“Dan Templeton stands on the nacelle of a 2-megawatt DeWind turbine in Sweetwater, Texas. Four of the world’s five biggest wind projects are in Sweetwater’s Nolan County.” The photo is from a long article in Popular Mechanics:
Driving along Broadway in Sweetwater, Texas, one could justifiably assume the city is on its way down, not its way up. Cobwebs crowd the windows of abandoned storefronts, and peeling signs hang from cracked facades. It is only after I pull up to the mayor’s office, pausing to study the street more carefully, that I notice a real clue to the city’s changing fortunes: The blond stone building is neatly sandwiched between Craig A. Johnson, Independent Petroleum Landman, and Evans Enterprises, “Your source for wind turbine maintenance solutions.”
Greg Wortham, the mayor of Sweetwater, is a compact man who, contrary to his West Texas roots, speaks quickly and easily, offering more information than is asked. As we leave downtown in his silver Ford Escape Hybrid, he points to one low-slung building after another. “That’s a British company, Altezza. They work on the outside of the blades and towers, like spacewalkers. That building had been vacant for a dozen years, easily. This is General Electric””there’s 150 workers there. It used to be a Coca-Cola storage facility. At one point, a quarter of all GE turbines in the world were built here. Northwind moved into that one; it held a company that made deer blinds.”
Along the narrow state road, warehouses evolve into wide-open plains where Black Angus cattle meander among the bases of sleek white turbines. I have to crane my neck in order to take them in. When the blades revolve to 12 o’clock, the turbines stretch to a height twice that of the Statue of Liberty and sport a wingspan greater than a 747′s. As I peer out the window, Wortham identifies turbine models the way a bird-watcher ticks off species: The nacelles of Mitsubishis appear to have two eyes and a mouth on the back, he tells me. Siemenses have a tail fin and are long and sleek like a bullet; General Electrics are shaped like a breadbox and Vestas turbines are cut across the bias with a clean diagonal line.
The irony of this scenario in a state better known for its drilling rigs is not lost on Wortham. “If you picked 50 states, plus D.C., and asked anybody in the U.S. to rank all 51 [for wind power], Texas would be somewhere around Mississippi,” he says, “at the bottom.”
Here’s more on Texas and how it might become the leader in solar, too:
“Up until 2000, the only economic development for 10 or 15 years was prisons,” Mayor Wortham told me. Wind power took off after Texas passed a renewable portfolio standard in 1999, mandating that utilities generate 2000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2009. Coupled with a federal renewable-energy-production tax credit, turbines suddenly began to look profitable to wind developers and to communities like Sweetwater. While driving me around, Wortham pointed out Highland High School””both the old part, built in the 1930s, and the new $8 million facility that will soon replace it. Property taxes on wind energy have poured more than $30 million into Nolan County’s economy, and in 2005 the population finally stabilized after a decades-long decline….
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, by developing less than 1 percent of its total land area for solar, Texas could generate enough electricity (without energy storage) to satisfy the state’s 2007 demand for more than 300 million megawatt-hours. So far, California leads the country with 528 megawatts of grid-tied solar, followed by New Jersey (70), Colorado (36) and Nevada (34). Less than 5 megawatts of solar power are grid-tied in Texas.
But the state’s streamlined regulatory system could vault Texas to lead in solar power too. For example, this summer San Antonio’s utility signed a contract with Tessera Solar for a 27-megawatt project in West Texas; the first units are expected to come online by the end of next year. That pace stands in stark contrast to Tessera’s experience in California, where the company signed a contract for an 850-megawatt project in 2005 and only recently submitted the 5000-page impact assessment. While the scale of the two projects is vastly different, it is similar to another moment in the two states’ history, such as when, in 1999, Texas’s 30-megawatt Delaware Mountain Wind Farm began operations on a Culberson County ranch. Texas didn’t build small wind projects for long.
Recent announcements by the United States and China to cut carbon dioxide emissions are propelling India to make its own commitment to slow greenhouse gas emissions and go to the upcoming Copenhagen climate summit with a firm proposal on reductions.
The move marks a significant shift for India, which until recently had insisted that wealthier nations should bear the brunt of carbon cuts rather than emerging nations, whose economies are less developed.
But President Obama’s pledge for the United States to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and an offer by China to lower by 40 percent its carbon intensity — that is, carbon dioxide emissions relative to the size of its economy — have put new, unexpected pressure on India, a senior government official said Tuesday.
A new carbon-intensity target may be announced by New Delhi this week, said the official, who is part of India’s climate negotiation team and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly before a formal announcement is made.
“The Americans are now on board after President Obama’s offer. China has expressed its willingness to stick its neck out. Now, we are also willing to do our bit, China-style,” the official said. “The two developments signaled to us that the global politics has moved beyond everybody sitting behind their tables and doing nothing. So, a lot of number crunching is going on now.”
India previously insisted that wealthy nations help support carbon cuts in less developed countries. The new proposal will be a domestic initiative, however, and will not be dependent on international financial or technological support, the official said.
India’s rapid economic growth over the past decade and its billion-plus population have made it the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
On Tuesday, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that he expected “a fairly strong agreement” in Copenhagen and that India was “at the crossroads” after the recent U.S. and Chinese moves.
China’s output of grains could decline as much as 37 percent in the second half of this century if measures to counter the effects of climate change aren’t actively implemented, a weather official said.
The crops affected would include wheat, corn and rice, Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, said in an article published on the agency’s Web site yesterday. Research shows that for every degree warmer the atmosphere becomes the key growing period for rice to develop properly will be shortened by an average of 7-8 days and by 17 days for the winter wheat crop, Zheng said. “Yield and quality will drop accordingly,” he said.
China’s long-term food security and social stability may be threatened unless the world’s largest grain producer invests more to fight the effects of drought, McKinsey & Co. said in a report Nov. 24. The country’s corn harvest, the world’s second- largest, plunged by 13 percent to a four-year low this year because of drought, a survey of farmers by Geneva-based SGS SA for Bloomberg showed.
“By 2050, with extreme conditions, South Asia’s grain output could be cut by 30 percent and with the level of global grain stores falling sharply, it would increase the difficulty of boosting imports,” Zheng said. “Trying to make up the difference of lower output by relying on imports doesn’t look very optimistic.”
Extreme drought caused by a “high climate change scenario” could more than triple crop losses in northeast China to 13.8 million metric tons, or 12 percent of the total, by 2030, said McKinsey. This scenario assumes a doubling in severity and frequency of extreme drought, it said.
Still, the accuracy of predictions made so far ahead is difficult to judge, Ma Wenfeng, a researcher at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Ltd., said today.
“For a country the size of China, it’s difficult to tell whether certain weather trends will reduce or increase grains output in 50 years,” Ma said. “Some places may have reduction while other areas which previously might not be suitable for grain production can become grain producer.”
In South Asia, average yields in 2050 will drop about 50 percent from 2000 levels for wheat because of climate change and fall 17 percent and 6 percent, respectively, for rice and corn, according to a study by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, or IFPRI, financed by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
Almost 200 countries will meet in Copenhagen starting Dec. 7 in a bid to work out terms for a new treaty to cut greenhouse- gas emissions.
The United States has proposed a new global fund that would direct billions of dollars to help poor countries prepare for climate disasters and adjust to low-carbon economies.
The fund would likely operate under the World Bank, U.S. Treasury officials said, and would be the main vehicle to deliver emissions reduction and adaptation measures throughout the world.
William Pizer, deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy at the U.S. Treasury Department, explained that the fund would contribute to a spectrum of projects from “building a solar park or creating a financial vehicle to support investments in energy efficiency to creating an insurance mechanism for disasters or crops.”
The world’s poorest countries also are among the most vulnerable to climate change and will be disproportionately affected by harsher droughts, rising sea levels and fiercer storms, scientists say. The World Bank estimates it will cost $75 billion to $100 billion annually for developing nations to accommodate a world that is warmer by 2 degrees Celsius.
Part of the global climate deal that nations are negotiating in U.N.-sponsored talks in Copenhagen next week involves the promise of substantial funding to help defray those costs.
Just how much money nations will put into the pot remains unknown. That is one of the prickliest questions that negotiators face. Yet while dollar figures — or absence of them — grab headlines, analysts say the architecture of the fund is one of the nuts-and-bolts issues fundamental to the climate talks.
“It’s certainly a critical part of what needs to be addressed and concluded in the negotiations,” said David Waskow, climate change program director at Oxfam America. “At the end of the day … it’s never a just a question about money, but also how the money is governed and spent.”
Countries are expected in Copenhagen to offer between $7 billion and $10 billion for immediate needs in poor countries, with about $1.3 billion expected to come from the United States. The United States has not declared how much it will allocate in the long term. Pizer didn’t offer any clues, but said agreeing on a structure for delivering and accounting for the money would be a major step forward.
“I don’t think we would be going down this avenue if we didn’t see the need for scaling up funding in the future,” he said.
Under the proposal — which mirrors ideas put forward by Mexico and Australia — the fund would be governed by a board made up equally of net donors and recipients. All countries except the least-developed nations would be expected to contribute “in accordance with their national circumstances and respective capabilities.”
Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, noted that the proposal reflects “a growing view that some of the faster-growing developing countries are in a position to help,” as well as industrialized ones. A number of environmental groups oppose the notion and say only rich countries should be expected to foot the bill for climate change.
In a recent analysis, ActionAid USA, Friends of the Earth US and the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network faulted the proposal for failing to force countries to contribute to the fund. The groups also argue that any money for poor countries to address climate change must be in addition to regular foreign assistance, and call for a board governed by a majority of developing countries.
“This is important so as to mirror the composition of parties in the UNFCCC [U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change] and to ensure that those most affected by climate change are in the majority on the governing bodies,” the groups wrote.
Treasury officials said they envision a fund that can leverage private-sector investments as well as public funds. They described it as one of several financial arrangements available to help developing countries access funds for different needs.
Currently, the Global Environment Facility acts as the financing arm for the UNFCCC. Established within the World Bank, the coalition of 178 international government institutions manages several pots of money for climate change-related activities. Treasury officials said the new proposal still envisions a role for the GEF. But, they said, it would be more narrowly focused on helping developing nations set efficiency standards, regulate power sectors and take other steps to improve their institutions so clean energy projects can thrive.
“We think that if we’re going to significantly scale up financing to deal with climate change, we need a different kind of vehicle,” Pizer said. “In particular, we need a vehicle that is more focused on financing investments like the ones that are necessary [to address] climate change.” A senior GEF official said the institution is not worried that it will be sidelined, but declined to say whether the agency supports the U.S. plan.
“We welcome all the proposals for this discussion,” the official said.
The biggest fight, if there is one, will likely center around the involvement of the World Bank. Treasury officials said they believe the World Bank has the expertise, standards and “internal safeguards” to oversee the financing, though the fund would likely have a governing structure separate from the multilateral bank’s normal channels.
Environmental activists have long fought the institution, arguing that it favors wealthy nations and funds too much fossil fuel development. But the U.S. proposal is also getting points from some nonprofit groups for taking a major step toward trying to solve one of the more complicated issues in the climate change negotiations.
“Hopefully, we can at least make some headway in developing the architecture,” even if the dollar figure is unsettled, Diringer said.
Added Waskow, “It’s really important that they’ve clearly said they support a new global fund for climate. It’s the beginnings of building a bridge to developing countries.”
Over dinner in a second-floor dining room at the U.S. Treasury Building, Secretary Timothy Geithner sought advice from a small handful of energy CEOs and climate policy experts on how to scale up investments in clean energy technology.
The mid-November meeting came a day before Geithner sat in front of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee for a thorough scolding by lawmakers frustrated about rising unemployment and corporate bailouts. Republicans upset about Geithner’s role in the takeover of insurer American International Group Inc. called for his resignation. Other critics asserted that the federal stimulus package enacted this year, including more than $80 billion for clean energy investments and tax credits, failed to generate jobs.
The storm surrounding the state of the economy comes as progress on energy and climate legislation grinds to a halt, at least until President Obama returns from the global climate summit in Copenhagen this month. Fear of the economic cost of addressing global warming has eroded support among Senate moderates. Meanwhile, the White House has struggled to explain how capping greenhouse gas emissions and trading pollution permits can spur a technology boom and fuel significant job growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector.
As the end of Obama’s first year in office fast approaches, economic stress at home and pressure to marshal an agreement in Copenhagen tug at his climate agenda. Still, Treasury and the Department of Energy continue rolling out billions of dollars to support renewable energy projects and smart grid technology.
Geithner’s Nov. 18 feast with seven energy executives and policy researchers sheds light on who has the administration’s ear as Democrats in Congress consider proposing a second economic stimulus bill. Treasury left environmental advocacy groups off the guest list and bypassed big business coalitions such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which have influence on Capitol Hill but tend to filter proposals to limit carbon dioxide emissions through the prism of jobs losses and capital destruction.
The glass is half full for the Treasury dinner attendees, including chief executives of utility giants American Electric Power and Exelon Corp., who say a national climate policy is an opportunity to redirect the economy and create new jobs.
In 2005, environmental groups mounted a fierce campaign against nuclear provisions included in the climate bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Then came an energy crisis, skyrocketing gas prices, a hard-fought presidential campaign, a recession and ballooning unemployment. Four years later, in an example of how quickly politics and minds can change in Washington, it seems the Senate now is ready to go nuclear when a climate bill hits Congress.
“Everyone who can count noses knows that nuclear is going to be in the bill somewhere,” said Frank O’Donnell, head of the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
Republicans have long pushed nuclear power as a significant part of their energy platform; the party’s energy plan released in July advocates bringing 100 new nuclear reactors on line by 2030. McCain made nuclear power central to his 2008 presidential campaign, basing his energy plan around a proposal to build 45 new nuclear reactors over the next two decades.
But in recent months, Democrats and the Obama administration have reversed their party’s traditional direction by embracing the construction of new reactors. Nuclear provisions, many Democrats believe, could lure a handful of Republicans on board a climate bill “” votes that could be crucial to its passage.
In October, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) included nuclear provisions in a New York Times op-ed that broadly described their priorities for climate legislation. Last week, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) introduced legislation that would double nuclear power over the next two decades.
The chief of the U.N.’s global development network says proposals to put up billions of dollars to help poor nations deal with the effects of climate change are only a start.
Helen Clark told The Associated Press Wednesday that poor nations will need more than the $10 billion a year being proposed to cope with the impact of climate change.
Clark is the administrator of the U.N. Development Program. The agency operates in 166 countries, funding anti-poverty programs.
About 100 world leaders meet this month in Copenhagen for a summit expected to produce a framework deal to replace an existing one that has limited targets to reduce carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for warming the atmosphere. That treaty expires in 2012.
Is saving $40,000 at the showroom enough to get drivers behind the wheel of an electric car? With a program in the works to add easy access to charging stations, Denmark is about to find out.
For all their potential, electric cars have always been the subject of more talk than action, and only a handful are on the road in Denmark. But now the biggest Danish power company is working with a Silicon Valley start-up in a $100 million effort to wire the country with charging poles as well as service stations that can change out batteries in minutes.
The government offers a minimum $40,000 tax break on each new electric car “” and free parking in downtown Copenhagen.
But even in Denmark, one of the most environmentally conscious nations in the world, skepticism abounds. It is not clear that car buyers can be persuaded to make the switch.
“There is a psychological barrier for consumers when their car is dependent on a battery station,” warned Henrik Lund, a professor of energy planning at Aalborg University. “It’s risky.”
The Silicon Valley company, Better Place, is making a big push in Denmark and in Israel. That makes those two countries the world’s most important test cases for the idea that electric motors and batteries can supplant the petroleum-burning engines that have powered cars for more than a century.
The experiment has other implications beyond the borders of this Scandinavian nation of 5.5 million. That is because Denmark is trying to do more than simply move away from the internal combustion engine.
By revamping the power grid, Dong Energy, Better Place’s partner and the biggest utility in Denmark, wants to power the anticipated fleet of electric cars with wind energy, which already supplies nearly 20 percent of the country’s power.
With Better Place and the smart grid working together, cars would charge up as the winds blow at night, when power demand is lowest. Charging would soak up the utility’s extra power and sharply shrink the carbon footprint of electric vehicles.
A bid to free up trade in environmental goods and services gained new momentum Tuesday at a WTO meeting, with some nations calling for a deal ahead of a major climate summit in Copenhagen.
An early accord could also act as a much-needed stimulus for negotiations on a broader global trade pact that are currently stalled, said trade ministers gathered at a meeting of 153 WTO member states in Geneva.
“Some like-minded nations, including Japan, are considering conducting discussions with a view to achieving an early agreement to liberalise trade in environmental goods,” Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Masayuki Naoshima told the meeting.
“I hope that other interested members will join these discussions, and provide fresh impetus to the (Doha) Round as a whole,” he added.
The United States and several other nations also backed the push for an early deal.
Launched in 2001, the Doha Round of trade liberalisation negotiations is deadlocked because of disagreements between developed and developing nations over the level of cuts on farm subsidies and industrial product tariffs.
Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services is part of Doha talks, and ministers argued that as climate change was high on the political agenda, it was an opportune moment to intensify negotiations on lowering tariffs on technologies that help offset the effects of global warming.
“It’s riding with the political wave … This is just elementary common sense,” Tim Groser, New Zealand trade minister said during a forum on the sidelines of the World Trade Organization meeting.
World leaders are set to gather over December 7-18 in Copenhagen to draft a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
“With momentum building to advance climate change policies, we must show, through concrete actions, that trade is an important part of policies to combat climate change,” Naoshima said.
Two major players, the United States and the European Union, said work should be intensified to forge the agreement on environmental goods and services.