27 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for July 6: Why is Fannie Mae waging war on energy savings? Wind-power is healthier than coal or nuclear; China now has the per capita CO2 emissions of France
Fannie Mae has been taking some very peculiar actions against homeowners lately. First, it decided to crack down on strategic defaulters. Now, we learn that it (along with Freddie) is threatening not to accept loans if the associated borrowers retrofit their homes with solar panels through a government stimulus program. This might seem odd, especially if you consider another strange action on the part of Fannie that we learned about back in May.
But before getting to that, a better explanation of the situation is warranted. Here’s how the New York Times explains the program in question:
Under the financing programs, a local government borrows money through bonds or other means, and then uses it to make loans to homeowners to cover the upfront costs of solar installations or other energy improvements. Each owner repays the loan over 20 years through a special property tax assessment, which stays with the home even if it is sold.
Is there any reasonable explanation to why Fannie might not want to guarantee homes with solar panels under this program? Here’s its rationale from the Times:
They are worried that taxpayers will end up as losers if a homeowner defaults on a mortgage on a home that uses such creative financing. Typically, property taxes must be paid first from any proceeds on a foreclosed home.
Right, because Fannie and Freddie were so worried about making taxpayers losers when they backed thousands of bad mortgages during the housing boom. There is some logic there, but shouldn’t the value of the home ultimately be higher than the cost associated with the lien resulting from the solar panel loan? Considering that a government subsidy is involved, you certainly would think that the value the solar panels add to the home would exceed the balance of the associated lien.
If we take seriously the protection of human health, we have to phase out coal- and nuclear-powered electricity.
Coal kills hundreds of Ontarians and triggers more than 100,000 illnesses (e.g., asthma attacks) annually. It is also the most climate-destructive fuel around, emitting twice as much carbon as natural gas does. Whether the issue is respiratory disease or global warming, coal is a catastrophe.
But nuclear is extremely unhealthy as well. A scientific review by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment found all functioning reactors release radioactive materials on a routine basis. A 2008 German government study showed children (younger than five) living within five kilometres of a nuclear plant are at elevated risk for leukemia. And Scientific American recently reported nukes harm the climate: “Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.”
But to phase out conventional power we need to use less energy and switch over to renewables, including wind turbines.
Lately there’s been a certain amount of antiwind sentiment from some Ontarians. This is unfortunate because turbines are a far healthier source of power than their competition.
Carbon dioxide emissions per person in China reached the same level as those in France last year, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said Thursday.The Dutch agency said that per capita emissions were 6.1 tons in China in 2009, up from only 2.2 tons in 1990. Among the French, emissions were 6 tons per person last year, said Jos Olivier, a senior scientist at the Dutch agency.
Per capita emissions in France tend to be lower than in some other industrialized countries because of the country’s heavy reliance on nuclear plants to generate electricity rather than fossil fuels. Per capita emissions in 15 nations of the European Union were 7.9 tons in 2009, down from 9.1 tons in 1990, the study said. In the United States, the figure was 17.2 tons in 2009, down from 19.5 tons in 1990.
Over all the Dutch agency found that global emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, were unchanged last year. That came as a surprise: Because of the onset of the worst economic crisis in decades, other bodies like the International Energy Agency had predicted a significant decline in 2009, the report said.
When you think of next-generation energy technologies, burning wood pellets probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But buried in energy proposals across Capitol Hill are policies that promote doing just that.
Many lawmakers want the government to require utilities to derive a certain percentage of their electricity from clean sources. And one of the sources that would probably qualify is so-called renewable biomass — everything from forest debris to algae, which can be burned in some power plants. Sure, the logic goes, you produce carbon emissions when you burn this material. But when the stuff grows back, it takes carbon out of the atmosphere, too.
That logic works well if harvesting biomass results in additional net plant growth, or if you’re collecting discarded forest debris that would otherwise degrade and release its carbon into the atmosphere anyway. Chopping down and burning forest that gobbles up and stores lots of carbon, on the other hand, could easily do more harm than good.
“AMERICA’S sensible fuel,” reads a TV advertisement, while a soothing melody plays in the background. Other ads tout a fuel that promotes peace and is economical, home-produced, clean and renewable. So what is this magic potion? Ethanol, of course. Growth Energy, a lobby group, is spending $2.5m on America’s first national television campaign for the stuff. “No beaches have been closed due to ethanol spills,” one ad notes. Growth Energy planned the campaign before the BP disaster, but the push could hardly be better timed.
After the oil spill Barack Obama declared that “the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.” Biofuels will be part of that future. However, most policymakers agree that the industry must move beyond corn ethanol, which is less efficient than the sugar-derived stuff and pushes food prices upwards. The new Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2), which took effect on July 1st, limits conventional ethanol to 15 billion gallons of the annual 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel that must be used for transport by 2022, and the administration has just announced extra funding for algae-based biofuels (see article). But with a viable new biofuel yet to emerge, lobbyists are still pushing to support the old one.
For two years in a row, I celebrated Independence Day in the oppressive heat of Iraq along with fellow soldiers. A few nonalcoholic beers and some locally grown watermelon were our replacement for hot dogs and potato salad.
This year, as Americans across the nation celebrate July Fourth with barbecues and fireworks, those most responsible for defending our independence, the military, will continue to fight two wars. And it is a shame that we will let yet another July Fourth pass us by without making substantial progress toward ending our unnecessary dependence on oil, a dependence that is funding the bullets that our enemies fire at our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is for that reason, and many more, that the fight for energy independence is being fought here at home, a struggle I hope more Americans will join in support of those who are fighting abroad.
Oil poses a clear threat to America’s economic and national security. This spring we have watched as untold millions of gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf. But for years, we have watched as billions of dollars flowed to hostile nations to pay for oil.
Democratic Rep. John Spratt and Republican Rep. Joe Wilson don’t agree on much, yet the South Carolina congressmen are cheering a new ruling that denied the bid by the U.S. Energy Department to withdraw its application for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
Three administrative judges within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled last week that Congress had designated Yucca Mountain in 1987 to receive highly toxic waste from the Savannah River Site on the S.C.-Georgia border and other complexes that built atom bombs during the Cold War.
The panel found that President Barack Obama and Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a nuclear physicist, lacked the power to close the Yucca repository unilaterally; doing so, it ruled, would require another act of Congress.
While almost everyone wants to do the right thing for the planet, a variety of factors can hold businesses back from taking the sustainability plunge. One of them is uncertainty about what going green really means. When the definition of green is in the eye of the beholder, it can mean just about anything and sometimes has, like businesses claiming that disposable water bottles are green if they use somewhat less plastic. Green Irene and the Green Business Bureau are working together to clarify what makes a business green with a nationwide network that delivers solid green business certification, particularly for small- and mid-sized businesses.
Business sustainability has a wide range of benefits, including saving energy, saving resources, and saving money. Going green gets employees excited about what they’re doing and more engaged about their work, and attracts and retains the best talent. Green brands have proven more valuable on store shelves and on the stock market. Ultimately, green business is just plain good business, which explains the growing number of businesses making the commitment to sustainability.
Still, the confusion about what green means can be a significant deterrent. Communicating your green efforts is important, but the lack of clear definitions can inhibit the urge to talk. Even well-intentioned businesses can be afraid to talk about their sustainability efforts for fear of being accused of greenwashing.
On the Green blog, John Broder has posted a letter that was sent to President Obama on Friday pressing him to get directly involved in crafting Senate legislation that would cut oil use and emissions of greenhouse gases. The letter warns that only the president can overcome the special interests pushing for stasis on energy policy. It’s a public nudge to a president who has been treated with kid gloves by the core of the traditional environmental movement “” known around Washington as ” The Green Group.”
But Obama faces a reality that many of these groups seem slow to recognize: While the 20th-century toolkit preferred by traditional environmentalists “” litigation, regulation and legislation “” remains vital to limiting domestic pollution risks such as the oil gusher, it is a bad fit for addressing the building human influence on the climate system, which is driven now mainly by a surge in emissions mostly outside United States borders in countries aiming to propel their climb out of poverty on the same fossil fuels that generated much of our affluence.
From a nondescript office park here, Solaria, a solar energy company founded in 2000, is planning its move this fall to a much larger facility nearby as it progresses from research and design to full-scale production of its innovative photovoltaic panels.
Solaria’s growth symbolizes an economic transformation that is reshaping the state’s political landscape as California approaches a showdown over climate policy that could rattle the national energy debate.
In 2006, the Democratic Legislature passed, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, a pioneering law mandating ambitious reductions in the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global climate change. That law is scheduled to take effect in 2012.