A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.
By Time’s Michael Grunwald
I doubt the facts are going to matter much now that Republicans have latched onto the Solyndra solar “scandal,” and even if they did matter, I’d be the wrong guy to defend the Obama administration (and some of the world’s top venture capitalists) for making the same honest mistake I made. After a few dozen Solyndra hearings like the one in the House today, nobody’s going to remember the Bush administration was just as hellbent to make this loan. Nobody’s going to care that all successful loan programs have failures, that the Solyndra venture was barely 1% of the Energy Department’s $40 billion clean-energy portfolio, that there will still be over $2 billion in reserves for busted loans no matter how Solyndra shakes out. That’s politics.
But I do want to push back against the idea that Solyndra’s failure reflects some kind of failure of the solar industry. That’s just wrong. The solar industry is on fire, thanks to the same collapse in prices that doomed Solyndra.
In just the last two months, about 7,000 megawatts of new solar projects were added to the U.S. pipeline. That’s the equivalent of seven nuclear reactors, , which is seven more than we’ve built in the last three decades. [JR: The lower capacity factor for PV lowers it by about a factor of 4 for nukes, which tend to be large in size -- the analogy would be better for fossil fuel plants, which are smaller -- JR]. And that doesn’t include residential projects, like the unprecedented “Solar Strong” effort to install photovoltaic panels on 160,000 rooftops on military housing that was just announced last week. The U.S. solar market doubled last year, and it’s expected to double again this year, even though many states are reducing their subsidies. How many other industries are growing that fast in this economy?
Like every other U.S. energy source, solar is federally subsidized. The loan guarantee program has been a particularly crucial driver for unusually large or innovative projects, like Project Solar Strong or a 250-megawatt solar generation plant in the Mojave Desert that just finalized a $1.2 billion loan guarantee on Tuesday, and will provide clean renewable power for more than 50,000 homes. Last week, the Obama administration approved a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, a Massachusetts firm with a new manufacturing process that could cut the cost of silicon wafers 50% and make solar even more cost-competitive.
It’s true that these are tough times for solar-panel manufacturers. Solyndra had a cool technology, but it couldn’t produce panels cheap enough to compete with Chinese manufacturers that received over $30 billion in government funding last year. It’s also true that government loan programs are inherently messy; former Obama economic adviser Larry Summers really hated them. Jonathan Silver, the head of the loan program, once told me he’d stipulate that a strict carbon-pricing regime that penalized fossil fuels for their pollution would be a more efficient way of helping green energy compete on a level playing field. But the same Republicans who are mocking the loan program killed Obama’s cap-and-trade regime.
It never ceases to amaze me how Washington wise men seem to think of renewable energy as some kind of gee-whiz Jetsons technology. I was on some TV show with Sam Donaldson after Fukushima, and he scoffed that maybe we’d have wind and solar someday, but not in his lifetime. Dude! It’s here! Wind is now a bigger employer than coal. Solar is finally scaling up, which is why its costs are falling down. The notion that you have to plunk down $50,000 for a solar system is totally 2008. In much of the country, companies like Solar City and SunRun now finance deals where you plunk down zero dollars to get a panel on your roof, then pay for it with a fixed monthly fee that’s less than what you save on your electric bill.
The collapse of Solyndra is an embarrassing bump on the road to a clean-energy future. Maybe it’s a coincidence that the politicians who are hyping Solyndra tend to be the politicians who want to close that road. But we’re getting farther down the road than people realize. And it’s taking us where we need to go.
Related Post: Solar Stunner: America is a $1.9 Billion Exporter of Solar Products (source of chart at the top)
The private sector needs to make a “quantum leap” by joining forces in lobbying efforts, radically changing business models and increasing investment in order to combat climate change, the U.N.’s climate chief said on Wednesday.
Leaders of 193 countries are set to meet for the next annual U.N. climate summit in November in South Africa, where governments will discuss ways to encourage investments to reach at least $100 billion a year by 2020 toward tackling climate change.
Companies that advocate climate change need to have a stronger, unified voice to counteract others that might oppose stronger action, said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, in a webcast of a meeting of chief executives in London.
Hard on the heels of the Obama administration’s decision earlier this month to scrap a new rule for ozone emissions, U.S. EPA appears poised to miss another major regulatory deadline — this time for greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmentalists are reserving judgment about the fact the agency has yet to send its proposed rule for greenhouse gas emissions from utilities to the White House Office of Management and Budget for vetting, a necessary final step before the rule can be released in compliance with the court-ordered deadline of Sept. 30.
But conservationists warn that if the administration delays another important rule for apparently political reasons, it will face stiff opposition from its sometime-allies in the green community.
“It’s starting to look as if EPA might blow another deadline,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “That would be very disturbing.”
Champlin/GEI Wind Holdings LLC, a North American wind-energy developer backed by Good Energies Inc., asked state regulators for permission to build a 990- megawatt wind farm in southeast Nevada.
The project would use as many as 350 turbines, according to a permit application filed with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. The cost wasn’t disclosed.
The project is one of the first proposed by Santa Barbara, California-based Champlin/GEI since its creation in November, after Good Energies agreed to provide as much as $50 million to co-owner Champlin Windpower LLC, a closely held company formed in 2006 to develop U.S. projects.
Congressman Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, again slammed the federal Environmental Protection Agency in an appearance today on Fox Business.
Ross has long been vocal in his opposition of the EPA-mandated “numeric nutrient criteria,” a set of standards that would govern water pollution in Florida.
Saying they are based on “junk science,” Ross argued that the criteria would have a deliterous impact on Floridians. “The EPA is going wild, and is not relying on genuine science or logic and reason in its implementation of its regulations,” Ross said. Shortly after, Ross said the EPA is hampering the fishing industry in Florida. “They [the fishing industry] can do a very good job making sure they’re policing it the way it ought to be policed because their livelihoods depend on it,” he said.