gases will grow more rapidly. Hydrofluorocarbons will more than double, the report says. Ironically, they are now being used as a replacement for ozone-depleting substances.

The relatively slow growth of CO2 will come because of more renewable energy and efficiency, the report says.

Where we were in 2009
The U.S. is the third most populous country in the world, having grown by 59 million since 1990, to 308 million. It also has the highest GDP in the world, up 70% since 1990, the report said.

We are the world’s largest producer and consumer of energy. Fossil fuels accounted for about 80% of all energy consumption 2005-2008. Petroleum was the single largest energy source, at 37.7% in 2008, though it was down from 41% in 2005.

Natural gas was second at 24.4%, with coal third at 22.4%. Nuclear accounted for 8.1%, conventional hydropower 2% and all other renewables 3%, according to the report.

In transportation, the highway share of passenger miles (in 2006, the latest figures available), was 89% of the total. Airlines carried about 10% and mass transit and rail only 1%.

Government policies and actions that were figured into the projection included $90 billion in stimulus money from ARRA, federal agency actions to reduce their GHG, and actions taken by states and cities.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

High-speed rail on way to becoming a reality in U.S.

(Photo of futuristic high-speed trains side-by-side in Taiwan station from Flickr and photographer James Tung)

With U.S. population predicted to grow about 40 million in the next 20 years, we clearly will need some major build-out to move all these folks around. More highways? More airports? More, better and faster trains? Probably all three, but the latter makes the most sense for the planet, and we’re running far behind the rest of the world on trains. Rail here gets little respect. (see previous post)

Trains are an efficient way to move people up to 500 miles. You may be surprised to learn 80% of travel in the U.S. is within those bounds and one-third of the trips in and out of busy O’Hare Airport in Chicago are 500 miles or less. (This and other key information comes from James McCommons’ book, “Waiting on the Train.”)

As the highways and the skyways get more congested, causing frustration and long delays, it’s increasingly easy to listen to railroad buffs argue the case for trains – especially if they can move faster and more frequently than they do now, and get places on time.

Amtrak inter-city trains would be able to go up to 110 mph if they had better equipment and tracks where they could move freely, unhindered by freight trains.

And then there are the high-speed bullet trains – up to 220 mph – that Europe and Japan take for granted and even China is racing ahead on.

It may take 10-15 years, but high-speed rail seems to be coming – with support from the Obama Administration and many states.

California leads the way
California (as is often is the case) is likely to be first with a bullet train. Despite the car culture there, driving on choked freeways is no fun.

California voters approved a nearly $10B bond issue in 2008 to build a bullet-train line from LA to San Francisco (time: 2½ hours). Eventually it will extend to San Diego and Sacramento. The total cost is estimated at $40 billion. The state recently got $2.3B in stimulus funds to further its plans. The route is already selected and engineering is under way.

California is one of several states to put some of its own money into passenger rail, investing $2B since 1976. (Others include Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington and North Caroline.) California owns its own trains and is good at connectivity, having buses ready to pick people up at the train stations.

The Chicago connection
The Midwest also has a plan, using Chicago as a hub, to reach cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee and Detroit. It just got $2.2B in stimulus funds to work on the Chicago-St. Louis run. A portion of that line should soon be able to carry trains at 110mph. The Midwest has been planning for years and would like to link up with cities from Cincinnati to Kansas City over time. Stops in college towns would bring a lot of passengers onpoard.

Florida too got stimulus money ($1.25B) to develop a route from Tampa to Orlando. The state has been getting 400,000 new residents each year and has to think about transporting them. High-speed rail has been on-again, off-again over the past few decades. Former Gov. Bob Graham loved it, Jeb Bush hated it. But much of the planning is done and the state applied for the stimulus funds and got them. In addition to Tampa and Orlando, planners are eying Disneyland as a profitable stop. Future expansions would likely go to Miami and Jacksonville.

A national plan
The U.S. High Speed Rail Association has a plan (hit play on map to see it develop) that would link the country with high-speed trains by 2030.

Sure it would be expensive, but so are highways and airports. The federal government has a Highway Trust Fund but there’s no similar fund for trains. There should be.

Building high-speed rail would provide lots of jobs. California alone predicts 150,000 temporary and 450,000 permanent ones. This could be a major infrastructure project to put people back to work.

I know, you’re thinking the states are bankrupt and won’t be able to help finance such grand plans. But there are creative ways, such as selling bonds and forming public-private partnerships. Advocates say the revenue will be enough to pay back investors.

One current campaign is to get Congress to up its contribution to high speed rail to $4B a year for 5 years. This year the House voted that much, but it ended up being $2.5B. Obama has asked for $1B a year.

To join the campaign, go to

(Special thanks to James McCommons and his book “Waiting on the Train” for much of the information here. Other sources: The National High-Speed Rail Association and Polk County Democrat.)