First green development bank to open in U.K.
With Congress bogged down over high gasoline prices, the head of U.S. operations for Siemens AG said proposals to increase energy efficiency are a “no-brainer” and a doable next step to advance U.S. energy policy.
“It’s thousand-dollar bills lying on the ground. People just need to bend over and pick them up,” said Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens Corp., the U.S. arm of the Munich-based conglomerate.
Short of a national clean energy standard that incentivizes wind, solar, gas and nuclear power, Spiegel said measures encouraging efficiency upgrades across the economy could have the greatest immediate boost for job creation while slashing energy use and carbon pollution.
As a starting point, Spiegel pointed to a bill introduced two weeks ago by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would create loan programs and expand existing ones for energy efficiency. It would strengthen building codes aimed at homes and businesses, set energy standards for various products and encourage upgrades in the power and industrial sectors.
“We need to start with something that’s hard to disagree with,” he said. “It makes economic sense, and it makes sense for reducing energy [use] and reducing greenhouse gases. Most of it is a no-brainer.”
The United Kingdom’s Green Investment Bank will begin distributing loans for clean energy-efficient projects as early as next April, said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Clegg, the leader of the left-leaning Liberal Democrats, said the Green Investment Bank would be the first development bank in the world dedicated to financing green projects. The bank could leverage up to £15 billion ($24 billion) of private-sector investment over the next four years.
“The Green Investment Bank will go from an idea to a flow of investment in under two years, and quickly grow into an independent investing, and then borrowing, institution,” he said, “a real legacy of the coalition government’s green commitment.”
The government will kick-start the fund with a £3 billion ($4.8 billion) investment, said Clegg. The bank will not be able to borrow money until April 2015, contingent on whether the economy has met its target for reducing debt as a percentage of gross domestic product by that time. This block on borrowing has angered environmental groups, which say the bank should be allowed to accept funds from private investors as soon as it opens.
“A strong, independent bank is crucial if the U.K. is able to compete seriously in the rapidly growing £3.2 trillion global market for low-carbon goods and services,” said Greenpeace Executive Director John Sauven. “But it will be hamstrung from the outset by keeping the restriction on borrowing powers until at least 2015. Britain’s ability to attract new industries and create new jobs could still be derailed by Treasury accounting rules.”
Southern Gets Straight “F”s in Grading of “The Dirty Seven” Utilities, Also Home to Three of 10 Worst-Polluting Power Plants in U.S.
On the eve of Southern Company (NYSE: SO) holding its annual meeting of stockholders in Pine Mountain, GA., the nonprofit Green America released a report today ranking the major U.S. power producer as “the United States’ most irresponsible utility.”
Titled “Leadership We Can Live Without: The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for Southern Company,” the Green America analysis assigns letter grades to seven major U.S. utilities on four fronts: reliance on coal; pollution; reliance on and expansion of nuclear power; and lobbying expenditures. Southern came in dead last with straight “F” grades in all four of the categories.
The rest of “The Dirty Seven” were ranked as follows: (1) Exelon; (2) Entergy; (3) Dominion; (4) TVA; (5) Duke and (6) AEP (Southern Company is 7th). Green America’s full report is available online at http://www.greenamerica.org/go/southerncompanyreport/.
Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen said: “Southern Company is one of the nation’s largest utilities, with 4.4 million customers in the American Southeast. Southern Company prides itself on its relatively low rates and its consistent payment of dividends to shareholders. But while ratepayers and shareholders may appreciate these limited economic benefits, they come at a high price: the extraordinary pollution produced by Southern Company, which harms the communities it operates in, as well as fueling global warming, and the risks posed by the company’s increasing use of nuclear power and growing coal ash ponds. The real price of Southern Company’s strategy include: asthma, heart disease, lung disease, air and water pollution, global warming, and the potential for catastrophic accidents.”
A key U.K. parliamentary committee has concluded that drilling for shale gas in the country should be allowed to go ahead because of the potential benefits it could bring to energy supplies and reducing carbon emissions. It noted that, in contrast to the United States, shale drilling in the United Kingdom would not be a game changer.
The all-party Energy and Climate Change Committee, which monitors the activities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change as well as holding its own inquiries, said there was no evidence that the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing to release the gas posed a danger to underground aquifers as long as the well casing itself was intact.
That risk, it said in a report yesterday, came instead in cases when the well was damaged.
“There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling. But our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern — that U.K. water supplies would be put at risk,” said committee Chairman Tim Yeo.
“There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of ‘fracking’ itself, and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained, shale gas extraction should be safe,” he added.
There have been reports of damage to local water supplies in parts of the United States. The recent documentary “Gasland” appeared to show people in shale gas extraction areas being able to ignite their tap water. In France, there have been calls for a complete ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas.
The political battle over legislation that would offer tax incentives to promote natural gas vehicles is heating up, as supporters launch an ad campaign and conservative critics of the bill in a public letter yesterday chided co-sponsors for backing the “misguided” plan.
The new jockeying over the “NAT GAS Act” suggests that its 186 House supporters in both parties could struggle to win a vote on the bill during the pre-August window that sponsors once eyed. What’s more, the emergence among the bill’s foes of the American Energy Alliance — a pro-drilling nonprofit with ties to the oil industry — signals the potential for stronger pushback in the future from oil companies.
AEA President Thomas Pyle, previously a lobbyist for Koch Industries and aide to ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), joined 16 other groups yesterday on a letter to lawmakers that blasted the natural gas bill as a wasteful subsidy.
The letter’s signatories, including the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation’s separate political arm, and the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, warned that backing the bill would amount to shrugging off voter opposition to subsidies that became clear in the midterm elections.
“Co-sponsoring this misguided legislation is a sign that you have not heard the message [of 2010] and are not serious about eliminating expensive, counter-productive energy subsidies,” the groups wrote.
Yet proponents of the “NAT GAS Act,” which would offer tax benefits to buyers and producers of the alternative cars and their infrastructure, contend that limiting vehicle fleets’ fuel mix is a subsidy unto itself — effectively routing taxpayer money to the oil industry and overseas.
Today a slew of top White House energy and environmental officials will roll out new presidential directives that, among other things, will put the federal government on track to purchase 100 percent alternative fuel passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks by 2015.
The effort is not only being touted as a smart way to save on fuel costs but also a key component of a larger goal announced by President Obama to reduce federal agency petroleum fuel use by 30 percent by 2020.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, General Services Administrator Martha Johnson and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley will be on hand at the Department of Energy for today’s announcement. Also expected at the announcement is Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transport Association.
Additionally, GSA today will announce a new pilot project that will incorporate the first electric vehicles and technologies into the 600,000-vehicle federal fleet.
The massive coal-powered Navajo generating station in Page, Ariz., spews tens of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide a year into Western skies, spreading haze across the Grand Canyon and other national parks. By law, the 40-year-old plant is supposed to install the “best available retrofit technology” to scrub emissions from its smokestacks.But two Arizona Republicans have called a congressional hearing for Tuesday in an effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring the retrofits, which they say would cost $1.1 billion and could force the plant, which employs 1,000 people at the power station and a nearby coal mine, to close.
In a letter to the chairmen of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power and the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, Reps. Paul Gosar and Trent Franks said the electricity generated by the plant, which pumps water from the Colorado River to Tucson and Phoenix, “is essential to supplying water to 80% of the state’s population. We must carefully examine regulations that could threaten the state of Arizona’s water and power supply.”
The EPA is scheduled to decide this summer whether to require pollution controls for the plant, which is one of the biggest sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in the country. “Our job is to decide, ‘Are the parks adequately protected?’ ” said Colleen McKaughan, associate director of the EPA’s air division in San Francisco. “And if they’re not, does the facility need additional pollution controls?”
Environmentalists say the plant, besides obscuring the views in parks, is also a health hazard, responsible for high levels of asthma and respiratory disease on the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations. It is also a major source of toxic mercury emissions into the air and rivers. With Arizona in the midst of building several large solar-powered plants, conservationists say the coal generator could be replaced by clean, renewable energy.