February 15 News: U.S Solar Installations Rise 67% in Q4 2011 Due to Price Drops, Expiring Incentives

Other stories below: Texas farmer wins restraining order against TransCanada; Obama’s Wish List for Energy

U.S. Solar Projects Rise 67% in Quarter Amid Price Drop, SEIA Says

Installation of solar panels in the U.S. surged as much as 67 percent in the fourth quarter as developers raced to qualify for an expiring federal incentive program and panel prices fell 16 percent, a trade group said.

Developers installed 700 megawatts to 750 megawatts of rooftop and ground-mounted systems in the quarter, compared with 450 megawatts in the third quarter, according to preliminary estimates from the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association.

Installations this year may grow by 3,000 megawatts to 4,000 megawatts, up from about 1,800 megawatts in 2011, if a U.S. Treasury Department incentive known as the 1603 program is renewed, said Rhone Resch, the trade group’s chief executive officer.

Last year “was an incredible year and 2012 could be even better if Congress extends the grant program,” Resch said in an interview today.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Texas Farmer Wins Temporary Restraining Order Against TransCanada

A coalition of environmentalists, conservative property rights activists and landowners are mounting a full court press against TransCanada in an attempt to derail the oil company’s attempts to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. On Monday, they won a small victory when a Lamar County judge issued a temporary restraining order against the company’s plans to do construction work on a farm near Paris, Texas.

The coalition’s efforts are reminiscent of another battle during the last decade over eminent domain in Texas, concerning a massive “superhighway,” known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, that Republican Gov. Rick Perry had sought to build with the help of a Spanish company. Perry lost that fight to a coalition of conservative ranchers and environmentalists, dealing him a serious political blow.

“We are involved because it’s starting to look a whole lot like the Trans-Texas Corridor battle,” said Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. “When push comes to shove, it’s clear to me that my party is more interested in oil and gas interests than property rights,” added Hall, a Republican.

TransCanada Considering Splitting Up Keystone XL Project

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada Corp. (TRP) said it has received more interest from oil shippers in splitting off the southernmost piece of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, which wouldn’t need the same cross-border approval that is stalling the full pipeline, envisioned to run from Alberta to Texas.

The 435-mile final leg of Keystone would help relieve a glut at the key U.S. oil storage hub in Cushing, Okla., by opening up another route to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. This month, the gap between the international seaborne oil price and the price in the U.S. midcontinent nearly doubled to $19 a barrel from below $10 a barrel at the beginning of the year.

“Over the last month we’ve seen a lot of inbound interest from potential shippers as to whether we could go forward with the Cushing-to-Gulf-Coast phase,” the president of TransCanada’s oil pipelines business, Alex Pourbaix, told investors on a conference call Tuesday. Pourbaix said there is “potentially a lot of merit” in the idea and that the Calgary pipeline company is reviewing the details of a potential split off.

Can America adjust to higher gas prices?

Normally, gas prices don’t spike until the summer, when driving picks up. Not this year. Gas prices are already surging to $3.50 per gallon nationally, in part because a number of refineries in the Northeast, Texas and Louisiana shut down early for maintenance (they usually do this each year around March to switch from winter to summer fuel blends). Many analysts are predicting $4-per-gallon gas or higher by May. Is this survivable?

Obama’s Wish List for Energy

The Energy Department’s budget request for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 sounds a familiar theme. “The United States is competing in a global race for the clean energy jobs of the future,’’ a cover letter from the federal energy secretary, Steven Chu, says.

“Do we want the clean energy technologies of tomorrow to be invented in America by American innovators, made by American workers and sold around the world?” he writes. “Or do we want to concede those jobs to our competitors?”

Yet the $27.2 billion budget request itself is mostly about nuclear energy. It calls for $7.6 billion for a “safe, secure” stockpile of weapons, $2.5 billion for nonproliferation efforts and $5.7 billion for the continuing struggle to clean up the environmental effects of weapons manufacturing dating back to the Manhattan Project and the cold war.

Venture capitalists play key role in Obama’s Energy Department

Sanjay Wagle was a venture capitalist and Barack Obama fundraiser in 2008, rallying support through a group he headed known as Clean Tech for Obama.

Shortly after Obama’s election, he left his California firm to join the Energy Department, just as the administration embarked on a massive program to stimulate the economy with federal investments in clean-technology firms.

Following an enduring Washington tradition, Wagle shifted from the private sector, where his firm hoped to profit from federal investments, to an insider’s seat in the administration’s $80 billion clean-energy investment program.

He was one of several players in venture capital, which was providing financial backing to start-up clean-tech companies, who moved into the Energy Department at a time when the agency was seeking outside expertise in the field. At the same time, their industry had a huge stake in decisions about which companies would receive government loans, grants and support.

Solar: Analysts See Steeper German Subsidy Cuts

Solar shares are coming under pressure Tuesday morning as several analysts warn that the industry faces the prospect of steeper-than-expected cuts in Germany’s feed-in-tariff, in what could be a potential broad hit to demand in the one of world’s largest solar market.

Deustsche Bank analyst Vishal Shah reported in a research note this morning that checks find that “a worse than expected proposal to cut subsidies could get introduced” at Germany’s cabinet minister’s meeting tomorrow. He says there’s a possibility of a 15% April cut along with a 2% monthly reduction thereafter, as well as a subsidy cap. He notes that solar stocks are up better than 50% on average year to date, and that “a potentially negative Germany policy outcome could likely act as a near-term overhang for these stocks.”

Shah says he considers MEMC Electronic Materials as the “most defensive” choice in the solar group, and First Solar having the most downside risk. He says that Tier 1 China-based solar plays – Trina Solar, Yingli Green Energy and Suntech Power – also are vulnerable to near-term German policy shifts.

11 Responses to February 15 News: U.S Solar Installations Rise 67% in Q4 2011 Due to Price Drops, Expiring Incentives

  1. catman306 says:

    WAYNESBORO, Ga. — The Obama administration’s top energy official is coming to Georgia to visit the site where the U.S. plans to build its first new nuclear plant in a generation.

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    A tale in three pictures.

    Below, see Northern Hemisphere methane (ppbv) in December of 2011, followed by methane levels in January 2012.

    Finally, for comparison, I’ve added Northern Hemisphere methane levels from January 2003.

    Graphics from by Dr. Yurganov, Senior Research Scientist, Joint Center for Earth SystemsTechnology, Atmospheric Remote Sensing, University of Maryland Baltimore County.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Leak exposes how Heartland Institute works to undermine climate science

    Libertarian thinktank keeps prominent sceptics on its payroll and relies on millions in funding from carbon industry, papers suggest

    • Bjorn Lomborg’s climate sceptic thinktank to close
    • Heartland Institute launches a ‘closed’ climate change wiki

    The billionaire Charles Koch, a key financier of the Heartland Institute, which works to undermine the established science on climate change. Photograph: Koch Industries

  4. NOAA State of the Climate Report – January 2012

    The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for January 2012 was the 19th warmest on record at 12.39°C (54.30°F), which is 0.39°C (0.70°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). The margin of error associated with this temperature is +/- 0.08°C (0.14°F). This January is the coolest of all months on record since January 2008. However, it also marks the 26th January and 323rd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985.

    This report is also consistent with NASA GISS which they found that January 2012 was the 18th warmest January on record:

  5. Paul Magnus says:

    we love nuclear… not…

    The “evaporator D” project was originally estimated to cost £90m and was due to be completed as early as 2010. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which has taken over responsibility for running Sellafield from the defunct British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, said that the actual costs are now estimated to be “around £400m” with a completion date no sooner than 2014.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Of course weapons stockpiles, nonproliferation efforts and weapons production cleanup have nothing whatsoever to do with civilian nuclear energy production or the associated engineering which is a very small part of the DoD budget.

  7. catman306 says:

    John Christy might be a climate change denier.

    “Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada has remained consistent for 130 years, with no evidence that anything has changed as a result of climate change, according to a study released Tuesday.

    The analysis of snowfall data in the Sierra going back to 1878 found no more or less snow overall – a result that, on the surface, appears to contradict aspects of recent climate change models.

    John Christy, the Alabama state climatologist who authored the study, said the amount of snow in the mountains has not decreased in the past 50 years, a period when greenhouse gases were supposed to have increased the effects of global warming.”

    Read more:

  8. ozajh says:

    Is $4/gallon survivable?

    Of course it is. Use less gas. With current exchange rates we’ve been paying the equivalent of $5US/US gallon for years now, and my UK relatives a lot more than that.

  9. Paul Magnus says:

    “Most people don’t realize just how important the insurance industry is as a source of investment capital. Globally, the industry has around $23 trillion in assets – more than the annual GDP of the United States. If weather becomes so volatile that insurers shift investments to cash or short-term treasuries, the result could be the loss of a major source of capital for infrastructure projects. “

  10. Paul Magnus says:

    “The largest insurance company in the state of Florida is the state of Florida,” she said. “And the liability that the state holds is so huge that … the next time the big one rolls in the system will bankrupt itself.”

  11. Paul Magnus says:

    We don’t actually have the money to adapt to climate change