Other stories below: Vestas Wind CEO Warns U.S. Wind May “Fall Off a Cliff”; Senate Republicans Fight the EPA
California has hit a major renewable energy milestone: 1 gigawatt — or 1,000 megawatts — of solar power has been installed on rooftops throughout the state, according to a report to be released Wednesday by Environment California, a statewide advocacy group.
One gigawatt is … enough energy to power 750,000 homes. Five countries have hit the 1 gigawatt installation mark to date: Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy and the Czech Republic. California has installed more solar power than France, China and Belgium.
The cumulative tally for California includes solar panels installed on existing homes and commercial buildings as well as new-home construction. It includes solar connected to the electric grid by large utilities like PG&E as well as solar within municipal utilities in cities like Palo Alto and Santa Clara.
The report credits the California Solar Initiative, the state’s aggressive program to encourage homeowners, businesses, local governments and nonprofit organizations to install solar panels on their roofs, with the milestone. About 600 megawatts has been installed through the California Solar Initiative.
“California can become the Saudi Arabia of the sun if it continues to get behind big, successful solar programs,” said Michelle Kinman of Environment California and co-author of “Building a Brighter Future: California’s Progress Toward a Million Solar Roofs.”
U.S. wind turbine sales may “fall off a cliff” unless lawmakers extend tax credits supporting the market beyond 2012, said Ditlev Engel, chief executive officer of Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the biggest maker of the machines.
The so-called production tax credit gives an incentive of 2.2 cents a kilowatt-hour of wind power on payments by turbine operators. Markets have disappeared in the past when such relief is removed, Engel said yesterday in a telephone interview.
“Our concern is that if the PTC is not extended, history has shown us that these markets tend to fall off a cliff,” he said from the company’s main office in Aarhus, Denmark. “We should prepare ourselves for it.”
Ending the program would be a blow to producers including Vestas and General Electric Co., the third-biggest wind turbine maker, already struggling with falling prices amid increased competition from Chinese rivals. Lewis Hay, CEO of clean energy company NextEra Energy Inc., last week said he didn’t expect the business to develop any new wind projects in 2013 and 2014.
Vestas delivered 1,093 megawatts of turbines to the U.S. in 2010, or 19 percent of sales, according to its annual report.
Republicans will get a rare chance to test just how deep the Democrat-controlled Senate’s support for environmental regulations goes.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., plans to offer a resolution Thursday to block newly adopted regulations aimed at curbing power plant pollution that causes unhealthy air downwind.
The Senate has successfully blocked numerous GOP measures to roll back environmental regulations during this Congress. But now Paul is invoking the Congressional Review Act, a rarely-used tactic that requires a simple majority to pass. That means the bar for passage is lower than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. And some Democrats — most likely from states with coal-fired power plants — can safely defect and side with Republicans.
For the GOP, it’s another chance to press the Democratic majority on one of its major election-year issues — rolling back environmental regulations Republicans claim will kill jobs and harm the economy. The Republican-controlled House already has passed a bill that would nullify the cross-state pollution regulation.
The Interior Department on Tuesday announced a proposed five-year offshore oil-and-gas leasing plan that’s far less expansive than what the Obama administration envisioned before the BP oil spill.
The plan formalizes the White House’s retreat from opening areas off the Atlantic coast and deep into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which was contemplated before the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
It remains to be seen whether the plan will hit a political sweet spot for the White House or alienate Obama’s allies heading into 2012.
The administration’s Tuesday energy announcement arrives as President Obama’s overall energy agenda comes under the microscope.
The White House is weighing TransCanada Corp.’s application to build a major pipeline linking Alberta’s oil sands projects to Texas refineries, a plan that’s attracting intense lobbying from environmental groups battling the pipeline and major business groups pushing for its approval.
The oil-and-gas leasing plan’s scope is not a surprise: Interior officials announced they were scaling back the planned leasing expansion last December.
A trade complaint filed against China’s solar manufactures three weeks ago has forced members of the U.S. solar industry to take sides. A group of 25 manufacturers and installers, including SunEdison and SolarCity on Tuesday said they are banding together to oppose the complaint.
The formation of the group, called the Coalition for teAffordable Solar Energy (CASE), is the latest twist in a fight over complex issues about fair competition and the role of government subsidies. The trade complaint, filed by a group led by SolarWorld, contends that Chinese solar panel makers – which receive hefty financial support of the Chinese government – have been flooding the U.S. market with products at unfairly low prices. SolarWorld’s group is asking the U.S. International Trade Commission and the Commerce Department to investigate Chinese silicon solar cell and panel makers and impose duties on what they export to the United States (solar cells are assembled to form solar panels).
It’s hard to imagine the national park’s iconic Joshua trees disappearing, but a few ecologists say climate change could threaten the species.
Dr. Cameron Barrows, an assistant research ecologist at University of California at Riverside’s Palm Desert campus, has spent the last few years working with Joshua Tree National Park to study environmental changes and their affects on plants and animals. Barrows conducts many of the research initiatives at the university’s Center for Conservation Biology.
Barrows creates scientific models and uses what he calls “citizen scientists” to collect information in the field about Joshua tree distribution in JTNP.
“The models we create show how Joshua trees or other species change in response to a warming climate,” Barrows said from his office in Palm Desert Monday.
Based on his findings, Joshua trees will survive in the national park, but not at the levels we see them at today.