Cropland that’s left unplowed between harvests releases significantly smaller amounts of a potent greenhouse gas than conventionally plowed fields, according to a new study that suggests no-till farming can combat global warming.
Researchers said the findings could also help farmers make more efficient use of the costly nitrogen-based fertilizers used to promote plant growth. No-till farming apparently slows the breakdown of fertilizers in the soil, they said.
The three-year, federally funded Purdue University study looked at the amount of nitrous oxide released by no-till fields compared to plowed fields. No-till farmers don’t plow under their fields between crops and disrupt the soil surface as little as possible, although they do cut into it to plant seeds and inject fertilizers.
The study found no-till fields released 57 percent less nitrous oxide than chisel tilling, in which plants are plowed back into the soil after harvest, said Purdue agronomist Tony Vyn, who led the research. They also produced 40 percent less gas than fields tilled with moldboard plows, which turn the dirt over onto itself.
Last-ditch lawsuits against solar plants only increase the demand for coal [by Michael Kanellos, GreenTechMedia]
Green technology faces a number of barriers””high capital costs, entrenched incumbents, skepticism, bureaucratic and political roadblocks.
But, please, does the environmental community have to continue to be a problem?
The latest example comes in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club to hold up an already faltering solar plant slated for Calico, California.
The Calico project–which Tessera Solar sold to K Road Power last month–was improperly approved, alleges the suit, and could harm plant and animal species. Last month, the Quechan Tribe won an injunction to halt the Imperial project, another Tessera power plant, on the grounds that it could impair the habitat of the flat tailed horned lizard.
In 2010, BrightSource Energy had to scale back the Ivanpah solar thermal plant because of concerns about the habitat of the desert tortoise. And before that, solar and wind developers scotched plans to build in the Mojave after Senator Dianne Feinstein drew up plans to have 1 million acres of the Mojave Desert declared a part of a national monument area.
Look. I’m not against species protection. I think it’s important. But there are larger goals and considerations we must keep in mind. Namely:
1. Circumscribing solar and wind farms leads to only one thing: more natural gas, coal and nuclear plants. Although California has kept energy consumption per capita relatively flat for three decades, total power consumption has increased. And it will continue to increase as computer companies expand datacenters so we can shop at home instead of tooling around in gas-guzzling cars.
Greenhouse gases or pristine desert, which could get irreversibly destroyed as more greenhouse gases get injected into the atmosphere? The choice is yours.
2. Desert. There’s a lot of it. I grew up in Northern Nevada and spent my youth exploring the high desert. You know what’s there? A wealth of natural beauty, but also sagebrush, road signs peppered with shotgun blasts, rusted cars, cattle and guys in dune buggies.
It’s not the Arctic, or even Yosemite. Parts of it are more like an open air prison with a Terrible’s gas station thrown in. The lawsuits will have a chilling effect not only on these projects, but other ones where the environmental risks might be nil. And again, the alternative is more fossil fuel plants.
Federal and state regulators have signed off on the projects. The risks have been analyzed. At some point, the regulatory system has to be trusted.
3. Jobs. Instead of trying to build California power plants in the state, some want to build them in Arizona and Mexico. Parts of south-central California grapple with high unemployment, low education, few opportunities and drug addiction. Construction jobs remain one of the few hopes.
Will these projects will impair animal habitats? Yes. Could it be fatal to some species? Possible. But are these the kind of trade-offs that we need to make, even with the inherent risks? I think so.
In fact, we’ve already made these sort of compromises. California and most of the west wouldn’t exist as it does without an artificial reservoir system. If you live here and shower, you’ve already voted. I don’t advocate paving the desert or using ancient petroglyphs for skate ramps, but sacrificing small portions of already reviewed land seems necessary if California and the nation want to proceed on a reasonable time line for alternatives.
The renewable energy industry has often lacked cohesiveness. Many have argued that the alphabet soup of organizations have to coordinate their efforts better to get laws passed as well as to expose the subsidies offered to the coal and oil industries.
Some of these lawsuits could go away. The suits filed by the Native American tribes might actually be part of a larger effort to participate in the alternative energy economy. Tribal corporations in Alaska, Colorado and Arizona have already begun to invest in renewables. Hopefully that is the case. Many tribes own the land they do because it was considered worthless. Alternatives give them a chance to finally profit.
But right now, the people who will really benefit from these lawsuits sit on the boards of fossil fuel companies.
Related Posts: Does Sen. Feinstein get global warming, desertification, and California’s looming demise? and Green talk vs. green action: Sen. Feinstein’s scuttling of solar, wind projects a baffling mistake.
At noon [yesterday], Republican John Boehner [was] sworn in as the 61st Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the GOP will take over partial control of the government. (Apparently the outgoing Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, actually hands over the gavel to the new leader, a ceremony that certainly has more gravitas than the Internet method for shifting leadership””changing your Twitter handle.) Though the heated news coverage might make it seem as if the well-tanned Boehner is about to assume dictatorial control over the government””with perhaps Sarah Palin getting veto power””the Democrats still control the White House and the Senate, even with a smaller majority, which means the Republican power to push through wholesale change won’t be limitless. We should discover that after the House votes for and passes a repeal of the health care reform law in one of its first actions, as expected, only to see it die in the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hands, who proved in the last term that he is perfectly capable of ignoring House bills passed by his own party, let alone the opposition.
But the Republicans in the House will be able to shape the country’s legislative agenda, and when it comes to energy at least, that agenda can be summed up in one word: deregulation. The GOP line is that renewed regulation under the Obama Administration””often with a green motivation, under the newly energetic Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)””handcuffed business and kept companies from hiring, contributing to the miserable unemployment rate. The Republicans in the House will focus on pushing back agencies like the EPA, which is already coming under fire for its proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Associated Press, California Republican Darrell Issa””the incoming chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee even sent out a letter last month to 150 companies, trade associations and think tanks asking them to identify regulations that needed to be changed:
“In fiscal year 2010, federal agencies promulgated 43 major new regulations,” the California congressman wrote. “As a trade organization comprised of members that must comply with the regulatory state, I ask for your assistance in identifying existing and proposed regulations that have negatively impacted job growth in your members’ industry.”
President Obama plans to roll out the red carpet when Chinese President Hu Jintao lands on American soil later this month, even as a heavy bundle of economic and trade issues weighs on the leaders’ summit.
On Jan. 19, when Hu meets with Obama at the White House, troubles on the Korean Peninsula could land top billing. But as the United States emerges from its economic recession and as China’s role in the global economy expands further, analysts say trade issues, including one dealing with China’s support for clean energy companies, will grab headlines.
The administration late last month said it is requesting consultations with China at the World Trade Organization to end China’s government subsidies to wind-power producers.
The United Steelworkers (USW) in September filed a 5,800-page petition with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) that called on the Obama administration to launch a formal investigation into whether China has ignored international trade agreements to help its clean-energy technology sector. It cited a fleet of government export subsidies, including low-interest loans and access to cheap land, that allegedly give China’s lower-cost manufacturers an unfair advantage.
In explaining the Dec. 22 request for consultation with the Chinese on the wind-power subsidy issue, the USTR targeted a nearly $1 billion fund the United States claims could violate WTO rules.
“In particular, USTR has verified that China’s Wind Power Equipment Fund provides grants that appear to be contingent on the use of domestic over imported wind power equipment, and thus appears to be a prohibited subsidy,” the agency explained.
In the run-up to Hu’s visit, it’s unclear where the wind power case ranks among the fleet of complicated economic, trade and military issues expected to come up during talks. Still, the U.S. government’s clean energy gripe is part of a handful of China-related trade issues the administration has taken to the WTO, where disputes are adjudicated.
“Until the USTR decision, I would have said energy was one of the areas where there was great promise for cooperation,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, professor of energy and environmental policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
China met a five-year target to improve energy efficiency by cutting power to industry and imposing rolling blackouts, even though a massive economic stimulus increased energy use.
Energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product was reduced by 20 percent from 2005 levels by the end of 2010, said Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission. It is China’s top economic planning body.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Zhang on Thursday as saying detailed data have yet to be released.
Top Chinese officials said last year reaching the goal might be difficult because China sought to recover from the global economic crisis with a stimulus that focused on upgrading infrastructure that used steel, cement and other energy-intensive products.
China cut energy intensity by 14.4 percent in 2009, but its economic rebound pushed energy intensity back up by 0.09 percent in the first half of 2010, the first such increase since 2006.
Meeting the energy efficiency target was seen as a key marker of China’s commitment toward fighting global warming. It has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, largely because its economic development over the past three decades has relied on labor- and energy-intensive growth.
Beijing’s leaders issued stern orders to meet the energy-savings targets in the second half of the year and sent inspectors to see the orders were carried out in the provinces. About 2,000 steel and cement mills and other factories with poor environmental controls were closed.
As No. 1 global solar market Germany ratchets down subsidies for solar power this year, investors looking for the next hot market for the renewable energy source should be eyeing India, according to a report by Lux Research.
The report, released on Wednesday, looked at the growth potential of 15 emerging solar markets and found that India has massive potential because of government subsidies, a need for distributed generation and increasing energy demands.
“India comes away as by far the most attractive market for long term growth out of these that we looked at,” said Jason Eckstein, a Lux Research analyst and the report’s lead author.
Under its Solar Mission plan, unveiled last year, India is poised to add 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2022. The plan favors domestic manufacturers of crystalline silicon solar modules, including Moser Baer (MOSR.BO: Quote) and Tata BP Solar, a joint venture of Tata Power Co Ltd (TTPW.BO: Quote) and BP (BP.L: Quote).
In the United States, First Solar Inc (FSLR.O: Quote) is poised to benefit from India’s adoption of solar power because its solar panels are made of cadmium telluride and are not subject to the domestic content requirement.
The Obama administration remains committed to plowing ahead with international talks to address global warming, although it realizes that a broad, legally binding agreement similar to the Kyoto Protocol isn’t an option, a key State Department official said Wednesday.
Jonathan Pershing, the deputy special envoy for climate change, defended the administration’s push for a deal for countries to make voluntary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions with the idea that deeper cuts will develop over time.
That process “” first developed in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord “” was distressing to some because it creates a path that differs greatly from the mandatory cuts outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.
“Under Kyoto, which is the old model,” Pershing said, “emissions between 1990 and 2007, from [carbon dioxide], climbed on the order of 40 percent.” “So, if you think that that was a successful model, then you should think again. It didn’t work.”
Noting that the Kyoto Protocol was never ratified in the U.S., Pershing said that despite its popularity abroad, “it is equally clear that the structures of Kyoto would not work for us.
“It is clear that we would not work politically; we couldn’t move forward under that framework,” he added. “We need a different process.”
Pershing said the international push could help convince lawmakers that all isn’t lost on global warming.
“The State Department is trying to get an agreement globally “” which we got,” Pershing said. “The other things that I’m hopeful of is that the form and the structure of that agreement will make a difference here at home. I think it will.
Party leaders in the new Congress have yet to unveil their full agenda, but lobbyists and observers see one issue they’ll likely confront: what to do about rising gas prices.
Pump prices jumped over the past six weeks, and some experts predict they will continue climbing. Former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister predicts that increased worldwide demand and lack of production could push gas prices in the United States to $5 per gallon by 2012.
“We continue to demand more,” Hofmeister said today, repeating comments he made that were first aired by “Platts Energy Week.” “The world continues to demand more, and the U.S. has no plan to address it. That could drive us to the kind of numbers that get to $5 a gallon in this country.”
While several energy economists and forecasters disagree with that prediction, it foreshadows the kind of rhetoric the new Congress will face, several people said. Oil companies and their trade group are rolling out a campaign to push for more production, said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program.
“They’re going to say we need an energy plan that focuses on fully developing U.S. energy,” Slocum said. “That means opening up more areas to offshore drilling and ensuring that we preserve the existing array of tax breaks and subsidies.”
The national average price for gasoline hit $3.12 per gallon yesterday, up 21 cents from the post-Thanksgiving price on Nov. 29.
One conservative talking point that crops up with increasing frequency is that by using EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, Obama is effectively short-circuiting democracy, doing via regulatory fiat what Democrats could not accomplish via legislation. The Tea Party right is calling it “backdoor cap-and-trade.” Similar sentiment is reaching even the more reasonable quarters of conservative thought — James Joyner says it’s a “unilateral decision arguably outside the scope of [the president's] Constitutional power” and Conor Friedersdorf cast it as “disregarding separation of powers.”
This way of framing things has certain intuitive appeal as long as you don’t know much about what climate legislation would have done, what EPA plans to do, or the legal environment in which EPA is acting. Unfortunately, this describes the vast bulk of the U.S. political commentariat and, God help us, most legislators. From their distant and ideologically inflected perspective, one “carbon something something” is the same as another.
Just for the record, then, let’s put the “backdoor cap-and-trade” myth to rest.