Energy and global warming news for March 7, 2011: Last coal plant in Pacific Northwest to shut down by 2025; Climate change “will wreak havoc on Britain’s coastline by 2050”

Last coal plant in Pacific Northwest to shut down starting in 2020

The last coal-fired power plant in the Pacific Northwest will shut down completely by 2025 under an agreement announced Saturday by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. The first boiler of TransAlta’s 1,460-megawatt plant in Centralia, Wash., is set to go offline in 2020 and the second in 2025.

“This agreement is sending a message that states are getting serious about combating global-warming pollution and are taking steps to open up markets for home-grown clean energy,” said Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director with the Sierra Club, whose Beyond Coal Campaign has been involved in the negotiations. Nilles hinted at the breakthrough during a keynote speech at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Ore., but commented only after the announcement.

The only other such plant in the Pacific Northwest, the PG&E plant near Boardman, Ore., is already under an agreement to go offline in 2020.

Negotiations have been underway on the Washington plant for two years but accelerated over the last few months as the governor worked with environmental groups, unions and members of the community in southwest Washington and TransAlta to meet the state’s clean-energy goals. In 2009, Gregoire signed an executive order directing the state to apply mandated greenhouse-gas-emissions performance standards by no later than Dec. 31, 2025.

Saturday’s agreement moves up the timeline for meeting those performance standards for one of the two boilers to Dec. 31, 2020; the other boiler is still set to close Dec. 31, 2025.

The Sierra Club and other groups have been hammering at the coal industry over the last decade, and at coal-fired power plants in particular, as a leading source of environmental toxins and greenhouse-gas emissions.  A Bush administration energy plan had proposed 150 new coal-fired power plants, later increased to 200. Litigation and public outcry have stopped most them. Of the 200 proposed plants, 150 have been dropped, 16 have been built, and the remainder are still the subject of ongoing litigation and negotiation.

Los Angeles is also the target of a clean-energy campaign by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power buys about 40% of its power from coal-fired plants in Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.

Nilles points out that California, Oregon and Washington have no coal resources and must import coal, so transitioning to cleaner fuels also means economic benefits, as the states spend on gas, wind, solar and clean energy innovations instead. “Shutting down coal offers a huge boost for clean-energy entrepreneurs, many of whom are in California, Oregon and Washington,” he added.

Climate change ‘will wreak havoc on Britain’s coastline by 2050’

Millions living near the coast are likely to be hit by rising sea levels, erosion and storm surges, warns a new study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

On Benbecula, they know all too well that rising tides threaten the UK’s coastline. For the 1,200 inhabitants of the small, low-lying island in the Outer Hebrides, the sea’s encroachment is becoming a serious problem, especially on its western shores.

Impacts of Climate Change on Disadvantaged UK Coastal Communities, a report to be published tomorrow by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an influential thinktank, records how local people have seen the coastline retreat before their eyes in just a few years.

The threat posed by erosion has been exacerbated by the fact that the sea has taken material from the island’s beaches that is normally used for constructing roads and buildings. But Benbecula is not alone: the report claims that rising sea levels are likely to have a “severe impact” on much of the UK’s coastline by 2080.

The authors note that “the total rise in sea levels off the UK coast may exceed one metre, and could potentially reach two metres”. They warn that “the frequency of intense storm events is expected to increase and, along with the rise in sea level, to lead to more coastal flooding”.

As a result, many of the 30 million people living near the UK’s coastline – which has 291 inhabited islands – will need to anticipate how climate change will affect them. “We haven’t devoted enough time to debating these issues,” said Jeremy Richardson, director of the engineering consultancy URS-Scott Wilson, who co-authored the report.

“Because we’re talking about what happens in 2050 to 2080, people tend not to talk about this, but the coast is going to be at the forefront of these climate change impacts. We’re not just talking about flooding or drought, but also rising sea levels and an increase in storminess; it will affect a lot of towns, many of which are especially vulnerable because they are isolated geographically.”

Obama considers tapping oil reserve

The Obama administration is considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in response to rapidly rising gasoline prices brought on by turmoil in the Middle East, the White House chief of staff, William M. Daley, said on Sunday.

“It’s something that only has been done on very rare occasions,” Mr. Daley said on “Meet the Press” on NBC, adding, “It’s something we’re considering.”

Administration officials have sent mixed signals about the possibility of opening the reserve, which would add supply to the domestic oil market and tend to push down prices.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Friday that the administration was monitoring prices, but he has been reluctant to endorse more aggressive steps.

“We don’t want to be totally reactive so that when the price goes up, everybody panics, and when it goes back down, everybody goes back to sleep,” he said.

House GOP, Dems call on administration to speed up drilling permit process

Eleven House Democrats and dozens of Republicans, including several from Texas, have introduced a resolution calling on the Obama administration to speed up the process for approving shallow and deepwater oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

The resolution, H.Res. 140, would ask the Department of the Interior to streamline the review and “appropriate approval” of applications for shallow and deepwater drilling permits in the Outer Continental shelf. It also asks that Interior immediately provide a sample drilling application, provide guidance on how to fill them out successfully, and provide detailed and timely explanations of why permits are not accepted.

The lead sponsor, Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), said approval of drilling permits is critical for job growth and U.S. energy security, but that only a few dozen permits have been approved since last October, when the administration lifted the deepwater drilling moratorium.

Energy geeks converge on M.I.T.

Put on a blindfold, throw a dart at a calendar, and you’ll probably pierce a date on which an energy conference is being held somewhere around the world.

But while many are more lavishly underwritten, few can match the unbridled enthusiasm of the annual energy fªte “” entirely organized by students “” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Now in its sixth year, the M.I.T. Energy Conference has established itself as a popular destination for industry wonks, venture capitalists and freelance energy geeks looking for a glimpse into how techno-visionaries hope to solve a daunting problem: providing energy for the planet’s six billion people reliably, affordably and, ideally, without making a mess.

Little pessimism was on display at Friday night’s “Energy Showcase.”

Against an ambient backdrop of bubbly live jazz and $9 beers, StranWind’s vertical axis turbine, designed for residential or commercial customers, turned a lot of heads “” even if Clark Gellings, a vice president for technology at the Electric Power Research Institute, dismissed small-scale wind as uneconomical during a Grid 101 session earlier in the day.

Oil lobbyists focus new attention on regulators

With Congress in friendlier hands, oil and gas lobbyists are shifting more of their attention away from Capitol Hill and to a new arena: the federal agencies developing aggressive regulations that will affect how the industry does business.

That means lobbyists who have focused on Congress for years are trying to adapt and make their arguments to audiences in the executive branch while keeping an eye on Capitol Hill and getting acquainted with more than 100 new House and Senate members.

Even when Democrats controlled both chambers, the industry beat back legislation to force caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Then it faced heightened scrutiny and legislative initiatives prompted by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – including a proposal to lift or eliminate a 21-year-old cap on spill liability.

That and other big proposals “mobilized people in a way they had not been mobilized before,” said Bruce Vincent, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Is China winning?

In recent years, China has spent enormous sums on clean technologies. The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray and Kimberley A. Strassel talked about the China market with Louis R. Chªnevert, chairman and CEO of United Technologies Corp.; Mark R. Pinto, executive vice president of Applied Materials Inc.; and Shi Zhengrong, chairman and CEO of Suntech Power Holdings Co. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.

MR. MURRAY: Three years ago, people thought of China as a problem because it had the highest rate of greenhouse-gas emissions. Increasingly, you hear people talk about China as the source of the solution. All three of you work in both the U.S. and China. We’d like to talk about how the two markets compare.

MR. CHŠNEVERT: I spend a lot of time in China because it’s a high-growth market for us. China today is growing extremely fast. You can’t be an elevator company and not be in China because one in two sold globally is sold to China.

We sell today the regenerative drive, which is the energy-efficient elevator, representing one-third of sales in China when it was only 5% 10 years ago. They’ve caught up. It’s now the same percentage of ReGen drive elevators sold in China as what we sell in the U.S.

Minnesota Reps. taking heat for moves to block EPA

Environmental groups are going after Minnesota members of Congress who have voted to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas pollution. A recent poll shows that votes by Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Chip Cravaack aren’t popular in their districts, and Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat, is getting attacked from both sides “” the GOP says his stance against EPA regulation is “wishy washy,” while interest groups say he’s siding with foreign oil producers.
In late February, the U.S. House voted to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gasses as air pollution in an amendment to the government spending bill. That bill would be valid for the rest of 2011. Voting for the ban were Republican Reps. Erik Paulsen, John Kline, Bachmann and Cravaack who were joined by DFLer Peterson.

Peterson has backed up his opposition to the EPA Thursday by signing on to a bill that would permanently bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

The Truman National Security Project (TNSP), a national security nonprofit that views dependence on foreign oil to be a national security concern, criticized Peterson in an email to the Minnesota Independent. The group has created a campaign called Operation Free: Secure America with Clean Energy.

15 Responses to Energy and global warming news for March 7, 2011: Last coal plant in Pacific Northwest to shut down by 2025; Climate change “will wreak havoc on Britain’s coastline by 2050”

  1. Karmel Korn says:

    M.I.T. Energy conference? Is it sponsored by the Kochs since they went there?

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Good news from Gregoire, and Sierra Club deserves credit for their hard work here, too.

    Replacing that power is doable, but will require a commitment. There is no more power to be had from Columbia dams, and population will increase. Electric cars may make enough demand on the grid to offset other efficiencies.

    Buildings are responsible for 40% of our emissions. Washington and Oregon need to follow California’s lead in incentivizing solar, insulation, energy management microprocessors, and all of the existing technologies that reduce energy demand. The climate in the NW is mild, especially compared to countries such as Sweden that use less building energy per capita.

  3. Fred Heutte says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words. I would like to point out that the Northwest has been doing all the things mentioned. The recently completed 6th Regional Plan from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council projects that energy efficiency will cover 85% of all load growth for the next 20 years, and renewable energy will cover the rest.

    “The resource strategy can be summarized in five specific recommendations

    “1. Improved efficiency of electricity use is by far the lowest-cost and lowest-risk resource available to the region. Cost-effective efficiency should be developed aggressively and on a consistent basis for the foreseeable future. The Council’s plan demonstrates that cost-effective e\fficiency improvements could on average meet 85 percent of the region’s growth in energy needs over the next 20 years.

    “2. Renewable resource development is required by resource portfolio standards in three of the four Northwest states. The most readily available and cost-effective renewable resource is wind power and it is being developed rapidly. Wind requires additional strategies to integrate its variable output into the power system and, in addition, it provides little capacity value for the region. The region needs to devote significant effort to expanding the supply of cost-effective renewable resources, many of which may be small scale and local in nature.

    “3. Remaining needs for new energy and capacity should be based on natural gas-fired generation until more attractive technologies become available. The resource strategy does not include any additional coal-fired generation to serve the region’s needs. Further, the Council’s plan demonstrates that meeting the Northwest power system’s share of carbon reductions called for in some state, regional, and federal carbon-reduction goals will require reduced reliance on the region’s existing coal plants.

    “4. The challenges of wind integration and the need for additional within-hour reserves initially should be addressed through improvements in system operating procedures and business practices. Changes in wind forecasting, reserve sharing among control areas, scheduling the system on a shorter time scale, and advancing dynamic scheduling can all help address wind integration and contribute to a more efficient use of existing system flexibility. The region is already making significant progress in these areas.

    “5. Finally, the Council’s resource strategy calls for efforts to expand long-term resource alternatives. The region should demonstrate the potential of smart-grid applications to improve the operation and reliability of the regional power system and to access the potential of consumers to provide demand response for the capacity and flexibility of the power system. The region should continue to assess new efficiency opportunities, expand the availability of cost-effective renewable energy technologies, and monitor development of carbon capture and sequestration, advanced nuclear technologies, and other low-carbon or no-carbon resources.”

  4. 350 Now says:

    McKibben, Radford and Tarbotton are calling for big, brash, nonviolent climate protests

    And don’t forget to pencil in Mother’s Day -Sunday, May 8, 2011

  5. paulm says:

    As global warming worsens, Canada may become the world’s wealthiest country.

  6. Mark says:

    Good article by John Church on sea level rise here

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Minor correction: the Boardman coal burner belongs to PGE [Portland General Electric] not to PG&E [California’s Pacfic Gas & Electric].

    Boardman & AltaVista are not the only coal burners providing electic power to the Pacfic Northwest. There are also ColStrip 1 & 2, massive coal burners in eastern Montana with a 750 kVA transmission to customers further west, including me. [26% of my electric power comes from those two coal burners]

  8. Ziyu says:

    It’s funny how the GOP always calls for speeding up oil drilling permits and favors skipping environmental reviews while advocating for the utmost stringency when approving renewable energy projects. It needs to be the other way around. Renewables need an expedited process to make up for that fact that fossil fuels got a head start whiel fossil fuel extraction has inherent risks and need to be carefully considered before approval.

  9. Paulm says:

    Hill said the employees were preparing to “frac,” which is a process used to fracture rocks, so that gas can be extracted from the ground. But the process hadn’t started yet.

  10. Paulm says:,0,7913734.story?page=2

    Were bumping along in recession and gas prices are skyrocketing. Darker clouds ahead…..

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    Forecasters say north Queensland can expect more torrential rain in coming days.

    The heaviest daily fall was recorded at Black River with 260mm, Bushland Beach had 265mm, Paluma Dam had 210mm and Cardwell Gap 213mm.

    Meanwhile, parts of far western Queensland have turned into an inland sea with floodwaters spreading 20 kilometres wide.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Colorado Bob #14 do you know what the denialist industry in Australia has resorted to in the face of these ongoing precipitation catastrophes? Why they turned to the time-worn propaganda charms of Clive James, an expatriate Rightwinger who has added a vociferous denialism to his stock-in-trade over recent years (it adds to his marketability, I suppose). He has ‘demolished’ all this ‘alarmist’ and ‘warmist’ nonsense, not with science-oh, Heaven forfend! That’s not our Clive’s forte, by any means. No he turns to a poem written by Dorothea Mackellar a hundred years or so ago, popular in Australia, that speaks of a country of ‘droughts and flooding rains’ie its all happened before, a standard denialist canard. So there you have it-the intellectual and moral level of the denialist elite. Throw out centuries of science, the consensus of all Academies of Science and the observable facts, and replace them with one or two phrases from a poem, taken out of context. And the denialist rabble are positively orgiastic in their hysterical adulation of their new hero. Moreover, if you look it up, in ‘Standpoint’ magazine, check out the milieu which James now inhabits. I suppose no-one else, but the Murdoch apparat, of course, would publish it.