"Energy and Global Warming News for March 4th: Glacier melting a key clue to tracking climate change; Obamas Ocean task force holds promise for clean U.S. energy; Should the World Bank fund coal plants?"
The world has become far too hot for the aptly named Exit Glacier in Alaska.
Like many low-altitude glaciers, it’s steadily melting, shrinking two miles over the past 200 years as it tries to strike a new balance with rising temperatures.
At the Kenai Fjords National Park south of Anchorage, managers have learned to follow the Exit and other glaciers, moving signs and paths to accommodate the ephemeral rivers of blue and white ice as they retreat up deeply carved valleys.
“Some of the stuff is changing fast enough that we now have signs on moving pedestals,” said Fritz Klasner, natural resource specialist at Kenai Fjords.
The vast amounts of water stored in glaciers play crucial roles in river flows, hydropower generation and agricultural production, contributing to steady run-off for Ganges, Yangtze, Mekong and Indus rivers in Asia and elsewhere.
But many are melting rapidly, with the pace picking up over the past decade, giving glaciers a central role in the debate over causes and impacts of climate change.
That role has come even more sharply into focus after recent attacks on the U.N.’s climate panel, which included a wrong estimate for the pace of melting for Himalayan glaciers in a major 2007 report.
The report said Himalayan glaciers could all melt by 2035, an apparent typographical error that stemmed from using literature not published in a scientific journal. Climate skeptics seized on the error and used it to question the panel’s findings on climate change.
The evidence for rapid glacial melting, though, is overwhelming.
Algae-based biofuel producers continued their push yesterday to persuade Congress to provide incentives to the fledgling industry, urging members of the Senate Finance Committee to include language making algae-based fuels eligible for the cellulosic biofuel producer tax credit in future legislation.
In a letter sent to Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman and ranking member of the Finance Committee, respectively, two biofuel trade groups pushed the lawmakers to include the proposed tax modifications in “the next appropriate revenue vehicle that the Senate will consider.”
“We believe that [the legislation] will create jobs,” states the letter from the Algal Biomass Organization and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “Commercial production of algae-based fuels will generate thousands of domestic green jobs in construction, operation, and related activities, and has the potential to greatly enhance our country’s energy and environmental security.”
The algae industry has said parity with cellulosic biofuel producers for the $1.01 per gallon credit is a top legislative priority for 2010.
“Algae and other next-generation fuels have the opportunity to help grow jobs, and we think that would be an impetus to help boost some legislative efforts,” Algal Biomass Association executive director Mary Rosenthal said late last year (E&E Daily, Dec. 22, 2009).
The industry supports legislation (S. 1250 and H.R. 4168) introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) that would make algae-based fuels eligible for the cellulosic biofuel producer tax credit.
“Algae-based fuels possess the same favorable characteristics as cellulosic biofuels in terms of job creation, energy security, and environmental profile,” the letter says. “Unfortunately, the current tax code serves as a significant barrier to commercialization by providing a production tax credit and favorable depreciation to cellulosic biofuels developers, but not for algae-based fuel facilities.
“Because of this discrepancy, it is extremely challenging for algae-based fuel start-up companies to attract the capital required for commercial scale production,” the letter adds.
Member companies in the organizations supported the move.
“We are particularly grateful that the full membership of BIO, which includes a mix of cellulosic and algae-based companies, agrees,” said Paul Woods, CEO of Florida-based Algenol Biofuels. “This legislation will truly be a game-changer for the industry to realize the full potential of this ground-breaking technology.”
In the wake of the international conference in Copenhagen to address climate change, and amidst the President’s commitment to moving toward a clean energy economy here at home, developing offshore renewable energy has become more critical than ever. In fact, last month the Obama administration gathered a summit of East Coast governors to discuss harvesting the wind energy potential that lies just off our shores. And even lesser known””the administration is already making progress toward developing this clean energy by drafting a new national policy for America’s oceans.
Within this effort, the President has set out to create a planning process for better addressing both the industrial uses and environmental needs of the sea. As developers considering projects along the East Coast, we have been closely following this process, called marine spatial planning, to gauge its effect on our work. As the details are unveiled, here at Deepwater Wind we have been pleased to see they promise the offshore wind industry in the U.S. is about to come to life – bringing with it the potential to employ tens of thousands of skilled workers.
In the coming weeks, the administration will be finalizing this national ocean policy and sending it to the President’s desk. It will be up to President Obama to make it official.
The details of the administration’s marine spatial planning framework promote the development of this clean energy source””and the new, green tech jobs it creates””for the nation. It improves the ability for the federal government to preserve and protect the sustainability of our country’s ocean resources so they can continue providing for us into the future.
Similar to the way we manage our land, the administration’s marine spatial planning framework will help us define appropriate places for various ocean uses, including renewable energy, shipping, fishing, diving and sailing. It gives states, coastal regions and stakeholders the chance to be a part of the process, making sure local interests are represented. And it provides a comment period for the public to weigh-in on the process, and be involved in the planning.
China’s stock market rebounded Wednesday on gains by clean energy suppliers, banks and oil companies ahead of this week’s national legislature meeting but copper suppliers fell following sharp gains on Chile’s earthquake.
The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index added 0.8 percent, or 23.9 points, to 3,097. The Shenzhen Composite Index for China’s smaller second exchange added 0.9 percent, or 10.1 points, to 1,194.11.
Investor concerns about the global economy that have weighed on the market in recent weeks are easing, said Qin Xiaobin, chief strategist for Galaxy Securities.
“Investor expectations for economic growth and company profit growth are reviving. The risk of a fall in the market is not big,” Qin said.
Clean energy suppliers gained amid government efforts to promote renewable power sources with tax breaks and subsidies. Shenzhen Topraysolar Co., a maker of solar cells, gained 4.6 percent to 26.15 yuan, while wind turbine producer Dongfang Electric Corp. rose 4.8 percent to 45.43 yuan.
Delegates to the National People’s Congress this week have made proposals to promote the industry, “so the shares in the field have become hot,” Qin said.
Copper suppliers fell after surging this week on expectations an earthquake that devastated Chile’s second-biggest city would disrupt supplies and push up prices. Jiangxi Copper Ltd. declined 0.2 percent to 36.67 yuan, while Yunnan Copper Ltd. was down 0.9 percent at 26.47 yuan.
PetroChina Ltd., Asia’s biggest oil and gas producer, gained 0.3 percent to 12.99 yuan while rival Sinopec, or China Petroleum & Chemical Co., added 0.4 percent to 11.32 yuan.
The country’s biggest commercial lender, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., rose 0.4 percent to 4.93 yuan. Bank of China Ltd. gained 0.5 percent to 4.18 yuan.
Developer Poly Real Estate Ltd. fell 0.9 percent to 19.66 yuan while Ping An Insurance Co. of China lost 0.34 percent to 46.42 yuan.
In currency markets, China’s yuan rose to 6.8262 to the U.S. dollar, up from Tuesday’s 6.8272.
Should the World Bank lend money for coal plants?
The climate folks at the Center for American Progress don’t think so. In a report due out this week, they argue that the international lending agency should stick to renewable energy projects that don’t produce greenhouse gases. And they want to use the World Bank’s first request in 20 years for an increase in its general capital as an opportunity to get donors to curtail the bank’s fossil fuel lending, starting with a $3 billion loan planned for a new coal-powered plant in South Africa. While the the CAP report doesn’t call for an outright ban on coal projects, it says the bank should be more transparent and give more consideration to greenhouse gas emissions. The capital increase discussions offer “a perfect moment to institute long-term reforms on energy financing,” the report says.
But the World Bank says it needs to fund the South African coal plant, which it says is key not only for South Africa, but also for surrounding countries that rely on South Africa’s electricity company, Eskom, for power. Nor do bank officials want to rule out coal projects in the future, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where in some countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as many as 94 percent of people are without electricity. It is, they say, hard to fight poverty for people without any electricity.
While not renouncing coal projects, bank officials also say that over the past two years the World Bank and its affiliated institutions, such as the International Finance Corp., have sharply boosted lending for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, which now account for the biggest chunk of the bank’s lending this year.
This shift appears in the World Bank’s numbers. The four authors of the Center for American Progress report say that the World Bank is lending more than twice as much money to fossil fuel-based projects as it does to renewable energy projects. That was true in 2007, the year CAP cites. But the World Bank’s spending on energy efficiency has increased more than six-fold and on renewables more than three-fold since then. By 2009, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects accounted for 40 percent of World Bank’s $8.2 billion in energy lending while fossil fuel projects accounted for 24 percent.
The CAP report is the latest salvo in a debate over the World Bank’s energy strategy, which the bank has been reevaluating. It has published a document in October and invited comments. (The new report is titled “Development Funding Done Right ; How to Ensure Multilateral Development Banks Finance Clean and Renewable Energy Projects to Combat Global Warming.”)
The World Bank says it has six criteria new coal lending must meet. In those cases, it’s a question of priorities. And for the World Bank, the priority is development.
Inger Andersen, the World Bank’s director for sustainable development in Africa, notes that in a country like Rwanda only 9 percent of the people have access to electricity. “That means 91 percent of the people don’t have access,” she said in an interview. “Imagine what that does for investment, schools and hospitals and all that stuff. How do you do agriculture processing? How do you add value for the products you grow?
“For Africa there is a role for access, energy access,” she continues. “So you have to scale up access. That has to be part of Africa’s development solution. Without energy, we cannot power our industry, human capital, agricultural processing. And investment will not come.”
“If you look at the financial crisis last year, around 2 to 4 percent of GDP was gone because of shortages of energy in sub-Saharan Africa. You have to imagine the cost of electricity shortages,” says Jamal Saghir, director of energy, transport and water at the World Bank.
Is cap and trade really “dead”?
After all, didn’t Sen. Lindsey Graham say so? The South Carolina Republican’s recent remarks — or snippets of them — have ricocheted around Capitol Hill and beyond in recent weeks, lending momentum to the notion that the congressional effort he is helping lead no longer plans to implement a system that requires companies to buy and sell emission credits.
But Graham’s remarks appear to be more political than substantive. Indeed, cap and trade remains very much a part of the debate on what legislation will look like when the closed-door negotiations are finished.
Graham was quoted Saturday in The Washington Post telling environmentalists “cap-and-trade is dead.” The New York Times carried a similar quote in January that the senator later clarified, explaining he was referring to the large-scale, House-passed climate bill and a Senate counterpart approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee (Greenwire, Jan. 27).
In fact, Graham remains committed to putting a price on carbon emissions. And the proposal he is working on with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is likely to utilize the cap-and-trade mechanism when it comes to the electric utility industry, and later to manufacturers.
“I have no problem with trading as long as you don’t devastate the economy,” Graham said yesterday in an interview. “This is what solved acid rain. Some people on my side say, ‘Just create incentives.’ I say that’s opening up the Treasury to every group in the country. I want to set emission standards and let the best technology win.”
Bigger picture, Graham explained his reason for declaring “cap-and-trade is dead” is more about framing the debate for public consumption than anything else.
“This started with the planet is heating up and Iowa is going to become beachfront property,” he said. “Now people go around not saying that much. I think they’ve oversold the consequences to climate change, to global warming. And the momentum around this large cap-and-trade bill to save the planet has been replaced by a business model: How do we create jobs and stay ahead of the Chinese and clean up the air? Once you start changing your perspective from ‘Iowa is going to be beachfront property’ to ‘How do you create jobs and clean up the air?’ you have a completely different focus.”
He added, “We’re going to fundamentally change how we price carbon looking at the economy differently than we have in the past. And the goal of this bill is not only to clean up the air but to create energy independence and jobs. The goal of cap and trade was to solve the Al Gore problem. I’m trying to solve the Lindsey Graham problem.”
Efforts to rebrand cap and trade are not new.
BP Plc, which has eight wind farms in the U.S., will start building three more in 2010 and 2011 as it expects to begin profiting from the operations this year.
BP Alternative Energy plans to start construction of the Goshen North wind park in Idaho at the end of the first quarter, the London-based company said in the February issue of its in- house Horizon magazine. The 124.5-megawatt facility will be completed later this year.
Next year, BP will build the 200-megawatt Golden Hills I wind farm in Oregon and the 250-megawatt Cedar Creek II project in Colorado. The Cedar Creek venture is 67 percent owned by Infigen Energy, the Australian wind-power producer formerly known as Babcock & Brown Wind Partners.
“In wind we focus the business in the U.S.,” BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward told investors in London yesterday. “We expect this business to become cash-flow positive this year.”
BP has more than 1,200 megawatts of gross “spinning capacity” in the U.S., Hayward said. One megawatt can supply about 800 average homes in the country, according to Energy Department data.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today unanimously advanced President Obama’s choices to head federal efforts to upgrade the nation’s transmission grid and bring Alaska natural gas south.
The panel voted to approve Larry Persily to be federal coordinator for Alaska’s natural gas transmission projects and Patricia Hoffman to be assistant Energy secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability.
The voice vote came without discussions except for ranking member Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) comment, “Great nominees.” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) asked to be recorded as a “no” vote on Hoffman’s nomination.
At the confirmation hearing, Persily said building a pipeline to bring natural gas down from Alaska’s North Slope would be an infrastructure feat the likes of which has rarely been seen. The federal coordinator position was created in 2004 to expedite construction of the pipeline, which has been in the works for more than two decades.
There are two competing projects to build the pipeline — a partnership of TransCanada Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. and a partnership of BP PLC and ConocoPhillips — but Persily said in the end there can only be one pipeline. He added that he hopes to help broker some type of a commercial deal between the two projects.
Persily currently works as an aide on oil and gas issues for an Alaska state lawmaker. Previously, he worked at the Alaska Department of Revenue on development of a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope. He has also worked in the governor’s office on oil, gas and Arctic issues.
Hoffman faces the task of heading DOE’s efforts to expand, upgrade and protect the nation’s electricity grid. Last month Menendez peppered Hoffman with questions about the department’s plans for “national interest electric transmission corridors” that currently include the whole state of New Jersey and several other states in the mid-Atlantic and New England and a separate area in the Southern California-Arizona region.
The 2005 Energy Policy Act tasked DOE with analyzing the grid every three years and choosing areas of congestion where the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have “backstop” siting authority for transmission lines.
Menendez said the “enormous” area does not strike him as a corridor and wanted to know if corridors will be redrawn only as large as necessary after a congestion study. Hoffman said the 2009 study should be released as early as this spring but would not necessarily narrow the corridors named after the 2006 study.
A 14-year DOE veteran, Hoffman has been the acting assistance secretary for more than a year and was previously the deputy assistant secretary.