14 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for February 24: Kerry insists US to move on climate; the weapons industry is going green?
Senator John Kerry vowed the United States would overcome the odds and approve action on climate change, as the United Nations set talks for April to help break a diplomatic logjam.
Without offering a timetable, Kerry on Tuesday rejected assertions that it had become politically impossible for the Senate to finalize the first US nationwide plan to curb carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
“I’m excited. I know that’s completely contrary to any conventional wisdom,” said Kerry, a close ally of President Barack Obama and chief architect of the legislation.
Kerry said he was working on a Senate compromise that could recraft a landmark climate bill that squeaked last year through the House of Representatives.
“I don’t care how we do it. I just think we have to price carbon because we have to send that signal to the marketplace,” the Massachusetts Democrat added.
“We’re on a short track here in terms of piecing together legislation,” he told a forum sponsored by The New Republic magazine. “We’re moving rapidly.”
Democratic Representative Ed Markey, an author of the House bill, said a US decision to cut back on fossil fuels would boost international negotiations.
“We cannot preach temperance from a bar stool,” he said.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is overseeing the effort to draft a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, meanwhile scheduled an April 9-11 meeting in Bonn among senior officials.
On February 1st Pentagon officials testified before Congress about the threats that climate change poses to national security and geopolitical stability. The report that was presented climate change in regions such as Darfur as the primary cause for mass migrations, resource turf wars and even genocide.
With the about-face of the military wing of the U.S. government on climate change, it may not come as a surprise that the two of the largest military equipment manufacturers — Lockheed Martin & Raytheon — are both going green.
Last week at the Carbon War Room in Vanocouver James Kohlhaas of Lockheed Martin spoke on the company’s remarkable contributions to the energy management space. Lockheed Martin is now one of the largest implementers of energy efficiency programs in the U.S. serving a number of state agencies and utilities including including Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Pepco Holdings, AmerenUE, Silicon Valley Power, Cascade Natural Gas, the Energy Trust of Oregon, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
According to Lockheed’s recent press release, the company’s energy management programs have saved 400,000 Mwh’s of electricity and 4 million therms of natural gas in 2009, enough to power 40,000 homes (the CO2 equivalent of 55,000 cars).
Kohlhaas announced last week that the company will be taking its sophisticated energy management systems into the private sector, offering manufacturers a way to track and manage the energy efficiency of their supply chains and ultimately, the ability to attach a “carbon nutrition label” at the product level, so a consumer can chose between products based on their embodied energy and CO2 emissions.
In a deal announced today, Enerkem Inc., a Quebec waste-to-ethanol processor, has raised $51.5 million from a syndicate of investors that includes the landfill and garbage-hauling giant Waste Management of Houston.
This is the second substantial cash infusion for the company, which secured a $50 million Department of Energy clean-tech grant in December.
Enerkem has developed a gasification process that transforms post-recycled municipal solid waste into a synthesis gas that is then cleaned and refined into ethanol, methanol and acetate. The company has a 25-year deal with the city of Edmonton under which Enerkem will reprocess 100,000 tons of shredded trash annually at a plant to be built next year.
An identical bio-refinery is being constructed in Pontotoc, Miss., for the Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority. It will process 300 tons of waste each day and produce 10 million gallons of ethanol a year.
Both sites serve regions that are running out of landfill capacity and are situated near refinery hubs (Fort Saskatchewan, outside Edmonton, and the Gulf Coast, respectively).
In Edmonton, the city pays Enerkem to take away the trash, and the company also has the retained the right to sell the ethanol to local refineries so it can be blended with gasoline.
The other venture capital firms with a stake in the investment announced today were assembled by Morgan Stanley and include Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, BDR Capital and Cycle Capital.
But the interest from Waste Management, which operates landfills in both regions, is a sign that large garbage-hauling firms are actively looking to tap the opportunities created by biofuel technologies, said Enerkem’s chief executive, Vincent Chornet. “The biofuel players of tomorrow won’t be conventional petrochemical players,” he said.
Tim Cesarek, Waste Management’s managing director for organic growth, said the deal complements the firm’s recycling and waste-to-energy activities. The company wants to double its renewable energy production by 2020.
Mr. Chornet said other second-generation ethanol firms have reprocessed fiber-based waste into ethanol, but no others use mixed industrial or consumer waste that can’t be sold to recycling companies.
Automakers and electric vehicle advocates yesterday urged Senate appropriators to broaden their current focus on advanced batteries that fuel plug-in cars and trucks to include electric motors, charging infrastructure and even hydrogen fuel cells.
Industry officials told the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee that while the battery is currently the highest financial hurdle for the mass adoption of plug-in vehicles, ultimately advances also will be needed for other components.
“Breakthroughs are required on all of these components,” said Alan Taub, General Motors Co.’s vice president of research and development.
President Obama has vowed to put 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015, and lawmakers have offered billions in federal cash to help automakers make that happen.
Last year’s stimulus package provided $2.4 billion for the development of plug-in vehicles and advanced batteries. The government is also offering tax credits up to $7,500 for the purchase of plug-in cars and trucks in hopes of spurring more early adopters to gamble on the nascent technology. Those investments are on top of a $25 billion DOE loan program that was created by the 2007 energy law to help the industry retool domestic factories to produce more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.
Both Republicans and Democrats have hyped plug-ins as the future of the U.S. auto industry and, to date, much of the focus has been on ensuring that the United States captures the nascent advanced battery market.
Despite the massive investment, many in the industry are lobbying lawmakers to provide additional federal cash, and the length of the industry wish list was on full display during yesterday’s hearing.
Three members of the Electrification Coalition — FedEx Corp. President and CEO Fred Smith, Coulomb Technologies Inc. CEO Richard Lowenthal, and Johnson Controls Inc. Vice President Mary Ann Wright — comprised half of the six-person panel.
The group has an ambitious plan to put 120 million plug-in vehicles on U.S roads by 2030, but to achieve that goal it is pushing for $120 billion over the next eight years.
The federal cash would be used to provide tax credits for the installation of advanced automotive batteries in stationary applications — seen as a way to drive scale and bring down cost — and for both public charging stations and home charging equipment. A portion of the cash would also be used to provide loan guarantees to help retool auto plants to produce plug-in vehicles, similar to the existing DOE loan program.
The initial investment would be targeted at a handful of cities, or “electrification ecosystems,” designed to show the viability of both the plug-in cars and the electric grid they would interact with. The first phase would last four years and invest in six to eight cities that would essentially serve as large-scale demonstration programs. The second phase would then extend to an additional 20 to 25 cities.
“If we can spend approximately $15 billion a year for eight years in order to eventually end an [oil] addiction that would otherwise cost us upward of $600 billion a year in perpetuity, does it not make wise budgetary sense to do so?” Smith said.
Lowenthal asked lawmakers to rework current electric-vehicle infrastructure tax credits so city and county officials can take advantage of them. Currently, the credits provide income tax breaks, but local governments do not pay income tax, so they have less of an incentive to become early adopters, he said.
The White House fiscal 2011 budget request for renewable energy programs is tailored to boost U.S. competitiveness in clean energy development, an energy policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service said yesterday.
The $2.4 billion request for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is a modest 5 percent increase over fiscal 2010 appropriated levels, but specific changes within the budget request could represent a targeted focus on boosting U.S. competitiveness in the clean energy sector, CRS’s Fred Sissine said yesterday at a briefing on Capitol Hill.
“From an outside perspective … in terms of the overall emphasis, it seems to me the emphasis is on climate change issues and international competitiveness in clean energy development,” Sissine said. “There’s a very clear statement about China and Germany and others that are making serious investments in clean energy areas and our need to develop clean energy facilities.”
Fostering growth in the renewable energy sector has long been a goal of the Obama administration and was also emphasized in the administration’s fiscal 2010 funding request and the stimulus bill.
For the current spending request, the Energy Department came out an overall winner despite the president’s proposed discretionary spending freeze. The total $28.3 billion request for DOE would be an increase of 6.8 percent over fiscal 2010 levels with strong funding across the board for renewables.
But key increases within the EERE budget request mark a concerted effort by the administration to boost the nation’s position in the global clean energy playing field, Sissine said.
“I think one of the most interesting quotes from the administration is, ‘The nation that leads the clean energy economy will lead the global economy,'” Sissine said, quoting Obama’s State of the Union speech. “And that seems to be the overall thrust for the request.”
Specifically, he noted that the proposed funding for offshore wind and concentrating solar power demonstration projects are the first White House spending requests for those projects since the early 1980s.
Those requests — $49 million for an offshore wind demonstration project and $48.5 million for a concentrating solar power demonstration project — come as European nations are already scaling up such projects, he said.
“The Germans have already put up offshore wind plants,” Sissine said. “So that’s the context.”
And Cathy Zoi, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, essentially backed Sissine’s theory.
“We do the work with energy technologies, but we want to have the change that the economy demands, that national security demands, and that climate price demands,” Zoi said.
Overall spending for wind and solar programs would see a significant boost under the White House proposal — 53 percent for wind and 22 percent for solar — largely because the department wants to quicken the pace of scaling up the technology, Zoi said.
“We want to compress the time from when a technology is developed on the lab bench to when it gets deployed at scale,” Zoi said. “What we need the energy sector to do now is move as quickly as the telecommunications sector did for the last 10 to 20 years, and … at the department, we’re going to try to do what we can to quicken that pace along.”
A surrogate for Cape Wind?
Sissine speculated the $49 million request for an offshore wind demonstration project was meant to fill a gap caused by the lag in offshore wind development in the wake of a nine-year battle over development of Cape Wind, a proposed 130-turbine offshore wind project off the coast of Massachusetts. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to make a final decision about that project’s future in April.
“I’m trying to read through the lines here, but I’m seeing that the demonstration may be an effort to break up the logjam that’s going on in the development of offshore wind,” Sissine said.
Zoi also emphasized the proposed offshore wind project.
“We’re very excited about doing what we can to hasten the development of the offshore wind industry,” she said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm, but there are also a lot of challenges. The lead times are too long for the private sector, and we’ve got to figure out an appropriate government role to reduce the pressure of those lead times.”
“There’s no fundamental reason why it can’t work,” Zoi added.
From the moment President Barack Obama took office, he has emphasized the importance of dealing with climate change. He’s said that the right way to do it is to pass congressional legislation that would cap greenhouse-gas emissions. But eight months after the House of Representatives passed a cap-and-trade bill, similar legislation remains mired in the Senate, its chances of passage dimming by the day. With midterm elections not far off “” threatening serious losses in Democratic seats in Congress “” it’s reasonable to wonder whether the carbon-capping bill will ever become law in the U.S.
But there is a Plan B. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases like CO2 could be considered pollutants and gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. Although that authority went unused in the waning days of former President George W. Bush’s Administration, the Obama EPA has spent much of the past year preparing the groundwork for regulation. In the absence of a climate bill, the EPA has the power “” and is legally mandated by the Supreme Court “” to step in and address carbon emissions.
Problem solved, right? The trouble is that as controversial as cap-and-trade legislation has become, EPA regulation is an even bigger political minefield. Republicans are universally against it, claiming that clumsy top-down CO2 regulation will kill American jobs by strangling power plants and other industry. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, introduced a bill late last year that would explicitly prevent the EPA from regulating carbon, and she already has 40 co-sponsors. Many Democrats also have their doubts “” eight Democratic Senators from coal-heavy states sent a letter on Sunday, Feb. 21, to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson listing “serious economic and energy security concerns” with greenhouse-gas regulation.
Other skeptics have used recent revelations of a few errors in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to attack the very notion of global warming and the basis for the EPA’s ruling that CO2 is a human health hazard. “The EPA’s endangerment finding rests on bad science,” Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a Republican, said at an annual Senate hearing on the EPA’s budget on Tuesday, Feb. 23. “The EPA needs to start over.”
Both Jackson and President Obama have emphasized many times that they would prefer that Congress take the lead on climate change; many assumed that the mere threat of the EPA’s regulatory authority would goad Congress into action. Now the question is, If the Senate won’t move, can the EPA act effectively?
Jackson has already begun to outline how greenhouse-gas regulations might work. Responding to the concerns of Democrats, she emphasized in a letter on Monday that only major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions would be subject to regulation before 2013, and that smaller emitters wouldn’t be regulated before 2016. That decision seemed designed to blunt criticism that top-down regulations could negatively impact small-business owners, not just major power plants and factories. “I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse-gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” wrote Jackson.
Chevron Corp. said Tuesday it will build a solar power plant near a mine that a subsidiary operates in New Mexico.
The plant will generate electricity by spreading 175 solar panels across 20 acres at Chevron’s molybdenum mine in the village of Questa.
San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron, the country’s second-largest oil company, didn’t disclose how much it would cost to build.
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative has agreed to buy the energy generated from the 1-megawatt plant through a power-purchase agreement. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring.
Chevron Technology Ventures, the subsidiary that’s building the plant, views the plant as a demonstration site that will teach the company how to use solar on other properties.
Chevron shares fell 92 cents to $72.04 in Tuesday trading.
Republicans, major business groups and a handful of coal-state Democrats are launching a barrage of attacks against the Environmental Protection Agency, hoping to stop new rules that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions across the economy.
In December, EPA officially declared greenhouse gases a danger to public health and welfare under the Clean Air Act. The action was mandated by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.
The White House has repeatedly said that the administration would prefer to regulate the emissions through congressional legislation “” but has also noted that with no legislation in sight, the agency has no choice but to move forward with the new “endangerment” rules.
“The law of the land found that greenhouse gases are pollutants, and they ordered EPA to make a determination,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Rather than ignore that obligation, I chose, as administrator, and I believe I have no choice but to follow the law.”
That decision has prompted a broad group of interests to try to stop or suspend the regulations through petitions, lawsuits and legislation.
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski hopes to bring a resolution to the floor in the next month that would overturn the EPA rule.
She’s attracted support from 35 Republicans and three moderate Democrats “” Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana “” who oppose taking up economywide cap-and-trade legislation this year.
Murkowski says her resolution isn’t intended to block climate legislation but to give Congress more time to enact a bill. Her committee is exploring alternative climate proposals, including a carbon tax, according to aides.
Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is also currently drafting legislation that would suspend EPA action in order to give Congress more time to act on a climate and energy bill.