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June 20 news: Disclosure of ‘Fracking’ Chemicals to Rise; DOE Funds Mass. Solar Plants

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"June 20 news: Disclosure of ‘Fracking’ Chemicals to Rise; DOE Funds Mass. Solar Plants"

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A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

‘Fracking’ Disclosure to Rise

The natural-gas industry, bowing to longtime pressure, will disclose more information about the chemicals it uses in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing.

On Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill that will require companies to make public the chemicals they use on every hydraulic fracturing job in the state. While a handful of other states have passed similar measures, Texas’s law is significant because oil and gas drilling is a key industry in the state and the industry vocally supported the measure.

Environmental groups said the law doesn’t go far enough, but they agreed it was an important step.

Until recently, much of the industry opposed providing detailed information about its chemicals, arguing that they are trade secrets. But in recent months, as drilling opponents have accused companies of secrecy, many industry leaders have come to view that position as untenable.

“We have seen the light,” Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp., told investors when asked about chemical disclosure at the company’s annual meeting earlier this month.

DOE Loan to Help Fund Two Plants

An expected solar energy boom in the United States and the continued quest to achieve grid parity are factors behind a Department of Energy loan agreement that will help a Massachusetts company build two new plants and create hundreds of permanent jobs.

The DOE’s $150 million loan guarantee to Lexington-based 1366 Technologies will be used to scale the company’s direct wafer technology at a fraction of current costs.

The first commercial facility, a 20-megawatt plant located in the company’s home state of Massachusetts, is scheduled to be fully operational by 2013 and will produce 5 million wafers a year and will employ about 100 people. Construction on the 1,000-MW facility is expected to begin in 2013 and create 300 permanent positions. The second plant could produce 250 million wafers annually. The location of the second U.S. facility has not been decided.

The manufacturing plants will help the company take advantage of expected growth in the industry. According to a European Photovoltaic Industry Association outlook through 2015 released in April, the United States could increase its solar PV capacity from 2.5 GW in 2010 to nearly 32 GW by 2015 under an aggressive policy support model. Because of the downward trend of production costs and the expected increase in transportation, the report expects the U.S. to achieve a growth in domestic manufacturing.

Duke Energy Ohio Proposes Long-Term Electric Security Plan

Duke Energy Ohio today asked regulators for approval of an Electric Security Plan (ESP) for its customers beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Under the proposal, rates would be in effect through May 31, 2021.

“We believe this proposal balances the interests of a number of stakeholders including our customers and investors, while ensuring the state’s long-term energy future,” said Julie S. Janson, president, Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky. “Our customers have told us they want both choice and predictability. We believe our approach promotes competition, offers price stability over the nine-year life of the ESP and satisfies the company’s need to plan for investing in the long-term energy requirements of our region.”

Under the proposed ESP, generation remains unbundled and separate from transmission and distribution service. The plan further unbundles generation service by separating capacity (physical assets) from energy (the actual output). Customers would pay for capacity through a non-bypassable, cost-of-service-based charge, while energy would be priced and purchased through a competitive auction.

Rich Nations Break $30 Billion Climate Promise, Poor World Says

Richer countries have failed to supply the $30 billion of climate financing they pledged at the Copenhagen summit in 2009, developing world officials and non- governmental organizations said.

Only about $5 billion of the funds due to be delivered through next year are “new and additional” as promised, with the rest of the so-called Fast Start money diverted from other aid budgets or previously announced, according to a report by the Washington-based Institute of Policy Studies that was endorsed by Pakistan, Bangladesh and Solomon Islands officials.

“This is overseas development aid repackaged as climate finance,” Farrukh Khan, Pakistan’s lead negotiator, said in an interview in Bonn, Germany, last week. “Deep down, the feeling is very real that this is not happening.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as Nicolas Sarkozy of France and German Premier Angela Merkel, pledged to mobilize the funds in Copenhagen as they could not agree on limiting carbon emissions beyond 2012. The failure to make good on the promise is eroding developing nations’ confidence in the United Nations- led process to limit global warming that is increasingly reliant on goodwill rather than legal guarantees.

New U.N. climate talks proposal would eliminate need for consensus

A new proposal on the table at U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany, would allow decisions to be adopted by a three-fourths majority vote instead of the consensus currently required by the United Nations.

The proposal, co-sponsored by Mexico and Papua New Guinea, could break an almost constant deadlock created by the veto powers granted to all 193 nations. It would allow for decisions to be made via an “overwhelming majority” vote of 75 percent only as a last resort after attempts to build consensus had failed. Many delegates believe the proposal will ultimately fail, since it would require consensus approval in order to go into effect.

It is not the first time that a proposal to eliminate the consensus requirement has been brought up in U.N. climate talks, but the backing of Mexico gives this iteration of the plan more weight.

“We are concerned about the narrow interpretation that provides any party with a veto. We have to reconsider the rules,” said Mexican climate change ambassador Fernando Tudela, who added that in 20 years of climate change negotiations, “we have never voted in this process.”

U.S. states lead on energy efficiency, lower utility bills

As Congress remains in gridlock, U.S. states are taking the lead in energy efficiency. New research shows 26 now have rules that are lowering utility bills for consumers and reducing the need to build new power plants.

From 2004 to 2010, 24 states followed the lead of Texas and Vermont in adopting an Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS), which require utilities to save a certain amount of power each year, according to the first progress report of states that have had such rules for at least two years. The policies require that the savings outweigh the costs.

“These states are demonstrating that energy efficiency programs deliver real savings for utilities and ratepayers, and it is more affordable than any supply-side energy source,” said report author Michael Sciortino of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington-based research group.

Ethanol Industry Is Unruffled by Senate Vote Against Tax Breaks

The Senate dealt the ethanol industry a rare defeat on Thursday when it voted 73-27 to end the annual $6 billion tax break given to blenders of ethanol, along with a tariff on foreign ethanol intended to protect the domestic industry from Brazilian sugar ethanol imports. The vote was on an amendment to a bill with a very uncertain future, but it did suggest that Congress will be looking at ethanol when it takes an ax to federal spending to get the budget deficit and national debt under control later this summer.

Does this mark a brutal turn for an industry that has depended on decades of federal largesse? Probably not.

General Electric Wants to Sell You Everything

Paul Browning, Vice President at General Electric, came out this past week saying that a move to natural gas and renewable energy will be the global long-term trend.

At one level, this is a rather uncontroversial statement. The major options for electricity generation include coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable energy options like wind, solar, hydro and biomass.

Dirty Coal: Given that coal’s impact on human health and the environment costs many times the value of the electricity, its future is dim indeed. In fact, very little new coal capacity has come on line in Europe or the United States in the past decade. AEP, one of the biggest US utilities, announced last week that it would shut down 25% of its coal fleet (about 6,000 MW) EARLY due to environmental challenges.

Unpopular Nuclear: Given that the last nuclear power plant that actually got built was permitted in 1973, the nuclear business in the US has been stagnant for generations. But it was set for a self-proclaimed renaissance until the Fukushima disaster earlier this year. Now few are betting on any renaissance in the US — and European countries like Germany, Switzerland and Italy are shutting down their fleet and/or banning the construction of any new nukes.

So, saying that gas and renewable energy will squeeze out coal and nuclear is in one sense stating the obvious.

The controversy comes in that Mr. Browning is the Vice President of Thermal Products for GE’s Power and Water Division. So, by touting Natural Gas, he is implicitly promoting his own product — possibly at the expense of his colleagues.

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