19 Responses to May 20 news: Amazon rainforest deforestation rises sharply; Do biofuels reduce greenhouse gases?
New satellite images suggest deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest has increased almost sixfold.
Deforestation jumped from 103 square kilometers in March and April of last year to 583 square kilometers, or 228 square miles, in the same period of 2011, according to Brazil’s space research institute.
Mato Grosso, the center of soybean farming in Brazil, shows the most destruction.
Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira characterized the figures as “alarming” and announced the formation of a “crisis cabinet” in response to the news.
“Our objective is to reduce deforestation by July,” Teixeira said.
The new figures have taken the government by surprise, analysts say. A government report from December said Brazilian Amazon deforestation had fallen to its lowest rate in 22 years. But the new numbers show a 27 percent increase in deforestation from August 2010 to April 2011.
Some environmentalists are arguing that growing demand for soy and cattle is causing farmers to clear more land. Others say the easing of an existing law on forest production is causing it.
The Atlantic Wind Connection, a visionary $6 billion plan to build a transmission backbone for offshore wind farms off the mid-Atlantic coast, succeeded in getting one obstacle removed from its hurdle-filled path yesterday. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved an above-market 12.59 percent return on equity as an incentive to move the project forward.
At the same time, FERC said it will ask for industry comments on the case-by-case approach the commission has followed with its program to give incentives to major, higher-risk transmission projects, a policy mandated by Congress in 2005. The notice of inquiry may — or may not — lead to a general rulemaking on the issue, said FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, who called himself “very agnostic” on that question.
A debate among the commissioners over the size of incentive returns has intensified, industry participants say, pressed by Commissioner John Norris, former chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board, speaking for state-level concerns over costs of new transmission projects.
“We clearly have more transmission in service or being built today, and that transmission would most likely not have been built, or started, were it not for the work and decisions of this commission to date,” Norris said. “While some may think we do things perfectly here and always get it right, I’m not one of them.” The inquiry “gives us a chance to assess our successes and perhaps mistakes and request input on how we may be able to improve our policies,” he added.
Solar has become a multibillion-dollar business, but parts of it still act like a cottage industry, according to eIQ Energy’s Michael Lamb.
Solar power installations involve substantial sums of money, lots of electricity, and placement on homes and commercial buildings. This means that installation projects are drawing increasing attention from several types of governmental agencies: financial regulators, building inspectors, fire marshals, zoning and design review boards, and probably others, as well.
Today, interactions with these groups can be frustrating for array designers, installers, financiers, owners and operators, largely because this is new territory for government. It’s akin to car ownership or electrification in the early 1900s — no one had figured out who was in charge, or how much oversight was needed to maintain public trust, safety and aesthetic standards. Times like that are ripe for confusion, especially since technology tends to move faster than public agencies.
This is an important topic for solar — the costs of permitting, inspection, interconnection costs and other “bureaucratic” items can run to nearly a dollar per watt today. Reducing these costs, while maintaining appropriate controls, will be a step toward grid parity, and also toward fully integrating this important renewable energy source into society.
If we can address these issues in a concerted manner, we should be able to cut compliance costs by 50 percent or more over the next few years — and also create a framework that sets proper expectations and protections for the financial, technical, and operational sides of the solar community.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC will construct the biggest floating man-made object ever, a natural gas processing plant longer than four football fields and more massive than any aircraft carrier.
The “Prelude FLNG” facility, to be anchored off the Australian coast, will be made of 260,000 tons of steel – five times more than Sydney’s famed Harbour Bridge, Shell said Friday.
It is designed to take in the equivalent of 110,000 barrels per day in gas from undersea fields 200 kilometers (125 miles) off Australia’s Northwest coast and cool it into liquefied natural gas, known as LNG.
Shell claimed the plant will be able to withstand category 5 cyclones, the worst type of storms, and is planned to remain moored above the Prelude gas field for 25 years after completion.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is expected to lead next month’s OPEC conference in Vienna as he presses for higher oil prices to aid Iran‘s struggling economy, while also seeking to protect and consolidate his power at home as he confronts a growing split with the nation’s supreme leader.
As chairman of the meeting on June 8, Mr. Ahmadinejad is likely to inject a bit of drama into the usually predictable proceedings, in which members of the 12-nation bloc generally follow Saudi Arabia’s lead in promoting moderate oil prices. His position may complicate Saudi Arabia’s ability to direct policy at a time when industrialized nations are pressing for more production to restrain oil price increases.
But the issue for the Iranian president appears to be at least as much about his political fight with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as about his desire to seek increased prices, analysts said. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been engaged in a power struggle with Ayatollah Khamenei that has already diminished the president’s standing and undermined his authority, analysts said.
Greenhouse-gas emissions from biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, may be lower than many researchers have estimated, according to a new study. The findings could further fuel a debate over whether biofuels actually reduce greenhouse-gas emissions compared to gasoline, and if so, by how much.
Some recent studies have suggested that the indirect effects of biofuels production, such as higher food prices, could encourage farmers to clear forested land to grow more crops””thereby worsening climate change. At least one study suggested that the emissions resulting from such decisions would make biofuels””even advanced biofuels made from cellulosic materials such as switchgrass””worse for the environment than gasoline. These studies use economic analysis to predict the effect of future biofuels production on land use, while attempting to control for other factors that influence farmers, such as the amount of grain stocks on hand and changes in food demand.
The new study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Biomass and Bioenergy, uses analysis of historical data instead of economic models. It found no statistical correlation between changes in biofuel production in the U.S. from 2002 to 2007 and recorded changes in cropland use outside of the country. “There is no evidence for indirect land use change,” says Bruce Dale, a professor of chemical engineering at Michigan State University, who led the study.
Jason Hill, a professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota, says that it’s not surprising that the study found no correlation, given that there are many competing forces that influence crop use. “It’s difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise,” he says.