11 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for December 9th: US would gain $342 billion from a renewable energy standard; The true cost of renewables; California’s carbon cap will create up to 623,000 new jobs
The US would have the most to gain percentage-wise from its share of an estimated $2.3 trillion clean energy economy by 2020, a new Pew report finds, if it adopted aggressive clean energy policies such as a national Renewable Energy Standard. Investment dollars follow policy. By 2020 investment would have ramped up a 237 percent increase for the US, one of the highest percentage gains among G-20 members, to a cumulative $342 billion in the US.
By contrast, the EU overall would see only a 20 percent increase from current levels. Europe has already invested in the clean energy economy since signing Kyoto in 1997. The study forecasts EU investment to reach a cumulative $705 billion by 2020, 20 percent higher than now.
But that 20 percent rise is an average. For example, while the United Kingdom would add only $134 billion, for the UK, that would mean a 260 percent rise, almost as high as the US percent change. By contrast, Germany, already a world leader, has the potential to realize more than $208 billion worth of investment in the enhanced policy scenario, yet that would actually reverse their current rate of renewable investment. The advance guard of the European marketplace, comprising countries like Germany, will mature in the coming decade, as investment in some of the early leaders declines and new entrants step forward. But all of this depends on policy, which determines renewable energy investments or lack of them.
What does renewable energy cost? Isn’t it still more expensive than fossil fuel electricity? Way more? In a word: no. A recent Los Angeles Times article typifies the confusion on this issue, misreporting significantly the results of a draft report issued by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2009. The article stated that achieving incoming governor Jerry Brown’s vision of 33% renewables by 2020 would cost Californians $60 billion. The article also stated that this goal would require a 14.5% electricity rate hike.
Setting aside the fact that it was actually Gov. Schwarzenegger who put in place the 33% mandate with an executive order, let’s look at these numbers. The draft report was never completed and the updated analysis was instead shunted to the long-term procurement proceeding (R.10-05-006). New numbers will be coming out soon, showing dramatic reductions in wind turbine and solar panel costs since the 2009 draft report was issued. The $60 billion figure (actually $58.6 billion) from the report is the total expenditures required for all electricity investments by 2020 – not just the cost of achieving the 33% renewables mandate.
The 14.5% rate hike is the projected hike resulting from the report’s “high distributed generation” scenario, which relies primarily on smaller solar projects to meet the 33% mandate instead of larger projects and other technologies, such as wind and geothermal power, which are cheaper than solar. The 33% “reference case” found that a 7.2% rate hike would result from this scenario, with a total incremental investment of just $3.6 billion (a far cry from the $60 billion cited by the Times article). More importantly, the report assumes no reduction in renewable energy costs by 2020. This has already been proven woefully wrong because costs for wind turbines and solar panels have dropped dramatically in the last couple of years. The planet ultimately wins in this price battle.
Europe and a group of small island Pacific states have jointly proposed a new international treaty at the UN climate talks in Cancºn, Mexico, to commit developing and developed countries to reducing their climate emissions, according to leaked documents seen by the Guardian and the Times of India. The move has outraged many developing countries, including China, Brazil and India, who fear that rich countries will use the proposal to lay the foundations to ditch the Kyoto protocol and replace it with a much weaker alternative.
The new negotiating text could provoke the most serious rift yet in the already troubled climate talks because the Kyoto protocol is the only commitment that rich countries will cut their emissions. The treaty, adopted in 1997 and due for renewal in 2012, has been the subject of fierce arguments in Cancºn, with Japan flatly refusing to sign up to a second round of pledges. Some Latin American countries have declared that they will not sign up to any deal if Japan carries out its threat.
Observers last night said that to break the impasse and save the talks from failure, the Mexican presidency has begun to prepare new texts which will be presented to the 193 countries negotiating in Cancºn within 24 hours. Britain and three other countries have been asked to prepare short texts which are expected to be used by Mexico in a final text to be presented at the conclusion of the summit on Friday.
Last-minute negotiations over the tax package could send America’s energy policy in exactly the wrong direction. If budget-conscious Republicans have their way, tax credits for renewable energy sources like wind and solar power would be allowed to expire, while wasteful and unnecessary tax breaks for corn ethanol “” an environmentally dubious fuel supported by farm-state legislators of both parties “” would be extended. This would be a preposterous outcome at a time when the nation desperately needs new investment in clean energy as well as the jobs that go with it.
In a rare sighting of bipartisanship and good sense, 17 senators are calling for subsidies on corn ethanol to lapse, as scheduled, at the end of the year. If they are extended, as the industry and its lobbyists want, it will cost taxpayers $31 billion across the next five years. Corn ethanol’s environmental benefits also have been called into serious question. Some studies have found that corn ethanol, as presently produced, releases more greenhouse gases than petroleum fuels. The rush to convert food crops to fuel production also has contributed to spikes in food prices.
Meanwhile, two modest but useful tax incentives, also scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, should be renewed. Both were included in the 2008 stimulus bill. One provides tax credits “” technically, grants in lieu of credits “” for renewable energy projects like wind and solar. Extending this program would create thousands of new jobs. Allowing it to lapse would threaten two important industries struggling to meet foreign competition.
California’s effort to cap carbon emissions by gasoline refiners, utilities and other large polluters will have little impact on consumers and businesses in the state while creating up to 623,000 new jobs over the next decade, according to a new report. Next 10, a San Francisco nonprofit group that supports green technology, estimated the state’s cap-and-trade program will increase electricity costs by an average of 2.3 percent percent to 4.1 percent per household by the year 2020.
The forecast – which comes a week before the California Air Resources Board’s will vote on whether to approve the new rules for its cap-and-trade program – provides a sharp contrast to industry arguments that the state’s climate change law will destroy thousands of jobs and increase electricity bills by at least 20 percent. “There’s very minimal impact on the California economy and there’s very minimal impact on energy prices,” said F. Noel Perry, Next 10’s founder.
A key component of the state’s landmark climate change law, the cap-and-trade program essentially places a ceiling on the amount of carbon emitted by the state’s 500 largest polluters. The program – which will begin operating in 2012 – allows companies that emit less carbon than their allowed amounts to sell their unused allowances to companies that pollute heavily, creating powerful market incentives for the companies to reduce emissions voluntarily. State officials plan to take a go-slow approach by initially giving away the pollution allowances to companies for free, rather than selling them at auction.
As the program ramps up, however, the state will place a price on the allowances. Proceeds from the auctions could be used for energy efficiency programs, rebates to consumers or other climate change initiatives. How the allowances are distributed will have a big bearing on the number of green jobs created, the study said. If the allowances are given away freely, about 47,000 clean-tech jobs will be directly created by 2020. If all of them are auctioned off, about 163,000 new jobs will be formed.
Supporters of wind and solar energy urged Congress on Wednesday to renew a federal grant program credited with jump-starting renewable power projects nationwide. The incentive program is set to expire at month’s end unless Congress acts – but the odds of that happening narrowed when the initiative was left out of a tax cut package developed by the Obama administration and congressional Republicans. Under the grant program, companies can nab direct cash payments from the Treasury Department that cover up to 30 percent of the cost of building qualified renewable projects.
The initiative was created as part of last year’s stimulus package in response to concerns that the economic downturn had caused traditional renewable energy financing tied to investment and production tax credits to dry up. Because that tax credit financing market hasn’t rebounded, the incentive program is “the most important policy for continued growth of the renewable energy industry in the United States,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a conference call with reporters. Tens of thousands of jobs tied to the construction of wind farms, solar arrays and geothermal operations financed by the incentive program hang in the balance, Resch said.
In Texas, the nation’s leader for wind power generation, more than 3,000 jobs “in the manufacturing pipeline” for new projects are threatened, said Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association. “Without continuation of this policy, we will absolutely have layoffs ahead,” Bode said. Faced with the program’s possible demise, renewable-energy executives are making personal pleas to lawmakers, and industry lobbyists are circulating on Capitol Hill with fact sheets that show what projects are benefiting in every state. “We’ve pretty much dropped everything as an industry” to fight for the program, Resch said, adding: “It really is an all-out effort.”
A university scientist and the federal government say they have found persuasive evidence that oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill is settling on the ocean floor. New research shows that environmental damage from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could be significant where it’s hardest to find: deep under the Gulf’s surface. Jeffrey Ball and Neal Lipschutz discuss. Also, David Reilly says when it comes to bolstering growth prospects, or at least investors’ belief in them, the Fed may deserve a better grade than it’s been given credit for.
The new findings, from scientists at the University of South Florida and from a broad government effort, mark the latest indication that environmental damage from the blowout of a BP PLC well could be significant where it’s hardest to find: deep under the Gulf’s surface. The amount of oil that has settled in the sediment””and the extent of damage it has caused””remains unclear. But scientists who have been on research cruises in the Gulf in recent days report finding layers of residue up to several centimeters thick from what they suspect is BP oil.
The material appears in spots across several thousand square miles of seafloor, they said. In many of those spots, they said, worms and other marine life that crawl along the sediment appear dead, though many organisms that can swim appear healthy. How the death of organisms in the sediment might affect the broader Gulf ecology is something scientists are studying. Tests to determine how much of the material on the seafloor matches the spilled oil are continuing. But the fact that tests now have started to link some oil in the sediment to the BP well could add to the amount of money BP ends up paying to compensate for the spill’s damage.
As the United Nations climate change talks in Cancºn lurch slowly toward an uncertain conclusion, the World Bank is stepping in to help developing countries set up pollution credit markets to help pay for clean development programs. Robert B. Zoellick, the World Bank president, will appear before delegates here on Wednesday to announce the creation of a multimillion-dollar program to create trading mechanisms to stimulate clean energy projects and to slow the destruction of tropical forests, one of the primary sources of global warming emissions. He will also be announcing new World Bank programs to help island nations that are acutely vulnerable to rising seas and other climate-related threats to increase their access to renewable energy sources.
He said that the dangers of a changing climate were moving at a faster pace than the international negotiations aimed at controlling them and that the most threatened nations could not afford to wait. “We know that the poorest countries will suffer the earliest and the most from climate change,” Mr. Zoellick said in a statement. “They will bear the brunt of changing weather patterns, water shortages, and rising sea levels even though they are the least equipped to deal with them.” He added: “We also know that, while these countries would like to see a comprehensive global accord on climate change, they are not waiting for one. They are acting now and acting differently to shift from being climate vulnerable to being climate smart.”
Mr. Zoellick served as United States trade representative and deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration before becoming World Bank president in 2007. The list of countries that will take part in the carbon market initiative was not announced, but they are expected to include China, Mexico, Indonesia and Chile. Other countries were expected to join as more funds become available, bank officials said. The World Bank hopes to devote as much as $100 million to provide technical support and other aid to help developing countries establish carbon exchanges and other ways of raising private funds to help reduce emissions and adapt to climate changes.
Canada, the United States and China rank near the bottom of a global climate change performance index released this week by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe. The world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters dropped a few ranks compared to last year, with China now ranked 56th and the United States 54th out of 57 countries surveyed. Canada ranked last in the index, compiled with the help of more than 190 experts who analyzed national policies in the countries. Poland was placed at No. 55. Australia, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia came in after Canada.
This year’s index identifies Brazil as the top climate protection performer for its successful efforts to reduce emissions and contain deforestation. Brazil ranks fourth, with the first three spots again left vacant as no countries did enough to earn the honor, the groups behind the index said. Sweden, Norway and Germany came after Brazil on the list.
After last year’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen failed to produce an international binding climate protection agreement, it’s good to see that national climate efforts have improved in a number of countries, said Germanwatch’s Jan Burck, the author of the sixth annual Climate Change Performance Index. “For the first time, national policies have been graded better than international policies.” Burk said in a statement. “We will see whether Cancun will be able to translate these national actions into a positive international dynamic.”
U.S.- based SunEdison has successfully launched Europe’s largest single site solar plant, a 70-megawatt facility generating enough green energy to power around 17,000 homes each year. Located in Italy between the cities of Venice and Bologna, the project was approved by the Italian government in March and construction was finished last month. For a project of this magnitude to be completed within such a short time frame is no small feat. CNET explains the possible reason behind the expedited process:
“Maybe the fast-tracked project had to do with the competence of SunEdison, its recent financing progress as a company, or Isolux Corsan, the Spanish construction company SunEdison commissioned to built the PV solar farm. But it’s worth noting that the project also had the complete backing of the Italian government from federal through local levels. Rovigo, Italy, also happens to be a member of CLEAR (City and Local Environmental Accounting Reporting). It’s an EU initiative in which member towns agree to implement environmental accounting and sustainability plans as part of standard government budget operations.”
According to SunEdison, the new plant will prevent 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually – equal to take 8,000 cars off the road.