8 Responses to Energy and global warming news for January 27, 2011: Steven Chu outlines clean energy spending plan; House Democrats introduce oil spill reform bill
A day after President Obama pitched a clean energy agenda in his State of the Union speech, Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined the administration’s strategy for producing 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean sources by 2035 “” and how much it might cost.
The strategy includes doubling the number of the department’s energy innovation hubs to six and adding more than $8 billion for new clean-energy funding in the upcoming budget, roughly a third more than in the president’s 2010 budget request. Obama’s plan to “win the future” suggests that the money would be paid for by cutting tax subsidies for fossil fuel producers.
What each of the new energy hubs would specialize in is still a work in progress. But in a Wednesday morning event at the department’s headquarters, Chu announced that General Motors had signed an agreement to use advanced battery technology developed at Argonne National Lab “” a sign of DOE’s chops in deploying high tech.
Obama did not use the term “climate change” in his speech Tuesday night, and Chu said the administration will now emphasize economics in its energy strategy. But he added, “It’s very clear that the president thinks clean energy and our environmental goals are a very big deal to him.”
Chu continued Obama’s “Sputnik moment” theme to suggest that the United States take the “moon shot” of President John Kennedy as a model, and push instead for a “sun shot” to make solar electricity cost-competitive with fossil sources by the end of the decade.
China plans to step up efforts to develop clean energy and other technology industries this year, government officials said Thursday, a strategy that has strained trade ties with Washington and other governments.
Beijing also will create an “enabling environment” for homegrown next-generation mobile technology and electric cars, said Zhu Hongren, a spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
“China will further develop a series of plans for development of these important sectors,” Zhu said at a news conference.
Zhu gave no details of planned support. But efforts to nurture Chinese producers of clean energy and other technologies with subsidies and preference in government procurement have triggered complaints Beijing was violating free trade principles. Washington filed a World Trade Organization case in December challenging subsidies to Chinese producers of wind and solar equipment.
Communist leaders are promoting work on a range of technologies from semiconductors to genetics in hopes of creating profitable industries and reducing China’s reliance on foreign know-how. Clean energy is getting special attention because Beijing wants to curb China’s surging appetite for imported oil.
The Environmental Protection Agency last week cleared the way for gasoline to be blended with up to 15 percent ethanol – a formulation that will make certain engines sputter and stall.
It’s a decision that has raised opposition across the political spectrum. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, have raised concern about the limited availability of pure gasoline. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, objected that the new blend is unsuitable for many engines.
“Many Mainers are skeptical of ethanol, and for good reason,” Pingree said. “Many of our cars and small engines can’t burn it safely, it takes an enormous amount of fossil fuel to produce, and it costs us billions of dollars in federal subsidies every year.”
The EPA acknowledges that the 15 percent ethanol blend is not suitable for small engines or vehicles built before 2001, but says it is not mandating its use. Replying to Snowe’s objections, an EPA official said that the new waiver “allows but does not require E15 to be sold.”
The agency also said appropriate labeling of pumps will be required, and noted that the waiver is consistent with the goal of making increased use of renewable fuels.
House Democrats today introduced new, revamped legislation to reform and renew the practices and oversight of the offshore oil industry following the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The legislation reflects the recommendations of the independent oil spill commission tasked with investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the practices of the oil industry. The bill, called the Implementing the Recommendations of the BP Oil Spill Commission Act, also includes elements from the oil spill response bill that House Democrats passed in July of 2010.
The legislation includes the following major elements, which all reflect the recommendations of the spill commission:
–Reorganizes the Interior Department and strengthens the Department’s offshore oil safety agency.
–Creates a dedicated funding stream to the federal agencies responsible for regulating and overseeing the safety of offshore drilling.
–Establishes unlimited liability for companies in the event of an oil spill as a deterrent against risky practices.
–Dedicates 80 percent of the fines from the oil spill to Gulf of Mexico restoration efforts.
–Increases the role of experts in the U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the decision-making process for where new oil drilling can occur.
–Requires the Federal Government to develop realistic worst-case flow-rate models and for oil companies to use them when they create real, worst-case scenario oil spill response plans.
–Creates a dedicated funding stream for oil spill research and development.
–Increases the per incident payout from the oil spill liability trust fund.
–Creates permanent government expertise on estimating and measuring the flow rates from deepwater spills.
–Requires research into gaps in scientific data and response capabilities in the Arctic.
–Requires strong new standards for blowout preventers, well design and cementing practices.
–Requires extensive study of the potential effects of dispersant use on aquatic life and the environment.
“This legislation turns the lessons of the BP oil spill into the laws that will ensure this type of disaster does not happen again in American waters,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee. “This legislation will allow the offshore oil industry to continue doing business while changing the business-as-usual practices that led to the Gulf of Mexico spill.”
Matt Kier oversees a showroom of advanced energy technologies.
There’s a concentrated solar array whose curved mirrors move to follow a light that mimics the passing sun. There are a pair of small buoys that show how energy from waves can be converted to electricity and sent back to shore through underwater coils. And there’s a model of a town and military outpost that demonstrate how micro-grid technology can better manage energy use and reroute supplies during outages.
Kier doesn’t work for a alternative-energy startup. He’s an engineer for Lockheed Martin, one of the country’s largest defense contractors. And the display room, which the company calls its Energy Solutions Center, is nestled near fighter, space, electronics and cybersecurity displays just down the road from the Pentagon.
Over the past two and a half years, the Department of Defense has undertaken an ambitious effort to cut its energy use, start tapping renewable sources and understand the impact of climate change on its operations. Each military branch has laid out energy targets and has goals for reducing fuel use in vehicle fleets and feeding bases with alternative energy. For example, the Navy has committed to getting half its energy from alternative sources by 2020 and by then expects it will use 8 million barrels of biofuel a year.
As the military gears up to meet its energy goals, it will rely on defense companies to help plan, engineer and build a leaner, greener force.
Germany should cap solar power subsidies, cutting payments for new plants once added capacity exceeds 1 gigawatts nationally in any one year, a panel of experts that advises Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
The Berlin-based panel’s findings, released in a 680-page report today, call on Merkel to steadily reduce aid annually as well as apply a cap on subsidizing “overcapacity.” A jump in capacity is pushing up German power prices and squeezing out investments in other renewable energy sources, the panel said.
“A drastic throttling of solar subsidies in coming years is a must,” the panel said. The subsidies are pushing up power prices at a rate that is “endangering the acceptance” of renewable energy, they said. The government forecasts an added 9.5 gigawatts of solar capacity this year, almost 10-fold growth over what the panel said is acceptable.
Merkel’s government is steadily paring solar aid rates to curb the cost to consumers who pay for subsidies in their power bills. Solar-panel prices fell about 50 percent in the last two years, spurring a boom in new installations on roof-tops and fields and led to a glut on the German market. The government has so far shied from implementing a cap, which solar power federations claim would dry up panel sales.