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

Why Is Fannie Mae Waging War on Solar Panels and efficiency?

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.

Wind-turbine power is far healthier than coal or nuclear

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.

Per-Capita Emissions Rising in China

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.

Considerations for factoring biomass into clean energy

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.

The age of ethanol

“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.

Why America needs to free itself from oil

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.

Judges rule Obama can’t close Yucca Mountain nuclear dump

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.

Certifying Green Businesses With Green Irene and the Green Business Bureau

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.

Green Groups Press Obama on Energy and CO2

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.

California’s New Energy Divide

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.

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

  1. john kearns says:

    Typo in headline: Per capital should be per capita. We need better spell checkers.

    [JR: Or better humans!]

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    BP oil spill hitting all gulf states

    However the BP stock and all the other dirty energy stocks do great.

  3. C. Vink says:

    Global emissions targets will lead to 4C temperature rise, say studies
    By Juliette Jowit and Christine Ottery, The Guardian, July 6, 2010

    Studies predict major extinctions and collapse of Greenland ice sheet with temperatures rising well above UN targets.

  4. Lore says:

    “Carbon dioxide emissions per person in China reached the same level as those in France last year…”

    The question then arises, if each individual person in China were to arrive at the standard of living that a person in France enjoys, how much then would their per capita increase in carbon emissions be? Multiplied by 1.3 billion people vs. 62 million in France.

    Reflecting on this, would it then be possible, under any “reasonable” scenario, for emerging nations to ever enjoy the life style of the world’s largest consumers?

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    “Reflecting on this, would it then be possible, under any “reasonable” scenario, for emerging nations to ever enjoy the life style of the world’s largest consumers?”

    When our life style from a distance seems enjoyable, it isn’t because it is not sustainable – environment pollution. About 40% of people in the “developed” world face cancer in there lifetime.

    China or other developing worlds will never reach the consumer life style of the developed world, based on the technology we used.
    You can only grow long term, with sustainable growth otherwise a system tends to destroy itself. The evolution of life if followed sustainable pathways would lead humans to space colonization. Our current path takes us to extinction scenarios.

  6. paulm says:

    It was pure nonsense that hurricanes where not getting more frequent. I had the ‘impression’ they were…and the data bore this out…..

    Hurricanes forecast to be bigger, more frequent


  7. Rob Honeycutt says:

    That’s actually a really complex figure about China since nearly a billion of their population is still living almost an agrarian lifestyle. I spend a lot of time in China. My wife is Chinese and I have a lot of business over there. In general people are fairly oblivious to energy usage or efficiency. If walk past a hotel in the summer the front doors will be wide open and cold air will be pouring out (no air curtains). Inside the hotel it will be cold. So cold you have to put on a sweater.

    But on the flip side, you have individual families. Few own cars (though more and more are buying cars). Most use public transportation. Most folks hand wash their clothes and air dry them on the back porch. When someone goes shopping for food they walk downstairs and down the street to the market. And at least in Chongqing where my wife is from, they rarely use heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. They just dress appropriate to the weather. So, the carbon footprint of most families in China, I would suggest, is likely fairly small. Much smaller than anyone in the west.

    BUT a huge portion of their energy consumption likely comes from factories. Yes, a portion of that production is for their own domestic consumption but the lion’s share of their factory output goes to the west. So, is it fair to ascribe to a Chinese person sewing all day to make shoes for the west the energy consumed by her sewing machine?

    I always hold that a large portion of China’s carbon footprint actually belongs to us here in the west. It is up to the larger multi-national corporations to help clean up the act over there, something corporations are almost always loathe to do unless there is pressure in the marketplace. I would suggest that it is up to us in the marketplace to find ways to put that pressure on those corporations. Something as simple as a independent rating system for carbon output on US products could have an amazing impact on the “per capita” CO2 emissions of China.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    World’s top firms cause $2.2 trillion in environmental damage

  9. Peter Mizla says:

    Not to be off topic

    broke a record in Hartford CT today 101 degrees-thus far.

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Oceans’ deteriorating health nearing ‘irreversible’

    A sobering new report warns that oceans face a “fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation” not seen in millions of years as greenhouse gases and climate change already have affected temperature, acidity, sea and oxygen levels, the food chain and possibly major currents that could alter global weather.

    The problem with the human concept of hope depends on the assumption, that we would somehow learn from our failures and use science to help us solve all the problems. Thus the collapse of the ocean will make us even more stupid.

    Higher cognitive functioning develop better in an environment with adequate nutrition, and diets deficient in iron, zinc, protein, iodine, B vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium and other nutrients can result in lower intelligence

  11. john atcheson says:

    Actually, the NYT has it wrong. Fannie, Freddie and FHA are worried that the banks will lose, because their debt is subordinated to the tax liens. So it’s even more egregious than the article suggested. This is particularly true since it’s possible to structure PACE (property assessed clean energy) loans in such a way that they are fiscally neutral — that is, the added cost of the energy improvement loan amortized over 20 years can be made equal to or less than the energy savings, so that the net effect on the increased likelihood of default is either to lower it or to make no difference — Assistant Secretary for EERE, Kathy Zoi should never have folded in this negotiation.

    It is still possible to do PACE funding for commercial clean energy programs.

  12. Peter Mizla says:

    Prokaryotes #12

    Yes the oceans are rapidly becoming overwhelmed with CO2 absorption.

    As with Joe and others here I have become increasingly doubtful of any meaningful reduction of emissions till 2030 or after.

    Hell, I could be wrong- if the weather cycle continues to become so erratic and increasingly destructive- perhaps by 2020 we could see meaningful change.

    As it looks now 400ppm has tipped over the glass. We are in deep crap.

  13. paulm says:

    This sums it up….but no mention of climate change. Its not just bizarre weather its bizarre behavior!

    Tornadoes, Flooding and now Fires

    “Flooding, tornadoes, hail and storms on a regular basis. Now forest fires? It’s like the script for a doomsday movie but it’s reality in Saskatchewan.”

    ….and here we have another article….

    One disaster to another

    “…the Canadian Red Cross has been hard at work helping people cope with the aftermath of severe weather — devastating floods in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a mudslide in British Columbia, and forest fires in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.”

  14. Prokaryotes says:

    Rapid ice loss continues through June

    Average June ice extent was the lowest in the satellite data record, from 1979 to 2010. Arctic air temperatures were higher than normal, and Arctic sea ice continued to decline at a fast pace. June saw the return of the Arctic dipole anomaly, an atmospheric pressure pattern that contributed to the record sea ice loss in 2007

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    Peter Mizla, 15# “As it looks now 400ppm has tipped over the glass. We are in deep crap.”

    Yes, and current phenomenon is sign of climate fluctuations. When you have today problems with heat index of 106 degree, how will it be like in 2020 with heat index well above current observation? I think we will see events where huge parts of the world are effected and then you will have mass die off in a very short period of time. This could wipe out entire cities and regions in a few days.

    Even if you prepare, you need electricity and food supply, which will run out pretty fast. Let alone an anarchic situation where everybody fights for survival.

  16. JeandeBegles says:

    I am worried that Joe doesn’t comment the shocking Dutch figures equalling the french and the chinese CO2 per capita because a clue is needed to avoid the misleading and wrong idea that the Chinese are the worst guys on earth about CO2 emissions.
    This fact is shocking because obviously french and chinese people don’t have the same standard of living, and as Rob Honeycutt rightly explains, the reason of this shocking equality is that these figures count the CO2 emission from the producer side (a la Kyoto), not from the consummer side.
    These numbers confirm the strength of delocalisation of the production in countries like China and India, subsidizing the energy.
    Various studies assess (Caldeira, Lee) that 30 or 40% of Chinese CO2 emissions must be transfered to the developping countries were the end consummers live.
    Using an average 35% rate transfert for the consummer – producer bias, the figures would be:
    Chinese per capita CO2: 4 tons
    French per capita CO2: 8 tons.
    It would be great if Joe could work a post on this topic with his very documented links.

  17. C. Vink says:

    Methane releases in Arctic seas could wreak devastation
    ClimateOrg /, June 5, 2010

    Potential impacts include dead zones, acidification, shifts at the base of the ocean’s food chain

  18. Prokaryotes says:

    ‘Climategate’ review clears scientists of dishonesty over data

    ‘Rigour and honesty’ of scientists not in doubt

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    Queen Elizabeth II, has identified the struggle against terrorism and climate change as the new challenges confronting the world.

  20. Prokaryotes says:

    Queen Elizabeth II “When people in fifty-three years from now look back on us, they will doubtless view many of our practices as old-fashioned”, she said, “But it is my hope that, when judged by future generations, our sincerity, our willingness to take a lead, and our determination to do the right thing, will stand the test of time.”

  21. Rob Honeycutt says:

    JeandeBegles…. Thank you. You are so totally right. And to add to that, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the Chinese government to do anything about it. Their responsibility is to a billion out of poverty in the coming century. The Chinese factories are not going to do anything of their own accord. And western companies are not going to take action unless there is market pressure to do so.

    Literally, consumers need to start demanding that companies are producing products with clean energy. In a global economy that would have global repercussions.