Energy and Global Warming News for March 16: Chinese to build NV wind factory, create 1,000 jobs; UAW tells Congress not to block EPA climate rules; Americans can cut emissions 15% with simple actions
"Energy and Global Warming News for March 16: Chinese to build NV wind factory, create 1,000 jobs; UAW tells Congress not to block EPA climate rules; Americans can cut emissions 15% with simple actions"
A consortium of Chinese and American renewable energy firms said last week that they had chosen Nevada as the location of a 320,000-square-foot wind turbine manufacturing and assembly plant.
The turbine plant, whose precise site has yet to be announced, will create an estimated 1,000 long-term manufacturing jobs in the state and is expected to be up and running by 2011.
Two companies leading the development of the Nevada facility, A-Power Energy Generation Systems, a Chinese renewable energy technology manufacturer, and the U.S. Renewable Energy Group, a private equity firm, are also key players in a controversial $1.5 billion, 600-megawatt wind farm project under way in West Texas.
That project, announced last year, came under fire after it was revealed that its backers planned to tap $450 million in grants from the economic stimulus package, even though the turbines would be manufactured and assembled in Shenyang, China.
The companies subsequently said that at least 70 percent of the turbine components for the Texas wind farm would be manufactured in the United States.
Now it appears some turbines for the Texas project may come from the Nevada facility.
“If the Nevada plant is operational before all the turbines for the 600-megawatt Texas wind farm have been delivered, the remaining turbines could be supplied from the Nevada plant,” Ed Cunningham, managing partner of the U.S. Renewable Energy Group, said in a statement.
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, along with three other Democratic senators, recently introduced legislation that would apply a so-called “buy American” standard to all renewable energy projects that seek stimulus funds, requiring them to rely on goods manufactured in the United States.
Currently, this provision applies only to government-sponsored projects. As a result, roughly three-quarters of the stimulus’s $1.9 billion in wind-energy grants distributed so far have gone to foreign-owned companies, according toan analysis by the Investigative Reporting Workshop, a nonprofit journalism program affiliated with American University.
Matt Rogers, a senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, confirmedthat this analysis was likely accurate, but said that although the stimulus funds may have gone to foreign companies, the funds created 17,000 United States jobs and supported investments in the United States worth roughly $10 billion.
The Nevada project does not appear to be seeking stimulus funds, with its backers stating that it will be built using private financing.
A spokesman for A-Power and the U.S. Renewable Energy Group also said the companies had not yet received “” or even applied for “” any stimulus funds for the West Texas wind farm project.
A coalition representing governors of 29 states is urging the federal government to take steps to boost wind energy, such as a renewable energy standard requiring utilities to produce at least 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2012.
The bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition plans to make the recommendations Tuesday in a report to Congress and the White House. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report ahead of its official release.
The report comes as Senate sponsors of a climate bill prepare to unveil their legislation, perhaps as soon as this week.
“We offer our assistance in working with Congress and the administration to achieve one of the nation’s principal energy goals, energy independence, and increasing the role that wind energy plays in meeting that challenge,” wrote the coalition’s chairman, Iowa Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, and its vice chairman, GOP Gov. Donald Carcieri of Rhode Island, in a letter to congressional leaders. A nearly identical letter was sent to President Barack Obama.
The governors said that although the House began to address increasing wind power’s role in climate legislation it passed last year, they are anxious to see the Senate follow through.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that the House bill “includes many key provisions, including a renewable energy standard, that would boost renewable energy sources and create thousands of new jobs in this sector. The speaker looks forward to the Senate moving forward on comprehensive energy and climate legislation, so that a bill can be sent to the president this year.”
The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declined to comment. The White House had no immediate comment.
The report, titled “Great Expectations,” noted that some states have renewable energy standards but others don’t.
“These standards vary considerably from state to state, complicating compliance by the electric-power and renewable-energy industries,” the report said.
Other recommendations by the group include:
_Developing new infrastructure for electricity transmission to provide access to renewable energy resources.
_Funding technology to develop wind energy in “wind-rich” coastal areas.
_Streamlining the permitting process for wind energy projects.
_Extending an economic stimulus grant program for wind projects, and providing a long-term extension of a wind energy production tax credit.
Today, standing under the sun-filled skies of Los Angeles, a large coalition of business, labor, and environmental leaders launched a renewable energy plan that will change the way we achieve our green energy goals.
We unveiled our Carbon Reduction Surcharge proposal that will raise close to $170 million for investment in green energy and energy efficiency programs. Every penny will be placed into a Renewable Energy and Efficiency Trust Fund – a lock-box that will not only provide dedicated revenue for clean energy, but create a level of transparency and accountability that has been missing.
For the first time, Angelenos will know exactly how much they are investing and exactly what they are getting for their investment. The Carbon Surcharge will be added to a new rate structure at our Water and Power department. Because the price of energy has been rising, our Water and Power department needs a significant rate increase to keep the lights on and to get out of a financial hole. But raising rates only to continue to invest in dirty fossil fuels that we know are only going to become more scarce and more expensive makes no sense.
Our new rate structure will include the Carbon Reduction Surcharge to begin to wean Los Angeles from its dependence on fossil fuels. The good news is that for the majority of ratepayers, the monthly bill will only increase by roughly $2.50-$3.50. Efficient users will pay less. Wasteful users will pay more.
Our renewable plan will be the cleanest, greenest, most transparent jobs program in the country. This is an unprecedented, crucial step towards addressing both the long-term crisis of climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels, and the short-term crisis of this recession and the dire need to create jobs in Los Angeles.
The United Auto Workers is pressing Congress to oppose resolutions that would nullify EPA’s “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases threaten human health. The union has the ear of Democrats in states with a heavy auto industry presence such as Michigan and Ohio.
The endangerment finding isued late last year is a precursor to upcoming climate change rules. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) thus far has 40 cosponsors for a filibuster-proof resolution that would overturn the finding. House versions have also been introduced. Murkowski and her supporters fear the effects of EPA rules on stationary sources like power plants and factories.
But the UAW, echoing White House concerns, said in a letter to Congress Monday that the resolutions would upend a pending national auto mileage and emissions standard. This would end up “subjecting auto manufacturers to all of the burdens that the one national standard was designed to avoid,” the letter states. Automakers have also said they want the national plan to proceed.
The science continues to point to the cold, hard fact that global warming is happening and will get worse, but the number of people who believe this scientific certainty has declined over the past year, leaving environmentalists and climate scientists scratching their heads in disbelief.
The reason for all of this uncertainty, argues James Hoggan, author of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming (Greystone Books, $15), is a concerted effort by public relations professionals to undermine climate change science and create uncertainty among the public “” all to please clients who would be negatively affected by meaningful carbon legislation to curb emissions.
So how does Hoggan know all this? As a public relations professional himself, he has seen it with his own eyes.
As president of a successful public relations firm and co-author of the DeSmogBlog.com, which reports on PR pollution that clouds climate science, Hoggan works with Richard Littlemore to ruthlessly report on his industry’s ingenious tactics to hijack the global warming debate “” all with the compliance of media and leaders in government and business.
To give readers a clear idea of how badly some PR firms and their clients have muddied the global warming debate, Hoggan goes back to 1988, when the great scientific bodies and even politicians were both convinced that humans were causing climate change and concerned enough to do something about it.
Three decades later and people are still debating the science. Meanwhile, the Earth continues to warm.
So what happened? According to Hoggan, public relations firms have been hard at work, using a number of schemes to insure that climate change remains a debate.
For example, over the years there has been an explosion in the number of think tanks and organizations like The Heritage Foundation, Friends of Science and Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, which all have the common goal of countering any progress toward changing the way we create and consume energy.
Another common tactic used by public relations firms is to recruit and promote so-called “experts” who will debate scientific facts published in peer-reviewed journals. Upon further scrutiny, these experts usually lack scientific credentials or they are funded by groups that raise questions about their impartiality.
But by far one of the most frustrating tactics used by PR firms is to systematically dissect all reputable conclusions on climate change to emphasize that there is not 100 percent certainty that global warming is occurring; therefore, we shouldn’t do anything about it.
However, as Hoggan brilliantly points out, this logic is inherently faulty when applied to other situations.
For example, “If scientists told you there was a 90 percent likelihood that your plane would crash, you would assuredly forgo the trip,” he writes.
It is this kind of common sense logic combined with in-depth, investigative reporting that makes Climate Cover-Up well worth the read. After all, if people are made aware of the tactics being used to keep the climate issue a “debate,” hopefully that information will help arm them against future dishonest claims about climate change.
Two new studies highlight the disparity between what the public can do, and wants to do, to address energy issues and carbon emissions resulting from lifestyles.
An analysis released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) finds that Americans can reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 15%–or one billion tons of global warming pollution–through collective personal actions that require little to no cost.
Suggested behavioral changes in the study include: reducing unwanted catalog subscriptions, decreasing vehicle idling, using a programmable thermostat, replacing seven lightbulbs with CFLs, setting computers to hibernate mode, shutting off unused lights, and eating poultry in place of red meat two days per week. All of the recommendations offered in the study are available to be adopted immediately, at little or no cost, and will reduce not only emissions, but home energy, transportation and food costs as well.
The analysis details how each of the common sense actions can result in significant emissions reductions when implemented across the country. For example, if Americans collectively cut personal food waste by 25%, the nation could eliminate 65 million tons of greenhouse gases, which is approximately the emissions generated from 11 million cars–or roughly all the cars in New York and Missouri combined.
The findings were presented this week by NRDC executive director Peter Lehnerat at the Garrison Institute’s Climate Mind and Behavior symposium, which convened leading thinkers and practitioners in the fields of climate change and environmental advocacy, neuro-, behavioral and evolutionary economics, psychology, policy-making, investing and social media.
Participants in the symposium were tasked with working together on ways to get individuals to shift behavior on a large scale, and sketched out dozens of new collaborations, from community organizing to building management to communications and social networking–all designed to actualize the massive potential for positive climate impacts through individual choices and behavior shifts.
“Neo-classical economics provides a powerful model for thinking about the world, but new research in behavioral economics highlights the ways in which neo-classical economics only give us a partial view,” said Rebecca Henderson, co-director of the Harvard Business School’s Business and Environmental Initiative and a participant in the symposium. “Behavioral economics may be able to help us make progress on meeting the challenges of climate change; the new research points out how our decisions are driven not only by self-interest and the dynamics of the market but also by our emotions, by our commitments to the communities of which we are part, and by our innate sense of fairness. I think this work has the potential to help us design and implement large-scale behavioral changes, not only on the individual level, but in organizations, policies and markets.”
On The Flip Side
Three out of four consumers are concerned by energy and climate change issues, but nearly two-thirds say that using less energy is not the answer to reducing reliance on fossil fuels or foreign energy supply, according a survey of 9,000 individuals in 22 countries.
The survey by Accenture (NYSE: ACN) also shows that almost nine out of ten consumers want more government intervention in the energy market.
“We cannot address climate change or energy security unless we both create new sources of clean energy and reduce consumer demand,” said Sander van ‘t Noordende, Group Chief Executive of Accenture’s Resources operating group. “But our survey shows that consumers do not think lower energy use is a priority. It will take many years before renewable alternatives come fully on stream. Until they do, governments and energy companies will have to find creative ways to transform consumer habits and improve energy efficiency.”
Some survey highlights:
- 90% of consumers are concerned or extremely concerned by rising energy costs and 76% by the prospect of energy shortages
- 89% think it important or very important to reduce their country’s reliance on fossil fuels. However, only a third of respondents say cutting energy should be the top priority in addressing energy issues.
- Only 22% of consumers surveyed unreservedly trust energy companies to take actions to address energy challenges.
- Almost a third (32%) do not trust them to do so and 46% trust them only if they have direction from governments.
The Accenture survey also found that consumers prefer energy to be provided from domestically owned companies. Nearly three quarters (72%) are not comfortable with energy companies being owned by foreign owned companies. Sentiment against foreign ownership is strongest in the Netherlands (88%), followed by the United States and Italy (81%). Consumers in Spain (60%), the Middle East (53%) and India (33%) are least worried by foreign ownership.
As he toured union halls and factory floors in his 2006 Senate campaign, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown repeatedly railed against the “prescription bill the drug companies wrote,” the “energy bill the oil companies wrote” and all the other policy decisions dominated by special interests.
Now halfway through his first Senate term, Brown seems to see at least one major Washington policy push differently.
Brown is one of a handful of senators trying to line up support for a climate bill that would put new limits on greenhouse gas emissions and spur production of renewable energy.
And surprising as it may seem, the heart of those senators’ strategy is to woo special interests — major electric utilities, steel and cement producers, farmers and coal and oil companies.
“I know, it doesn’t sound like me,” Brown conceded on a recent afternoon. But in his own defense, he added, “I really do think this is different. I think people understand that if industry doesn’t — if this doesn’t work for them, if this doesn’t keep them in business . . . it hurts the country.”
Whatever else, it’s the education of a junior senator.
Brown, along with Senate climate negotiators and the Obama administration, has embraced one of Washington’s enduring realities: It’s easier to get agreement on a major policy issue if powerful business groups are inside the tent helping to shape the decisions, instead of outside the tent working to blow it down.
In the case of efforts to craft a climate bill, business support is deemed so crucial that, before meeting with President Obama and some swing-vote senators at the White House last week, the bill’s architects sat down with a group of industry lobbyists who are members of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce energy committee.
If President Obama is to deliver on his ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years, it will be essential for the United States to pursue an aggressive strategy to help American businesses access international markets. One promising place to begin is at the intersection of trade and the environment.
On the heels of the announcement by Wal-Mart Stores that it will push carbon out of its supply chain, the Obama administration sent new signals this month in its annual trade policy agenda that it will use some government muscle to advance a series of environmentally-friendly trade policies. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative set out an ambitious plan to open foreign markets for U.S. exports, which includes significant mention of policies designed to open and regulate trade for environmental purposes.
One of those efforts is to lower or eliminate barriers to environmentally friendly goods and services. The Obama administration indicated that it would seek “to fast-track the elimination of tariffs on goods directly relevant to addressing climate change, such as solar panels and stoves, and wind and hydraulic turbines,” breathing life into an effort that has been languishing in Geneva as part of the long-stalled Doha Round of global trade negotiations. USTR’s indication that it would work with “like-minded and ambitious WTO members” suggests they may move forward on a green trade agreement even without the rest of the Doha Round, a move that the National Foreign Trade Council supports.
The administration has also focused on promoting American ideas and protecting the intellectual property behind U.S. clean technologies. Making sure U.S. trading partners enforce IP rules overseas helps spur investment and jobs in the United States and creates the conditions which can facilitate research and sharing of technologies with other countries.
One potential deliverable in this area this year is the establishment of a technology cooperation mechanism, which was written into the Copenhagen climate accord. As negotiators seek to flesh out the idea, U.S. trade policymakers will be called on to propose new forums and financing mechanisms to build trust and spur collaboration between U.S. companies and researchers and counterparts in developing countries. Devising a mechanism which relies on the current system of intellectual property rules, and which uses financing to make up funding gaps and strengthen legal protections abroad, would benefit U.S. exporters and our partners in the developing world.
The trade policy agenda also highlights a host of other environmentally-oriented trade priorities, from promoting sustainable tropical timber trade to reducing subsidies that contribute to overfishing. On paper, the environment is clearly an important part of the administration’s trade agenda.
Environmentally-friendly trade policies should be a high priority for the administration this year. Securing access to international markets would help create clean energy jobs in the United States. Lowering trade barriers would reduce the cost of environmental technologies globally and increase access to those technologies, particularly in developing countries where trade barriers are often the highest. Promoting global enforcement of intellectual property rules – and developing new structures that support research collaboration based on compliance with those rules – could benefit U.S. innovators and facilitate better commercial relations between the United States and partners around the world.
Green trade is also bipartisan. Lowering barriers to clean technologies and protecting and promoting U.S. innovation are as American as apple pie. These initiatives enjoy support from a diverse group that includes Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar and Congressmen Kevin Brady and Rick Larsen. Delivering on a green trade agenda would provide an opportunity to lead on trade without the partisan baggage that is attached to much of the trade agenda.
In a year where progress on domestic carbon-pricing legislation or in global climate negotiations may be slow, green trade also offers chances to demonstrate global leadership on the environment.
This is not to say that fulfilling such an agenda will be easy. Negotiations for a green trade agreement will present a host of complicated questions for the Obama administration, including whether to negotiate lower barriers to sensitive imports like ethanol and automobiles. Collaborating on clean technology development and deployment may require new sources of financing and delicate negotiations with partners in the developing world.
Defending U.S. interests internationally will also be a challenge, given the importance countries like China have placed on developing local industries through a mixture of tariffs, subsidies and standards. (The National Foreign Trade Council today released a lengthyreview of China’s renewable energy sector, which details promotional measures its government has taken “by directly or indirectly stimulating demand for Chinese-made renewable energy equipment.”)
But as the United States seeks to rely less on the U.S. consumer to drive economic growth, the administration will need new mechanisms to help U.S. businesses export more of what they produce. Environmentally-friendly trade policies offer fresh opportunities to deliver benefits for American businesses and workers, provided that the administration is willing to spend some serious time and energy to see them through.