16 Responses to March 14 News: Will N African uprisings hinder or help Desertec renewables? Why India might save the planet; EPA regulations based on output levels
Query: Any reason not to have a shorter headline and drop “Energy and Global Warming”?
Higher oil prices are usually good news for clean energy because they make costly technologies like solar and wind less daunting to investors. But for one of the world’s most ambitious clean-energy projects, Desertec, the instability in North Africa behind the price increases signals a less certain outlook.
Desertec aims to tap the vast solar and wind resources across the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa and, over coming decades, deliver as much as 15 percent of the electricity needed by the European Union through high-voltage transmission lines to be laid under the Mediterranean Sea.
With little assurance about how long instability in the region could last, concerns are growing that investments in Desertec may never materialize or that interest in the project will fade because it risks creating new dependencies on an unstable and potentially hostile region for energy.
At the same time, the sudden surge of interest in promoting democracy and prosperity in North Africa as old regimes are toppled could be a boon for Desertec if the region becomes a more attractive investment destination.
Dii, a company that leads a powerful group of energy and financial companies backing Desertec, has emphasized that it has a long-term rollout plan reaching to 2050, when the current turmoil could be a distant memory.
But Dii also has acknowledged that some projects probably will be delayed.
Even though there were no new obstacles to the first pilot project in Morocco, “of course in other countries in North Africa it’s not so easy to start pilot projects for the time being,” said Paul van Son, the chief executive of Dii.
If you had to name a most valuable player of December’s climate summit in Cancºn, hands down the award would go to Jairam Ramesh. His Mexican hosts, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and ministers from small island-nations such as the Maldives and Kiribati all hailed India’s 56-year-old environmental minister for salvaging the entire endeavor. Ramesh brought the West and developing countries together by pointing at ways to ease access to green technology and suggesting an agreeable way to monitor progress in tamping down emissions. In Cancºn Ramesh proved himself an international power broker, a star among the world’s climate warriors.
But then Ramesh returned home. Awaiting him was the pending approval of a $12 billion steel plant. The deal””the largest single foreign direct investment in India, and clearly a boon to the country’s economy””would also vanquish a track of pristine forest along India’s eastern coast. The project, proposed by the South Korean steel conglomerate Posco, had actually already been approved by his ministry. But local tribal groups were protesting, complaining that the deal endangered their livelihoods, which depend on the forest, and that they were not being fairly compensated for their land. Ramesh heeded their call and temporarily halted the project while two expert panels looked at the issue. Both found Posco in the wrong. But for months, Ramesh let Posco sweat. When he stepped off his flight from Mexico, however, rumors had begun to circulate that Posco was threatening to pull out entirely. Suddenly, Ramesh faced perhaps the biggest decision of his 18-month tenure.
“I am not an environmentalist,” Ramesh told NEWSWEEK last month, sitting in his wood-paneled office in New Delhi. Newspapers were neatly arranged on his desk, and he punched away at a small laptop. The mood was affable, strikingly lacking the usual retinue of assistants and handlers who typically hover around a government minister. “Environmentalism is the environment at all costs,” he said, but India must maintain its breakneck economic growth and do so without devastating the environment.
Finally the day you’ve all been waiting for has arrived: EPA has released its new boiler emissions rules for hazardous pollutants! (The cool kids call it “the boiler MACT.”) Most review and discussion of these rules so far has been silent on the most significant aspect: they introduce output-based emissions standards. As Grist readers know, I’ve been preaching the virtues of output-based standards for years now — this is a wonky subject, but one greens would do well to understand.
Output-based standards have been adopted by several states, but somewhat haphazardly, in part because of a lack of consistent EPA guidance. Given the formidable disincentives to efficiency imposed by the structure of current EPA rules, a shift to output-based standards may well be the single most meaningful thing EPA can do to lower CO2 emissions.
So EPA deserves a lot of praise for starting a transition to output-based standards in the boiler MACT. Success will depend ultimately on the degree to which that rule is integrated into other EPA rule-making, but the first step is a pretty good one.
Chris Huhne has won the support of six other European governments to push for a toughening of the EU’s climate targets, to be discussed in Brussels on Monday . The energy and climate secretary is spearheading a growing movement in favour of a target of 30% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, instead of the current 20%.
He will join his counterparts from Germany, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal and Greece to argue for the higher target at a four-hour meeting of all 27 member states.
In a letter to the Guardian, Huhne and his fellow ministers say: “At a time when the price of oil is soaring, putting in place an ambitious p lan forEurope‘s low-carbon future has wider benefits than tackling climate change. It will increase the continent’s resilience against oil price spikes and reduce its dependence on imported energy. And it will help Europe compete with emerging economies in the fast-growing markets for green goods and services.”
The push for a higher emissions target was boosted last week with publication of the EU’s 2050 low-carbon roadmap, by the climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard. The roadmap showed the EU was on track to reduce emissions by 25% by 2020, if current policies were fulfilled.
The roadmap said a cut of 25% would offer the most cost-effective way for Europe to meet its 2050 target of cutting emissions by at least 80%. As the EU has already cut emissions by 17% compared with 1990 levels, setting a 30% target would “stimulate the right investment in low-carbon infrastructure and technology”, according to the environment and energy ministers.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that he doesn’t believe the U.S. should back away from nuclear energy in the wake of potential reactor meltdowns in Japan.
“This discussion reminds me, somewhat, of the conversations that were going on after the BP oil spill last year,” Mr. McConnell said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy.”
As congressional Republicans engage the White House on the issue of rising energy prices, the potential meltdown at a nuclear facility in Japan threatens to undermine a central element in the Republican push for expanded domestic energy production: new permits and financial incentives to spur the construction of new nuclear facilities in the U.S.
The potential for a nuclear disaster, triggered by last Friday’s record-setting earthquake, could undermine that argument in much the same way that last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico stymied calls to open more offshore sites to underwater oil and gas drilling. With average gas prices nearing $4-a-gallon, Republicans took shots at President Barack Obama this week for issuing too few drilling permits in the Gulf.
As Congress looks for ways to lower energy costs for businesses and individuals, even New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a top Democrat, said Sunday, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I’m still willing to look at nuclear. As I’ve said, it has to be done safely and carefully.”