Energy and Global Warming News for July 7: PG&E opposes CA’s Prop 23 climate law repeal; Lawmakers oppose Canadian tar sands pipeline; Cogeneration can provide relief when power fails*

*featured article

PG&E opposes CA prop. to halt global warming law

California’s largest utility says it will oppose Proposition 23, the initiative that seeks to suspend the state’s landmark global warming law. Pacific Gas & Electric Company Chairman and CEO Peter Darbee said in a statement Tuesday that climate change could cost California’s economy tens of billions of dollars a year, with losses to agriculture, tourism and other sectors.

The 2006 law, known as AB32, requires utilities, manufacturers and other businesses to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. If approved in November, the initiative would suspend the law until California’s unemployment rate falls from its current rate of 12.4 percent to 5.5 percent or lower and stays there for a year.

Lawmakers Oppose Canadian Pipeline

Facing a decision on a proposed pipeline to bring Canadian crude oil to the United States, the Obama administration is confronting growing resistance from politicians who oppose the project or, at the very least, urge further study before approval.

The massive pipeline, known as Keystone XL, would allow Canada to export an additional 1.1 million barrels a day of oil to the United States. The United States currently imports 1.9 million barrels a day from Canada. Canadian oil sands are expected to become America’s primary source of imported oil this year.

While Canadian oil represents a plentiful source of fossil fuel from a friendly neighbor, it poses environmental dilemmas: much of Canada’s oil is extracted from oil sands in a process that releases higher levels of heat-trapping gases than conventional oil drilling in the United States. In addition, extracting oil from oil sands “” also called tar sand “” damages the local environment by creating toxic sludge ponds and destroying large areas of boreal forest.

Last month, 50 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressing concerns about the pipeline. Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, reiterated those concerns in a letter released by his office on Tuesday.

“This pipeline is a multibillion-dollar investment to expand our reliance on the dirtiest source of transportation fuel currently available,” he wrote in the letter, dated last Friday. “While I strongly support the president’s efforts to move America to a clean energy economy, I am concerned that the Keystone XL pipeline would be a step in the wrong direction.”

“Decisions that were previously left to midlevel bureaucrats are now rising to the highest political level,” said Kenny Bruno, the United States coordinator for the No Tar Sands Oil coalition, an alliance of environmental and indigenous groups. “President Obama has done some very good things on issues like energy efficiency. But if he approves this pipeline, it would be a clear two steps back.”

The massive pipeline, known as Keystone XL, would allow Canada to export an additional 1.1 million barrels a day of oil to the United States. The United States currently imports 1.9 million barrels a day from Canada. Canadian oil sands are expected to become America’s primary source of imported oil this year.

Fannie, Freddie Derail White House-Backed Green Financing Program

An innovative green-energy financing program hailed by the White House as a way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions while creating jobs is in trouble after U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNM: 0.255, -0.0508, -16.61%) and Freddie Mac (FRE: 0.295, -0.0586, -16.57%) vetoed the program. The Federal Housing Finance Agency on Monday endorsed the mortgage giants’ negative view of the program, called “property assessed clean energy,” or PACE, and appeared to reject arguments by state and federal officials that loans made through the program are safe, even though repayment takes priority over mortgage loans. State officials, particularly in California, vowed to fight to keep the program alive. California officials have estimated that the PACE program could help drive up to $1 billion in new projects and create up to 20,600 jobs in the construction industry, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn.

Queen Calls on UN to Tackle Poverty, Climate Change

Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K. urged the United Nations to pursue efforts to tackle poverty, terrorism and climate change, calling the world body a “real force” for promoting peace and delivering aid. “So much remains to be done,” the 84-year-old queen said in her first speech to the UN’s General Assembly since 1957. “The challenge now is to continue to show this clear and convincing leadership while not losing sight of your ongoing work to secure the security, prosperity and dignity of our fellow human beings.” The queen, who highlighted the spread of UN peacekeeping operations, is making her first visit to New York since the 1976 bicentennial of U.S. independence from Great Britain. World leaders will meet at the UN in September to create a plan for reaching the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which would reduce world poverty; the queen said that they should also deal with combating terrorism and climate change.

UPDATE 1-Italy to discuss new solar incentives July 8

Italy is poised to unveil a long-awaited new incentive plan for Europe’s third-biggest solar power market on July 8, a document published on Tuesday showed. Several delays in the plan’s presentation, expected since the start of 2010, have unnerved investors concerned about strategy in Italy and added volatility to shares in Italian solar firms such as TerniEnergia (TRNI.MI) and ErgyCap (ECY.MI). Italy’s state body on relations between state government and regions will discuss the government’s proposals for its new solar power incentive scheme on Thursday. Guidelines for authorization and running renewable power plants will also be discussed, according to the agenda of an upcoming meeting, published on the body’s web site.

German Municipalities to Invest in Clean Energy, Power Projects

German municipalities aim to invest 12.5 billion euros ($15.7 billion) in clean energy and combined heat and power projects in the coming years, according to an association that represents local utilities. The municipalities will invest in the energy-efficient projects in the “short and medium-term,” Stephan Weil, president of the VKU municipal association, said today in Berlin. Energy companies owned by towns and cities supply about half of Germany’s electricity, according to the VKU, and that will increase as energy generation becomes more decentralized and competitive, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said. “Energy in 2050 won’t be the oligopoly it is today,” he said today in Berlin. “Municipal power plants are an important component of the transformation to just about 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.”

Malaysia urged to scrap coal plant in eco-sensitive Borneo

Environmentalists on Tuesday condemned a plan to build a coal-fired power plant on Malaysian Borneo, saying it will harm the island’s fragile coral reefs and rainforests. The 300-megawatt plant in Lahad Datu, in the east of Sabah state, will face the Coral Triangle which is one of the world’s most biodiverse marine environments. The area, which spans the seas around East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands, is home to 75 percent of all known coral species. The opposition is led by Green Surf, a coalition of groups including the Malaysian Nature Society, which says the proposal will displace villagers and threaten endangered species including orangutans and Bornean rhinos.”There is deep concern globally about the proposal to build a 300-megawatt plant in Sabah which is known for its orangutan, rhinos and renowned marine sites like Sipadan,” said Cynthia Ong from Green Surf.

Swiss Team to Launch Solar Night Flight

A Swiss pilot is expected to take to the skies as soon as tomorrow in a plane outfitted with 12,000 solar cells glued to its wings. He will be looking to the sun to power his aircraft, during both the light of day and the dark of night. The mission, weather permitting, will mark the world’s first manned 24-hour solar flight. In a specially designed plane with a 63.4-meter wingspan — roughly the size of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet — and a weight carefully slimmed down to be about that of a family car, Andr© Borschberg plans to give aircraft a new benchmark. “This flight is representing the first important milestone to demonstrate how to use solar energy to fly at night and get closer to the notion of perpetual flight,” he said in an interview. The flight will be a steppingstone, he hopes, to flying around the world without any fuel.

The Parking Lot as ‘Solar Grove’

One day early in 2004, Robert Noble, an architect specializing in sustainable design, asked himself why parking lots in the United States weren’t covered in solar panels and used to generate clean energy. A few firms had been building carports with solar panels for some time, but none had acquired a major presence or branched out much beyond the residential market. “Parking lots are this wasteland – they’re the last thing that gets attention,” Mr. Noble said in an interview. “Here’s a market the size of Alpha Centauri that’s never been tapped.”

In 2005, Mr. Noble founded Envision Solar, now the country’s leading developer of solar carports. The company’s signature product is “solar groves,” 1,000-square-foot canopies that shade parking lots while generating clean power from an array of photovoltaic panels. One early adopter was the Kyocera Corporation of Japan, which tasked Envision Solar with the construction of its first large-scale “solar grove” in 2006 at its United States headquarters in San Diego, where a 235-kilowatt carport harnesses 1,400 of Kyocera’s own solar photovoltaic modules. Other major installations soon followed at Dell Computer’s headquarters in Round Rock, Tex.; at the Horsham, Pa., headquarters of Centocor, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary; and at the University of California at San Diego.

As the world’s ice melts, the Navy’s role grows

WHEN THE chief of naval operations of the United States starts rattling off global fishing statistics without notes and frets about climate change like an MIT scientist, we should all stand at attention. If Admiral Gary Roughead had his way, it would be full speed ahead toward a military strategy that considers not just nukes and nutty dictators, but also oceanic food resources and melting Arctic ice. “All I know is that there’s a lot more water out there,” Roughead said in a meeting last week with the Globe editorial board. Roughead joked that lots of water is great for a Navy guy, but he otherwise was quite serious. He noted how the growth of China’s navy runs parallel to the explosive growth of that nation’s fishing operations, similar to how the British and Dutch royal navies of centuries past grew to protect their seafaring mercantile trade. Roughead said China now accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s fishing. According to a 2009 United Nations report, China’s marine and inland fish captures reached 17 million tons, equaling the next three countries of Peru, the United States, and Indonesia combined.

Cogeneration can provide relief when power fails

The arrival of Hurricane Alex heralds another glaring reminder of Texas’ susceptibility to widespread and prolonged power outages. Gone are the days when we safely assumed the lights would magically turn back on within a few hours after every storm. Lest we forget, two summers ago Hurricane Ike knocked out power for several weeks in many parts of Houston of all places, the country’s fourth-largest city and energy capital.

Not much has changed since then: Most businesses and institutions, including critical facilities like hospitals, still rely on antediluvian power lines to transmit electricity over vast distances. Many of these same facilities tenuously put their faith in diesel back-up generators that, alas, only run for 24 to 48 hours at a time, assuming they start up when needed.

Fortunately, combined heat and power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, provides an on-site power supply and hence energy security, with environmental and economic benefits to boot. This “invisible green giant” achieves as much as 50 percent greater efficiency than traditional means by reusing waste heat for additional end uses, recording large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and conventional air pollutants.

With nearly 17,000 megawatts (MW) of installed CHP “” the equivalent output of the state’s entire nuclear plant fleet – Texas is the national leader in CHP adoption. The state’s large base of industrial plants, especially in the petroleum refining and chemical production sectors, has been a fervent adopter of CHP since the 1980s. Even so, vast potential in the industrial sector remains, and the fast-growing commercial and institutional sectors remain largely untapped.

A 2008 report commissioned by the Texas Public Utility Commission concluded that the potential statewide CHP capacity amounts to an additional 13,400 MW. Federal support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Technologies Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s CHP Partnership has paralleled efforts by the Texas CHP Initiative, a trade association, to realize CHP’s vast potential in the state.

Because CHP relies on natural gas delivered through underground pipelines, adopters can weather just about any storm. The Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., for example, was one of the few critical facilities in Hurricane Katrina’s path to remain nearly 100 percent operational during and after the storm, thanks to its on-site 3.2 MW CHP system. Unfortunately, most hospitals like Pendleton Memorial Methodist Hospital in New Orleans depended – and still do – on inefficient electrical transmission from distant power plants and susceptible back-up generators. The families of several Pendleton patients who died due to the prolonged power outage have taken the hospital to court, alleging it failed to secure its power supply. Other hospitals paid more in post-Katrina clean-up costs than the price of a CHP system.

CHP, which has been around for a century, can be sized to fit applications ranging from less than 1 MW to more than 100 MW in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors. The Thermal Energy Corp., which provides district heating and cooling to the nearby Texas Medical Center, is currently constructing a 45 MW CHP facility – with an additional 55 MW to follow – to ensure uninterrupted health care delivery by the area’s many hospitals and facilities. Methodist Hospital is installing its own CHP system on-site. More critical sites that cannot afford to lose power during natural disasters – including shelters, command and control centers, police and fire stations, communications and data centers, and wastewater treatment facilities – should follow their lead.

Why isn’t CHP a household name? Ignorance is largely due to resistance from utilities, regulatory barriers, a misperception outside of the industrial sector that it’s not feasible, and a status quo mentality among engineers and builders. Projected long-term domestic availability and relative price stability of natural gas generally improve the financial outlook for CHP projects, as would federal climate change legislation that establishes a price for emitting carbon. Natural gas already provides about one-half of our state’s electricity and accounts for roughly 15 percent of the gross state product.

Compared to coal, another prevalent energy source here, natural gas-fueled systems emit dramatically less carbon dioxide. If developers look beyond initial construction costs and instead evaluate a facility’s life-cycle costs, the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy technologies like CHP pay dividends, in addition to providing energy security.

For background on cogen/CHP, see Recycled Energy “” A core climate solution

15 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for July 7: PG&E opposes CA’s Prop 23 climate law repeal; Lawmakers oppose Canadian tar sands pipeline; Cogeneration can provide relief when power fails*

  1. Peter Mizla says:

    Most of the impetus for CA Prop 23 is from those who do not see climate change as an immediate threat to the state. Many do not see climate change as a threat at all.

    PG & E made a courageous decision with this stand not to support the Prop.

    Obviously, the Utility Company realizes the real threats to California are in fact climate change – and Prop 23 is very short-sided.

    Prop 23 comes from basically a conservative group in the state-

  2. homunq says:

    Strange bedfellows indeed. I never thought I’d agree with PG&E about anything. But I’m happy to ally with them on this fight.

  3. MarkB says:

    On the same day the final CRU inquiry vindicates climate scientists (again), Washington DC sets a record high.

    I bet it’s part of the CRU whitewashing conspiracy. Either way, Senator Inhofe’s igloo is in some trouble.

  4. Bob Wallace says:

    PG&E has already taken a corporate decision to move to green energy. Largely they were pushed that way by state regulations, but they seem to have accepted the reality of those regulations and made the most of them.

    We, in CA, have seen our per capita electricity usage remain flat while other states have soared. That’s largely due to our utility companies pushing conservation. The way the state regulations were written utility companies can make a profit while selling less.

    PG&E, and I suppose other CA utility companies, have done some great stuff with appliance upgrade rebates and CFL subsidies. I can buy all the CFLs I want for $0.50 each thanks to PG&E.

    I can see PG&E, along with other CA utility companies, opposing Pro 23. CA utility companies have contracted for future green energy feeds due to the requirement that they green their grids by 2020. They are already on the hook to purchase that power. They would not want to be in the position of having to turn down (potentially) cheaper coal produced electricity and facing customer anger. The current regs give them cover in the event that they do have to raise rates to cover the upcoming green feed.

  5. mike roddy says:

    Approval- or not- of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is of huge importance. Once it’s approved, it will make higher dirty oil production rates inevitable. Politicians and developers get married to investments, and they won’t put in a pipeline that isn’t used to capacity. Without the pipeline, more tar sands mining may become marginal, and the market signal in general would be clear to banks and private equity.

    Please tell us more, Sean. Can Congress stop it, even if they wanted to (unlikely)? Is there administrative recourse- through EPA, for example- or any other review organization with the power to slow or stop it?

  6. Joce says:

    As a Canadian, I hope that the Keyston XL pipeline does NOT happen. The tar sands are a terrible source of oil. On top of the amount of energy that is needed to extract the oil from the ground, 4 to 5 barrels of fresh water is polluted per barrel of crude that is extracted. Since our own government doesn’t have the good sense to scale back the tar sands, it would be great for your government to force that scale-back by reducing your demand.

  7. Bill W says:

    Peter Mizla at #1, Prop 23 mostly comes from two Texas oil companies, Tesoro and Valero, who have refineries in California and don’t want to have to comply with the GHG regulations.

  8. John Mashey says:

    I’ve heard PG&E CEO Peter Darbee talk live, and he talks about energy efficiency a lot. I always like to hear somebody talk live and respond to questions. I though Darbee was impressive. I especially liked his comments on difficulty in changing corporate culture, but it helped to replace 28 of 35 senior executives.

    You may recall that PG&E dropped out of the US Chamber of Commerce due to “irreconcilable differences.”

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Flash Flood in Concepcion (After march earthquake) and strong Storms at chile’s coast

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Solar-Powered Plane Flies for 26 Hours

  11. Prokaryotes says:


    The 2010 Chilean earthquake occurred off the coast of the Maule Region of Chile on February 27, 2010, at 03:34 local time (06:34 UTC), rating a magnitude of 8.8

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    Life at high altitudes forced ancient Tibetans to undergo the fastest evolution ever seen in humans, according to a new study.

    The most rapid genetic change showed up in the EPAS1 gene, which helps regulate the body’s response to a low-oxygen environment. One version, called an allele, of the EPAS1 gene changed in frequency from showing up in 9 percent of the Han Chinese to 87 percent of Tibetans.

    Such genetic changes suggest Tibetan ancestors split off from the Han Chinese population about 2,750 years ago, researchers say. But only those most evolutionarily suited for life at high altitudes survived when they moved to the Tibetan Plateau.

    “It took only a few hundred generations to change the allele frequency, which can only happen if a lot of people have died,” said Rasmus Nielsen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Berkeley. “In that sense, it must have had a strong effect on fitness.”

    The Tibetan example of human evolution beats the previous record holders in northern Europe, who evolved lactose tolerance to digest the milk sugar lactose over the course of about 7,500 years.

  13. thomas says:

    Hey Joe,

    I heard recently that from an emissions standpoint natural gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing is just as bad as burning coal. Is this true? Can you do a post on this? I think there are a lot of climate folks people embracing natural gas as the transition fuel, but if the way we get it is just as bad as coal then it doesn’t seem like a transition fuel at all.

    Of course, beyond climate there are many reasons to oppose natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, but I would really hate to see a climate solution turn out to be as bad as coal.

    Thanks. Looking forward to a reply.

  14. Prokaryotes says:

    Laredo, Texas braces as flooding engulfs Rio Grande basin
    Residents along the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico have prepared for major flooding as the remains of Hurricane Alex forced the region’s dams to capacity and a “wall of water” is set to descend on border cities.

  15. R Little says:

    combined heat and power is a really useful technology when used in the right way, I think with the fears over the future power shortages in the UK, the need for these kind of technologies is being highlighted