29 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for July 9: Solar aircraft lands after 26-hour flight; American Power Act cuts deficit $19 Billion; Utilities shift to gas, renewables, efficiency after “mass cancellations of coal-fired plants”*
*Featured post below
A giant glider-like aircraft has completed the first night flight propelled only by solar energy, organizers said on Thursday.
Solar Impulse, whose wingspan is the same as an Airbus A340, flew 26 hours and 9 minutes, powered only by solar energy stored during the day. It was also the longest and highest flight in the history of solar aviation, organisers said.
Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss president of the project, best known for completing the first round-the-world flight in a hot air balloon in 1999, said the success of the flight showed the potential of renewable energies and clean technology.
“We are on the verge of the perpetual flight,” he said.
Jubilant pilot Andre Borschberg told Reuters television: “It was unbelievable, success better than we expected. We almost thought to make it longer, but … we demonstrated what we wanted to demonstrate so they made me come back, so here I am.”
In a preliminary look at the American Power Act””the climate legislation that has been put forward by Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman””the CBO found that the bill would actually reduce the budget deficit by about $19 billion over the 2011 to 2020 period. The CBO estimates that auctions of carbon allowances under the bill””which requires companies to essentially pay for the right to emit carbon dixoide””would raise government revenue by about $751 billion, more than bill would hike government spending through incentives for nuclear power, tax credits for energy efficiency and research and technology for new energy.
Fred Krupp””the president of the Environmental Defense Fund and a fierce warrior for a carbon cap””told reporters last week that Kerry-Lieberman as it stands now is unlikely to ever reach a vote, and that green groups need to be open to a less ambitious bill, such as one that only caps emissions from power utilities. How much will that cost? The CBO hasn’t done an analysis””because there’s been no bill written””but on his blog Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations has written that a utility-only cap could have fewer sources of revenue because the carbon market itself would be much smaller than with an economy-wide cap. It’d be ironic if, in trying to craft a climate bill that is less ambitious and costs less, the Senate actually produces one that’s a greater drain on the budget. But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It is the Senate, after all.
A quick update on the struggles of the biomass power industry, which has long enjoyed a reputation for delivering renewable and low-carbon energy:
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, that reputation “” which has generated tax breaks and other incentives in a variety of states “” has come under increasing scrutiny.
Among other complaints, opponents of biomass power “” which, depending on the location, involves burning organic matter like plants and trees to generate electricity “” say the incentives would create a rapacious industry driven to gobble up forests that would have absorbed more carbon dioxide if they’d simply been left alone.
Massachusetts became locked in a fierce battle over the issue, prompting state officials to commission a comprehensive review of the science related to biomass. That study landed last month, and this week, energy regulators there said they were revamping the rules relating to biomass and renewable energy incentives.
In a letter released Wednesday, Ian A. Bowles, the state’s secretary for energy and environmental affairs, instructed the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to draft new regulations that would raise the bar for biomass projects angling to qualify for credits, including a requirement that they provide “significant near-term greenhouse gas dividends.”
Bruce Dean walked down his driveway, turned around and looked at the newly installed solar-power system resting on his roof, collecting rays from the seldom-seen Seattle sun.
“It has taken a while,” said Dean, a retiree living in Ballard with his wife, Kaylee.
He is the first customer in Seattle to install a system that qualifies for the highest incentive available from the state’s renewable-energy program “” five years after the program was created.
The incentives are to encourage steady solar-industry growth in the state, so the biggest payout goes to buyers of solar-power systems manufactured in Washington. But companies haven’t exactly leapt at the opportunity “” only two build solar-power components in the state.
Silicon Energy of Marysville became in May the first Washington firm to make both major components of a solar system: the solar module, whose familiar panels turn sunlight into electricity; and the inverter, which turns the panel’s direct current (DC) into standard, usable alternating current (AC).
The U.S. Departments of Energy and the Interior have picked a former nuclear site in Nevada to be transformed into a zone for testing “cutting-edge” solar energy technologies.
The research will take place on 25 square miles of land owned by the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, an area larger than the size of Manhattan, the Energy Department said today in a statement.
The area lies in the southwest corner of the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles (104.6 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, where the U.S. military used to detonate atomic weapons. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration will oversee the project, according to the statement.
The DOE said it selected the Nevada site after evaluating 26 possible locations in terms of solar conditions, suitable terrain and other infrastructure needed for solar development.
Projects developed on public land “can significantly reduce the costs and environmental impacts of utility-scale solar power facilities and demonstrate the commercial viability of these facilities,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today at a press conference announcing the plan.
Climate change and pollution may cut yields for soybeans and other crops by 2050 unless plants are adapted, the University of Illinois said, citing research.
Tests showed crops grown in open fields benefitted less than expected from higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air, the university said in a report published yesterday. The yield increase was only half of that assumed by the United Nations’ climate-change panel to predict world food supply in 2050, according to the report.
The world must grow 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed a rising population, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says. One assumed positive aspect to climate change has been that higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will stimulate photosynthesis and boost yields, the researchers said.
“More research in these areas is critical,” Don Ort, professor of crop science at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. “How top-producing areas fare with climate change will be very important in determining global food security for the future.”
Sailors, be forewarned: hurricane science is better than ever, and the prognosis is for rough seas.
Advances in understanding the planet’s ground, water, and atmospheric cycles have vastly improved the ability to forecast the potential for major storms, leading scientists to predict an extremely active hurricane season in 2010. Combining knowledge of the conditions that spawn major storm–based on years of research and observations–with computer modeling, scientists are calling for a 2010 hurricane season so intense that it could approach the record set in 2005.
Some of the recent conditions, partly attributed to a changing climate, have led scientists to call for an increase in the intensity of future seasons for decades to come.
The forecasts, while gloomy, give those likely to be affected–from oil-spill responders currently working in the Gulf of Mexico to insurance companies aiming to protect the bottom line–better tools for preparing and managing the risks.
All indicators point to a 2010 hurricane season “at or beyond” record levels, reports Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., a research facility supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). To date, the 2005 season, with 28 major storms, according to NOAA records, was the most active on record.
New York City is so proud of its tap water that the Bloomberg administration has come up with a product line to trumpet its quality and promote it as an affordable and sustainable alternative to bottled water.
The merchandise, bearing an NYC Water logo, ranges from glasses ($5) to T-shirts ($23) and is available at CityStore, the city’s online shop for all things New York. There are also coasters, decanters and water bottles sold both online at www.nyc.gov/citystore and at Fishs Eddy, the New York-based purveyor of dinnerware, glassware and kitchen goods.
“Our high-quality drinking water not only quenches New Yorkers’ thirst, but is the not-so-secret ingredient in the bagels, pizza, and thousands of other dishes that people come from around the world to get,” the city’s environmental protection commissioner, Cas Holloway, said Thursday in a statement announcing the products.
The Environmental Protection Department, which introduced the line in a partnership with Fishs Eddy, oversees a daily supply of more than one billion gallons of water that serves more than nine million people, including eight million in New York City and a million residents of Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties. The water, so clean that it does not require filtration, comes from a highly protected watershed upstate.
Nine stores in Manhattan and the Bronx have been hit with $200 fines for leaving their doors open on hot days in the hope that the escaping cool air will lure sweaty customers. They are the first fined as part of a new law passed in 2008.
Last year, only warnings were given out. So far this year, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs has inspected 105 stores. Seventy were in compliance, 26 were issued warnings and nine that had been warned last year were hit with fines, said Kay Sarlin, a spokeswoman for the department.
Fines start at $200, and go up to $400 for any further infractions in an 18-month period. The legislation states that any business larger than 4,000 square feet or part of a chain with five or more stores in the city must keep doors closed when using an air-conditioning system.
Around suppertime on June 3 in Clearfield County, Pa., a geyser of natural gas and sludge began shooting out of a well called Punxsutawney Hunting Club 36. The toxic stew of gas, salt water, mud and chemicals went 75 feet into the air for 16 hours. Some of this mess seeped into a stream northeast of Pittsburgh.
Four days later, as authorities were cleaning up the debris in Pennsylvania, an explosion burned seven workers at a gas well on the site of an abandoned coal mine outside of Moundsville, W.Va., just southwest of Pittsburgh.
The back-to-back emergencies were like a five-alarm fire for John Hanger, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. For a brief moment, the cable news channels turned their attention away from the BP PLC oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico to the apparent trouble in the nation’s expanding onshore natural gas fields.
This week it’s green for green: On Tuesday, we mentioned that the Department of Energy was giving out loans totaling $2 billion for two big solar panel projects. Now, the DOE has offered $67 million for research on carbon capture, in hopes of propelling nascent carbon capture and storage projects.
Carbon capture, as its name suggests, requires trapping carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-burners like coal power plants before it enters the air. It isn’t easy. For one, you have to figure out what to do with all the CO2 once you capture it. The first power plant to try out carbon sequestration has found that its neighbors aren’t keen on having CO2 pumped deep into the earth below their town.
Also, capturing the greenhouse gas requires energy, adding 80 percent to the cost of electricity for a new pulverized coal plant and around 35 percent for a high-tech coal gasification plant. The goal, the DOE says in the award announcement, is to reduce these costs to less than 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
Democratic House members are so worried about the fall elections they’re leaving Washington on July 30, a full week earlier than normal””and they won’t return until mid-September. Members gulped when National Journal’s Charlie Cook, the Beltway’s leading political handicapper, predicted last month “the House is gone,” meaning a GOP takeover. He thinks Democrats will hold the Senate, but with a significantly reduced majority.
The rush to recess gives Democrats little time to pass any major laws. That’s why there have been signs in recent weeks that party leaders are planning an ambitious, lame-duck session to muscle through bills in December they don’t want to defend before November. Retiring or defeated members of Congress would then be able to vote for sweeping legislation without any fear of voter retaliation.
“I’ve got lots of things I want to do” in a lame duck, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W. Va.) told reporters in mid June. North Dakota’s Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, wants a lame-duck session to act on the recommendations of President Obama’s deficit commission, which is due to report on Dec. 1. “It could be a huge deal,” he told Roll Call last month. “We could get the country on a sound long-term fiscal path.” By which he undoubtedly means new taxes in exchange for extending some, but not all, of the Bush-era tax reductions that will expire at the end of the year.
With or without a climate bill, electric utilities are shifting their investments to efficiency measures that cut long-term costs and integrate more natural gas and renewable energy into their power supplies, according to a new report.
“The business landscape for electric utilities is shifting quickly,” says a report authored by Navigant Consulting for Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of institutional investors and environmental groups. “In turn, the traditional operating paradigm of building large generation facilities to sell ever-increasing amounts of electricity is changing.”
The report and news release are here.
The report says drivers of this shifting paradigm include the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent by 2050 and policies in many states making it costly to build more fossil fuel-based electric generation.
The report says costs for renewable energy are coming down significantly, and regulatory policies now allow utilities to count large-scale energy efficiency as the lowest-cost energy resource. Further, utilities are adopting “smart grid” technology to help manage electricity use, and there is more interest in developing plug-in electric vehicles….
“Recent technological breakthroughs in extracting natural gas from shale and other ‘tight’ formations have led to a startling reassessment of the nation’s natural gas supplies, previously thought to be dwindling,” says the report. “Natural gas is positioned to play a growing role as a complement to variable renewable energy resources. In addition, natural gas can help optimize overall energy efficiency by integrating thermal and electric technologies and end-uses.”Coal, according to this report, faces an array of challenges. Most U.S. coal-fired power plants are at least 30 years old. New U.S. EPA regulations to cut emissions of haze and ozone-causing nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and other pollutants are expected to push many of those old plants into retirement. Citing a March 2010 study by Bernstein Research, the report says the EPA regulations will likely force the retirement of about one-quarter of U.S. coal-burning generation by 2015.
Mass cancellations of coal-fired plants
The report also counts that 120 coal-fired power plant projects were canceled over the last decade because of environmental and financing issues. Another 50 plants face lawsuits from parties attempting to halt their construction or operation.
There also is mounting evidence that coal as a commodity will become more expensive, according to Navigant and Ceres. They note that a 2008 U.S. Geological Survey study of the Powder River Basin coal fields in Wyoming found that the economically recoverable reserves might be only 6 percent of previous estimates, “raising questions about the long-term price and availability of coal in other areas of the U.S.”
Tom King, president of National Grid USA, a major gas distributor and electric utility in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, said coal will always be a part of the fuel mix in certain regions because of its abundance. But in an interview with ClimateWire, he emphasized that the priorities of electric utilities are changing. “Natural gas for the foreseeable future remains a reliable source,” he said. “The policy ought to be that we extract the gas.”
King’s support for using gas for power generation is notable. For years, industrial users of gas and local distribution companies such as National Grid discouraged talk about using more gas for electricity generation. The concern was that it would increase competition for natural gas and drive up the commodity price. Now, as King noted, there is broad awareness that expanding U.S. shale gas fields have dramatically increased the gas supply. One of the hottest gas basins, the Marcellus Shale, sits in his backyard in the Northeast….
An analyst at the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie told delegates at the 2010 Energy Epicenter conference in Denver that U.S. natural gas prices will increase to a range of $6.50 to $7 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) as cost pressures intensify in the next five years. That’s around the place that many gas drillers say is needed to sustain production. Natural gas has hovered around $4/MMBtu for more than a year.
Those costs include competition for rigs, the cost of major oil services companies working with gas companies to produce shale gas, and a higher-cost economy. “The core, low-cost unconventional gas plays — Marcellus, Haynesville and Barnett — will continue to grow, but within a few years, as the pace of demand growth accelerates, more expensive shale and tight gas supplies will be required,” said Jen Snyder, the principal natural gas analyst for Wood Mackenzie. “Economywide inflationary pressures mean that, in nominal terms, prices could reach $8.50/MMBtu.”
She added that even in the absence of climate legislation that increases the cost of coal-fired generation, EPA and state regulations could lead to 45 gigawatts of coal-fired power generation being retired by 2020. That would stimulate about 5 billion cubic feet a day of gas demand.