Top Energy and Climate Stories for April 10

Article of the Day

E&E Daily (Subs. req’d).

Developer shrugs off recession, plots all-solar Fla. city

Defying the current economic down turn a Florida developer announced plans to build the United State’s first solar-powered city. Solar photovoltaic cells will power the city’s homes, offices, and factories, and the project will go up about 20 miles from Fort Myers, ground zero for the foreclosure crisis:

“Babcock Ranch” would be built on 17,000 acres in Charlotte and Lee counties, with more than half of the land set aside for nature preserves, agriculture and other open space. Florida Power & Light Co. would build a 75-megawatt solar photovoltaic array to supply electricity to the development’s 6 million square feet of residential, industrial and retail buildings….

Developer Syd Kitson is betting heavily that he is going to attract investors, businesses and 45,000 residents to his $2 billion ranch community, which he plans to start building next year. He is promising 19,500 homes, 20,000 permanent jobs, open spaces and plenty of carbon-free megawatts.

“Solar is just the first step,” Kitson told reporters…. “Babcock Ranch will be a true living laboratory of the new-energy economy … where innovative companies can design, build and use the renewable and efficient technologies that customers across the country and around the globe will need.”

Three years ago, Florida agreed to buy 73,000 surrounding acres from Kitson’s company, Kitson & Partners, and preserve the land for hunting, camping, hiking and other recreation. The land deal still ranks as the largest of its kind in state history….

Charles Pattison, president of the conservation group 1,000 Friends of Florida, also applauded the Babcock Ranch plan. Kitson bought the land in 2005 from a family that had used it for timber and ranching since the early 20th century….

Kitson … said he is attempting to persuade several companies to set up shop in Babcock Ranch. He is targeting solar panel manufacturers, lithium-ion battery makers and other clean-energy companies.

Legislation and Policy

E&E Daily (Subs. Req’d)

EPA puts brakes on 3 more mountaintop permits

The EPA continues its strong intervention in reviewing filthy mountaintop removal permits, a process that has gone unchecked for nearly a decade. In this instance the Army Corps was asked to hold permits for 3 Appalachian operations, 2 in W. Virginia and 1 in Virginia:

U.S. EPA is objecting to three more federal permits for mountaintop-removal coal mining.

EPA asked the lead federal permitting agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, last week to temporarily hold up two permits for mountaintop-removal operations in West Virginia and another in Virginia.

The permits are for A&G Coal Corp.’s Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine in Wise County, Va., a Massey Energy mine in Kanawha County, W.Va., and a Frasure Creek Mining operation in Mingo County, W.Va.

EPA expressed concern that the permits would threaten water quality, saying they failed to adequately account for the effects of dumping rock from blasted mountaintops into valley streams and rivers.

The Globe and Mail

Blue Dog Democrats growling at climate-change plan

[Coal] miners ‘need not fear’ that Democrats would ever tolerate a climate-change bill that abandoned the coal industry, the Speaker of the House of Representatives told The Washington Post.

[New Hampshire] unveils action plan to tackle climate change

David Brooks discusses the complexities of state-level climate legislation with his usual short-sighted, conservative bent.

If you want an indication of how complicated it will be for New Hampshire to cut the pollution that contributes to climate change, flip through the couple hundred pages of the new statewide Action Plan, released March 25 with great fanfare after 15 months of work, and note what isn’t there.

Green Technology

New York Times

Electric Car Makers: Oregon Wants You

In a flurry of electric vehicle activity, three back-to-back announcements this week have placed a spotlight on Oregon’s plans to be the friendliest state in the nation in which to build, sell and buy electric cars.

The Promise of a Better Light Bulb?

The pending extinction of traditional incandescent bulbs in the United States and abroad has created an enormous market opportunity for energy-efficient lighting technologies. The current shortcomings of compact fluorescent lights and pricey LED bulbs show that future dominance of the American socket is still very much up for grabs.

Vu1 (that is, “view one”), a company based in Seattle, thinks it has a shot.

Vu1 said it plans to introduce a fully dimmable, mercury-free, instant-on bulb for recessed ceiling fixtures by the end of this year. It will, the company says, last about 6,000 hours – or six times the lifespan of an incandescent – and have a price tag similar to high-end C.F.L. reflector bulbs: about $18 to $22.

Easter Eggs = Less Energy Use?

In terms of daytime usage between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., the day of the year with the lowest electricity consumption has fallen in April or May every year since 2000, according to New England’s grid operator.

The single lowest energy-use day has coincided with Easter Sunday on three of those years.

Science Daily

Ancient Diatoms Lead To New Technology For Solar Energy

Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use an ancient life form to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy, in systems that may be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing silicon-based solar cells.

This technology may be slightly more expensive than some existing approaches to make dye-sensitized solar cells, but can potentially triple the electrical output.

Renewable Energies: The Promise Of Organic Solar Cells

In the race to renewable energy, organic solar cells are now really starting to take off. They can be manufactured easily and cheaply, they have low environmental impact, and since they are compatible with flexible substrates, they could be used in many applications such as packaging, clothing, flexible screens, or for recharging cell phones and laptops.

Climate Change

Science Daily

Climate Change Leads To Major Decrease In Carbon Dioxide Storage

The North Atlantic Ocean is one of the Earth’s tools to offset natural carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, the ‘carbon sink’ in the North Atlantic is the primary gate for carbon dioxide (CO2) entering the global ocean and stores it for about 1500 years. The oceans have removed nearly 30 per cent of anthropogenic (man-made) emissions over the last 250 years. However, several recent studies show a dramatic decline in the North Atlantic Ocean’s carbon sink.


Water cut off in Mexican capital

Mexico City officials have shut down a main pipeline providing fresh water to millions of residents because reserves have fallen to record low levels.

The closure, due to last 36 hours, will affect five million people, or a quarter of the city’s population.

Unusually low rainfall last year and major leakage are blamed for leaving reservoirs less than half full.

Australia’s woes offer preview of warmer world, scientists say

The world watches as Australia reels from the shocks of climate change. Drought, fires, monsoons and mosquito epidemics are just the beginning for the continent and the planet as global temperatures increase. Scientists say that Australia’s set of problems is a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the world.

A three-person royal commission has been convened to determine whether climate change is to blame for a February heat wave in which more than 200 people died and for the nation’s worst-ever wildfires that killed 173 the following week.

Compiled by Max Luken and Carlin Rosengarten

19 Responses to Top Energy and Climate Stories for April 10

  1. Will Greene says:

    Dr. Romm, you should do a whole post focused on the “Blue Dog Democrats growling at climate change plan” story that is linked above. I didn’t know Nancy Pelosi has a statue of a coal miner on her desk, that’s disturbing. I also didn’t know the extent to which conservative dems are poised to oppose action to save the planet.

  2. Harrier says:

    Those two articles on solar cells based on the structure of diatoms, on the one hand, and constructed of organic compounds on the other, are both exciting news. The best technology always seems to be that which echoes the natural world in some way.

  3. Daniel Jones says:

    Will Greene writes that he “didn’t know the extent to which conservative dems are poised to oppose action to save the planet.” Maybe Senator Byrd (Dem, West Virginia), Senator Levin (Dem, Michigan), Representative Dingell (Dem, Michigan), and others who have opposed progress on limiting climate change are “conservative”, but I wouldn’t have thought it.

    Consider some history – In 1992, the US Senate ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by acclamation, with no Senator speaking against ratification. A fundamental tenet of the UNFCCC is that the United States and other industrially-developed nations have the obligation to take the lead in decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases. They were supposed to move forward aggressively, beginning in 1994, not waiting for full scientific proof of the magnitude of the problem.

    Less developed countries were allowed to take a much less aggressive approach, in recognition that they had contributed less to the problem.

    In 1997, while the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated, the US Senate approved the Byrd-Hegel Resolution that opposed any treaty that would have the US take the lead (that is, move forward aggressively without equivalent action from such economic powerhouses and threats to our economic gluttony as Brazil, India, and China). The resolution was passed by a vote of 95 to 0, which presumably included, not only Republicans and conservative Democrats, but a few liberals as well.

    Meanwhile, the US commitment under the UNFCCC to implement policies and measures intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pre-UNFCCC levels by the end of the decade was addressed, by a Democratic administration, by allowing emissions to rise at a rate of about one percent per year; a policy that was continued by a Republican administration after 2000.

    Opposition to substantive action to prevent, or to slow, climate change has been one of the most bi-partisan efforts undertaken by the US government in recent decades. We should not be surprised if such bi-partisanship continues and if the Speaker of the House, as well as “conservative dems”, protect the coal industry at the expense of the environment.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    The Florida city development just north of Ft. Meyers (west coast very south Florida) is a great article – the risk of this area having to be abandoned as sea levels rise during this century seem rather high though.

    I hadn’t heard that Mexico was already facing decreasing rainfall (I guess it makes sense considering we’re already seeing this in the US southwest). This is projected to get much worse for Mexico, and as it dries out US immigration troubles from Mexico will switch from young people looking for jobs to huge amounts of climate refugees due to serious drought (thirst and starvation).

    Its disturbing to see the drying effects already starting in Mexico with possible serious medium term ramifications for the two countries.

  5. Jim Beacon says:

    Darn it, I *love* this site… but, Joe, why do you so consistently fail to include the proper follow up links to sources and projects you report on in your posts? A classic example is the story on “the world’s first solar-powered city” where you have a link — but it is to a video on a subscription site. Why not include the direct link to the Babcock Ranch development website:

    …and do the same for most stories?

    PS: I thought the “top green news roundup” sounded like a good idea when you launched it a few days ago… but fully half the stories on today’s list hardly qualify as “top” status items. Easter Eggs? C’mon. Don’t waste our time on the fluff — I thought you said this Top News list was going to save us time. It it really ain’t important, leave the idea off. Quality, not quantity, please.

    [JR: Uhh, I think it is safe to say that there are few if any comparable blogs who include more links to primary sources than I do. And this is a new feature put together by interns. The point of this post is to be quick news overview — not another time-consuming post for me and my non-existent staff to do research on. Given the existence of Google, anyone who wants to delve deeper can do so and 5 seconds.

    And I liked the Easter post. Left it in myself. Jeez, you can skim the headlines and skip the stuff that isn’t of interest to you — but this business is pretty damn depressing and some folks (like me) like the occasional softer stuff.]

  6. David B. Benson says:

    What Will Greene wrote.

  7. Joris Prikken says:

    Wonderful initiative, I’ve made checking this post part of my morning routine. The one I would add is a post on the outcome of 12 days of negotiating in Munich on the Copenhagen text. It sounds like we’re still way off. In the synopsis, Ivo de Boer’s seemed more sympathetic towards developing nations, mentioning that they didn’t get the political creds they deserve for the steps taken to date while scalding developed nations for taking negotiating positions that are far off from the 2020 IPCC reduction targets…


  8. Ralph Taylor says:

    I followed the “Climate Change Leads To Major Decrease In Carbon Dioxide Storage” link. A few paragraphs into the article I found this statement.

    “Recent observational studies found that the North Atlantic carbon uptake has decreased by 50 per cent over the last ten years. While many are quick to blame anthropogenic climate change, Dr. Thomas and his colleagues found different results.

    They believe the decrease is a natural phenomenon as a result of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which causes weather patterns to change. “The next phase should once again increase in carbon uptake,” says Dr. Thomas. These natural phenomenons have the potential to mask the effects of anthropogenic climate change.”

    Don’t those two paragraphs make your headline more that a tad misleading? In fact isn’t this the kind of distortion that the deniers and delayers legitimately get criticized for?

    [JR: Sorry about that. The interns took the headline from the original piece, and their headline was misleading. I didn’t check it because other studies have found the same results but concluded it was human caused global warming.]

  9. Mark Shapiro says:

    Re growling blue dogs: it will always be in the short term interest of most politicians to oppose restrictions on fossil fuel use.

    So how can we help the President and Congress pass cap and trade? In the case of coal, I suggest “love the miner, hate the mining.” In other words, protect miners with job retraining, extended unemployment protection, etc. Ask Al Gore (or recall his kind words about miners in his speech at Obama’s nomination in Denver).

    Re the planned solar city in Florida: they’re proposing $350 million for a 75 MW PV system. Imagine saving about $100 million of that with a DC standard. How? A DC standard* would connect DC sources (PV and batteries) directly to DC uses (all electronics and LED lighting). This eliminates inverters and inverter losses, and eliminates power supplies and their losses. PV is expensive, but clean DC power. Let’s use it directly for all our DC devices and save.

    * A DC standard is just a plug and socket design and an agreed-upon voltage, analogous to our 3-pronged plug and socket for 120 Volts, 60 cycle AC.

  10. It is great to hear the green initiative and the potential it has in this economy. This is a tremendous article and I will pass this along to my colleagues. They too will enjoy reading this.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Micromonas, a prevalent ocean algae, has no cell wall and is highly productive. Suggests this species is highly suited for biofuel-from-algae. The linked article is mostly about gene sequencing, but has some facts about two (or three) ocean algae species:

  12. John Pelley says:

    Thanks for the great information about green living.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    “Covering the earth with charcoal?”:

    Surprisingly upbeat conclusion, to be slightly modified by the first comment, but only in that probably some would need to be applied to non-arable soils.

  14. *”Defying the current economic down turn a Florida developer announced plans to build the United State’s first solar-powered city. ”

    As a resident of Florida who has spent the last several decades witnessing developers destroy thousands of acres of wetlands, etc. for their developments I must kindly request that you do not promote this solar power snake oil developer who is destroying prime (endangered, almost extinct) Florida Panther habitat.

    It is about time for Florida to stop destroying its environment. These developers could care less about the health of the planet even when they claim that they are going to build a sustainable solar powered community.

    The government agency in charge of protecting ecosystems and endangered animals in Florida is essentially owned by the developers and they rubber stamp every single project that crosses their desks regardless of the environmental impacts. The same agency also classifies ditches and retention ponds as wetlands in order to reduce the apparent destruction of ecosystems under their “protection”.

    Someone needs to tell humankind that there is no such thing as “sustainability” on a depleted, destroyed planet hosting 9,000,000,000 humans. Instead of perpetual growth the Homo sapiens will go extinct. The economy won’t be worth much then …

  15. DB says:

    It should be noted that FPL, in addition to the proposed 75 MW solar generator for Babcock Ranch, is planning 1,200 megawatts of power fueled by natural gas in Palm Beach County and 2,200 megawatts of new nuclear power at Turkey Point.

  16. Ralph Taylor says:

    Concerning the misleading headline I (Ralph Taylor) commented on yesterday:

    I’m glad to hear that it was an honest mistake. Maybe I’m overreacting, but that original headline was so seriously misleading I would think twice before linking to anything ScienceDaily publishes. Secondly, your intern was really sloppy. He or she obviously did not fully read the article.

    The fact that you acknowledged the error speaks well of your integrity, but I’m guessing that while your blog gets considerable traffic (especially after Friedman’s plug), I doubt that many of readers follow the links to the source material. . And I’d guess that only a fraction of your readers look at the comment section. In other words, a good portion of your readers have been given false information. Even the most diligent bloggers occasionally screw up, but the ones I respect acknowledge their errors adding an update to the original post Would you please consider doing that? Also a separate post discussing the the disagreement among bone fide climate scientists about the cause of the decrease in carbon absorption in the North Atlantic would be interesting and informative.

    [JR: Science Daily does have weak headlines (not that the MSM is much better). But for a science-based news site like theirs, it is inexcusable and I’ll doublecheck those in the future.]

  17. Josh Kaplowitz says:

    I would echo Sasparilla’s post. Building an all-solar city is a nice experiment, but let’s do it in a more sustainable location. Joe, I don’t know if you’ve started a betting pool on how soon South Florida will need to be abandoned, but it can’t be more than a few decades off. There have to be plenty of pre-developed sites in the Piedmont region of the Southeast that are sunny enough.

  18. David B. Benson says:

    “Study: Biofuel Threatens Water Supplies”:

    This is for ethanol from corn. Which we already know is quite a poor idea.

  19. David B. Benson says:

    “Potential To Amass More Carbon In Eastern North American Forests”:

    Regrowth forests have yet to reach full potential for storing carbon.

    As I always write: plant more trees.