A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.
One year ago Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ended the climate bill’s misery.
“It’s not a happy anniversary,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who has co-sponsored nearly all the major global warming bills debated over the past decade.
Since the death of cap and trade, careers built around that cause have shifted focus, the national political debate has moved on to debt limits and budget cutting, and dramatic changes envisioned for U.S. energy policy have slipped into a deep freeze.
But with scientists warning that global concentrations of greenhouse gases are nearing a tipping point, many fret that it may be too late by the time Congress returns to the issue.
“I hope we can come back when we can still make a difference instead of in the middle of a catastrophe,” Lieberman said.
Here’s an update on where some of the people and issues at the center of the climate debate stand now:
Joe Romm: The bill had effectively died much earlier, so this is more like the one-year anniversary of Reid pulling the plug, and calling the official time of death.
Setting renewable energy mandates for utilities has been the big policy hammer that forces the use of wind, solar and other sources of cleaner power in the U.S. The pressure has intensified in California now that utilities are required to meet a 33 percent mandate by 2020 and maybe higher.
Utility Pacific Gas and Electric announced this week three power purchase agreements with solar project developers. The three projects will collectively have 50 MW of generation capacity and count as part of a 500 MW program in which PG&E will own 250 MW of solar projects and sign contracts to buy power for another 250 MW. The utility got started on the first 50 MW of its own solar projects earlier this year. Before kick-starting this program, PG&E already signed gigawatts’ worth of power purchase agreements for solar, wind and geothermal energy.
The three developers who will supply power to PG&E are Recurrent Energy, Westlands Solar Farms and Fotowatio Renewable Ventures. These companies promise to start delivering electricity around 2013. If they can meet that time line, then PG&E will be able to count the power toward a 2010 mandate that requires 20 percent of renewable electricity in its energy mix. None of the three big utilities in the state has met that goal yet, though they have a 3-year grace period to do so.
By the end of 2010, Southern California Edison achieved 19.4 percent, PG&E 17.7 percent and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) 11.9 percent, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. Not all contracts signed by the utilities before 2010 have become reality. Some developers couldn’t raise the money and had to sell the development rights or go out of the business all together.
If you’ve been outside recently, you probably realize that this summer is hot. With the latest heat wave now spreading across the country, it’s worth pointing out that many Americans are unknowingly contributing to the soaring temperatures. How? Millions of rooftops in America are made of black tar; and they absorb and trap an enormous amount of heat during the summer months. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s an easy fix to the black roofs problem that people of all political stripes can get behind: paint the black roofs white.
Painting black tar roofs with a white, solar-reflective coating is a low cost, quick and tangible way to reduce the risk of power grid ‘brown-outs’, save millions of dollars in energy costs, and curb climate change. The statistics are as simple as they are staggering: A roof covered with solar-reflective white paint reflects up to 90% of sunlight as opposed to the 20% reflected by a traditional black roof. On a 90°F day, a black roof can be up to 180°F. That heat has a major impact on interior building temperature, potentially heating your room to between 115 – 125°F. A white roof stays a cool 100°F. Plus the inside of the building stays cooler than the air outdoors, around 80°F in this example, reducing cooling costs.
White roofs also reduce the “urban heat island” effect in which temperatures rise in dense urban areas because of the proliferation of heat-radiating, black tar surfaces. For example, the Urban Heat Island effect causes New York City to be about 5 degrees warmer than surrounding suburbs and accounts for 5 to 10 percent of summer electricity use.
In New York City alone, 12% of all surfaces are rooftops. It’s estimated that implementing a white roof program in 11 metropolitan cities could save the United States 7 gigawatts in energy usage. That’s the equivalent of turning off 14 power plants, and a cost savings of $750 million per year.
The White House on Thursday threatened to veto GOP spending legislation for the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency that’s heading for the House floor, alleging it would undermine vital conservation programs and public health protections.
The formal statement of administration policy continues a collision course between the White House and congressional Republicans who are launching consistent attacks on Obama administration green initiatives, such as greenhouse gas regulations.
The lengthy statement criticizes a number of provisions in the bill that would substantially cut spending for the agencies and thwart several specific policies. From the White House statement released Thursday afternoon:
Friday’s Big Story: House lawmakers are slated to vote on separate amendments to spending legislation Friday that would block funding for the use of polystyrene cups and compact fluorescent light bulbs in the Capitol complex.
While issues like light bulbs and coffee cups seem minor, they underscore the growing ideological chasm between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
When Republicans won the House majority, they began phasing out then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Green the Capitol campaign. That meant trading recyclable cups and containers for environmentally harmful polystyrene ones.
Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) are hoping to ban polystyrene containers in the House’s food services facilities with an amendment they offered to a fiscal 2012 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. The Hill first reported on the amendment here.
A separate amendment offered by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) wades into another thorny political issue: light bulbs. The amendment would block funding for the use of energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in the Capitol complex.
Global sales of utility-scale electricity storage (UES) technology will grow at a 36.6% compound annual rate (CAGR) over the next five years, from $3.9 billion in 2010 to $18.5 billion in 2015, as the drive to incorporate renewable power supplies into grids and build outs of transmission interconnections and smart grids accelerates, according to a BCC Research forecast.
Sales of UES technology will grow fastest in North America, BCC forecasts, increasing at a CAGR of 86.2%. UES sales in Europe will grow at a 41% CAGR, while sales in Asia/Australia will grow at a 21.7% CAGR.
Come 2015, according to BCC:
- UES sales in Asia/Australia, valued at $2.7 billion in 2010, will total nearly $7.2 billion;
- UES sales in Europe will increase from nearly $1 billion to $5.3 billion;
- UES sales in North America will increase from $272 million to $6.1 billion.
Utilities are investing heavily in developing innovative large-scale electricity storage systems as global demand for electricity is expected to rise for at least the next two decades, with renewable energy sources expected to supply a much higher percentage of total generating capacity. Government and international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other environmental pollutants, such as mercury and heavy metals, are also spurring investment.