President Obama is rolling out a new partnership with corporate giants like AT&T, UPS and PepsiCo to reduce their fleets’ oil use with hybrid and electric vehicles, alternative fuels and other steps that trim oil consumption.
Obama will personally tout the “National Clean Fleets Partnership” Friday with a visit to a UPS plant in Maryland, an event that follows his pledge Wednesday to cut oil imports by one-third by 2025.
Obama’s second high-profile energy event this week — and other appearances by administration energy officials — signal a White House push to seize control of the issue as rising oil and gasoline prices loom as a political threat.
It’s also the type of program the administration can launch under its existing authorities at a time when Capitol Hill action on energy legislation is a question mark.
Transforming big commercial fleets — which together have several million vehicles — provides a major opportunity to cut gasoline and diesel demand, according to the White House and other advocates of alternative vehicles and fuels.
Governments face a test of their pledges to fight climate change next week when almost 200 nations meet in Bangkok to try to build on a modest deal reached last year that includes a new green fund and rising aid. The April 3–8 talks are the first since environment ministers agreed a package last December in Mexico that put the U.N. negotiations back on track. Japan’s nuclear crisis is likely to overshadow the 2011 sessions about low-carbon energies. The December deal in the Mexican resort of Cancun included a Green Climate Fund to manage $100 billion a year in aid to poor nations by 2020 and to limit a rise in average world temperatures to below 2 deg C (3.6 F) over pre-industrial times. “Governments need to maintain momentum at Bangkok by agreeing a clear work-plan for 2011,” the U.N.’s climate chief Christiana Figueres said in a statement. The Bangkok talks will have to start working out details.
Cancun, for example, failed to make progress on tougher issues, such as disputes between rich and poor nations on how to extend or replace the existing Kyoto Protocol or strengthen the emission cuts pledged by rich nations. “One of the key questions is whether the spirit of Cancun that allowed negotiators to make compromises and move forward still exists,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute in Washington.
“The main driver of progress is that for many countries climate action makes economic sense and are starting to put in place real policies,” she added.
Shane Tomlinson, of the E3G think-tank in London, also said that Bangkok delegates needed to prove they could turn “aspirations in Cancun into real, working mechanisms.” Threats included pressures on aid budgets, such as in the United States and possibly Japan, which faces a mammoth post-quake rebuilding bill.
Countries are also at odds about the shape of a new deal to bind all major polluting nations to stronger steps to curb planet-warming carbon emissions. Weak economic growth means many developed nations have less focus on climate change.
Developing nations have outlined plans to slow the rise of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 as part of a deal in Mexico last year to limit global warming.
Almost 200 nations will meet in Bangkok from April 3–8 for the first U.N. climate change talks of 2011, seeking to build on agreements that included a goal of limiting a rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times.
Following are promises of action by major developing nations for slowing rising emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020, submitted to the United Nations and confirming promises made at the Copenhagen summit in 2009.
TARGETS (FOR 2020 UNLESS STATED)
CHINA — Aims to cut the amount of carbon produced per unit of economic output by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels. This “carbon intensity” goal would let emissions keep rising, but more slowly than economic growth.
China will also seek to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 15 percent and increase forest cover.
INDIA — Plans to reduce the emissions intensity of gross domestic product by 20 to 25 percent from 2005 levels. Agriculture will be excluded from the goals, which India says are “voluntary in nature and will not have a legally binding character.”
BRAZIL — Intends to cut emissions by between 36.1 and 38.9 percent below “business as usual” levels with measures such as reducing deforestation, energy efficiency and more hydropower.
New Hampshire’s House of Representatives voted today to pull the state out of a regional program to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the Northeast.
The repeal of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, through House Bill 519 passed by a vote of 251 to 108 and will now be sent to the state Senate.
Opponents of RGGI say the 10-state program burdens businesses that are forced to pay higher electricity bills, and that repealing it may help local economies.
“Businesses are sick of the mandates and electricity prices going up, and may say ‘I have the opportunity to move to a Southern state, so I’m going to do it,’” Representative James Garrity, chairman of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, said in an interview today. “That’s what we’ve been hearing not only on RGGI but on any energy or climate legislation that results in higher rates to subsidize good causes.”
RGGI requires operators of power plants to buy permits, called allowances, to account for carbon dioxide released from smokestacks. The allowances can be bought and sold in a secondary market.
Power companies pass on these expenses and Garrity estimated that customers of Public Service of New Hampshire, a unit of Northeast Utilities (NU) and the state’s largest utility, would be paying at least $8 million a year to fund the initiative by 2012.
“The people who really get hurt in this are the industrial and commercial customers,” said Garrity, a Republican.
What’s better than drastically cutting back the cost of energy for your home? Having a home that produces more energy than it uses and provides power that other buildings can use.
That’s the idea behind so-called “net-energy positive” housing and something that the city of Boston is now pursuing in a competition unveiled by Mayor Thomas M. Menino this week. The city has sent out a request for proposals for net-energy-positive multifamily housing on three vacant sites it owns, two on Fort Hill in Roxbury and one in Jamaica Plain. The winning development teams will build townhouses or rowhouses that produce excess energy. The hope is that the winning projects will become prototypes that can be used to build on hundreds of vacant city-owned lots.
“Producing on-site energy to power the neighborhoods is not only good for the environment but good for the bottom line,” said Jim Hunt, Boston’s chief of environmental and energy services, echoing the mayor’s sentiments that the competition is the “next step” in the city’s green-energy policy.
Boston was the first city in the nation to adopt a “green energy” zoning code and just implemented the so-called “stretch” energy code that requires all city buildings to be 20 percent more efficient than the requirements of the state building code.
But getting a project to produce more energy than it uses is a bigger challenge.
As the United Kingdom slashes public spending to tackle its largest post-war deficit, new Prime Minister David Cameron set a heady goal: To lead the island nation’s greenest government ever.
The Brits believe lowering their greenhouse gas emissions, investing in energy efficiency and partnering government with private industry is a way to grow the economy. The UK energy and climate change minister, Gregory Barker, talked about the possibilities Thursday in Charlotte with representatives of British and local firms headed toward the same goal.
There’s a lot of work to do across the pond, Barker said.
The British record of energy efficiency is “rubbish,” he said, making it cheaper to heat homes in icy Norway than in Britain. The UK has embarked on a campaign to retrofit 14 million homes, an effort estimated to create 250,000 jobs. It plans to invest the equivalent of $5billion in a new green-energy investment bank and will offer innovative financing for renewable heating sources.
“Green will touch every sector,” said Bill Rumble of the Mark Group, a British firm that specializes in making buildings more energy efficient. Millions of jobs for energy-efficiency technicians could be created, he predicted.
The long-term UK plan, Barker said, has bipartisan political support. “This is such a vital agenda,” he said. “It really is important that we work together.”
There’s no such unanimity in the United States. President Barack Obama’s administration has failed to win congressional support for limits on greenhouse gases, seen by energy advocates as a vital first step. Republican leaders are demanding more domestic drilling for oil and gas, while the Japanese crisis may shake support for new nuclear plants.
But that hasn’t stopped businesses here, U.S. executives said.
President Obama is trying to find the political center of the nation’s energy issues.
His speech yesterday, in steering the nation back to the domestic economy, appeals to a broad section of political — and geographic — positions. He stood fast by nuclear power, promised swifter access for oil companies and prioritized climate change.
Yet he got little credit from either side.
Environmental groups criticized Obama for supporting nuclear power, backing the oil industry and failing to use his speech to defend U.S. EPA greenhouse gas rules against Republican attacks.
Industry groups and GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, attacked him for limiting opportunities for oil drillers, promoting clean energy mandates and politicizing the nation’s energy troubles.
“This speech was more about polluting the future than winning it,” Damon Moglen, climate and energy director for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement lampooning Obama for supporting “dirty energy” sources like nuclear, ethanol, natural gas and “clean coal.”
Across the ideological divide, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who is leading the Republicans’ Senate campaign effort for 2012, accused Obama of being in “complete denial” about the harm his plan would inflict by limiting fossil fuels.
“I just think that the president doesn’t have a plan, unless the plan is to discourage domestic production and run up the cost of everything from gasoline to manufacturer goods and agriculture products that depend on energy,” he told ClimateWire.
It was instructive and depressing this week to watch President Obama and Congressional Republicans marching in completely different directions on energy policy. Mr. Obama reminded us that charting a clean energy future is not a pipe dream and that America can reduce its dependence on foreign oil. The Republicans reminded us how hard it will be to get there.
The outcome depends in no small measure on how hard Mr. Obama is willing to battle for his policies. As he showed again in a speech on Wednesday, he has no trouble articulating energy-related issues. What remains in doubt has been his willingness to see the fight through. This time must be different.
Beset by rising gas prices and Middle Eastern turmoil, Mr. Obama, like other presidents, decried the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. He also said there were no quick fixes and that a nation with only 2 percent of the world’s reserves cannot drill its way to self-sufficiency.
He then offered a strategy aimed at, among other things, reducing oil imports by one-third by 2025, partly by increasing domestic production but largely by producing more efficient vehicles and by moving advanced biofuels from the laboratory to commercial production.
These are achievable goals. Reducing oil imports by one-third means using 3.7 million fewer barrels a day. The fuel economy standards set last year by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation will yield 1.7 million of those barrels; the next round of standards, now on the drawing boards at the E.P.A., will yield another 1.7 million barrels. Advanced biofuels and improved mass transit could get us the rest of the way.
As the Fukushima crisis throws a question mark over nuclear energy use, many European countries are trying to accelerate the development of technology that cleans carbon dioxide emissions from conventional fuel plants. “The use of coal in some countries like China and India is actually growing,” European Union Energy Commissioner G¼nther Oettinger said at the Mar. 1 inauguration of a carbon capture project in Italy. “If we can prove that this technology is safe and reliable, we will have a product that we can export in countries where coal production remains key.”
Nuclear energy, which offers homegrown low-carbon power to nations that use it, took a blow from Fukushima, especially in Europe. Germany halted 25 percent of its nuclear capacity and may close its oldest plants permanently after the Green party surged in Mar. 27 state elections. Switzerland shelved plans for new reactors, the U.K. said it may delay plans, and Italy is holding off on its newly launched nuclear program.
Any lost generation is likely to be made up with natural-gas-fired plants, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), but the trend also lends urgency to projects seeking to extract carbon emissions from fuel combustion and lock it deep underground. While countries from China to the U.S. are looking for solutions, Europe has committed the most government funding for projects on carbon capture and storage, or CCS””$10.5 billion, vs. $5.1 billion in the U.S., $4.9 billion in Canada, and $2.5 billion in Australia, according to BNEF. Yet even in green Europe””home to the world’s largest cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions as well as an array of national carbon taxes””the pace is slow. Much of the money committed to CCS in Europe won’t be allocated until 2012.
The solar power that Nevada hopes to make its chief cash crop is on course to be price-competitive with fossil fuels within a decade, according to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. But to get there, it’s going to need a helping hand from fossil fuels.
That is the philosophy behind a new strategy taking shape in Washington, as steep gasoline prices, a war in oil-rich Libya, andconcern over nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, have politicians promoting more stable, domestic energy sources.
“Our best opportunities to enhance our energy security can be found in our own backyard,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday in a speech during which he reiterated his goal of reducing long-term oil dependency while providing more immediate relief at the pump with incentives to increase domestic oil production.
It’s a nod to the importance of oil in the energy equation.
Democrats have spent the past few years trying to paint the industry as parasitic pariahs, gobbling up subsidies, belching smog and forcing clean energy alternatives out of the political marketplace.
But oil is a necessary bargaining chip to woo Republican votes needed to bankroll the Obama administration’s research and rollout of renewable energy initiatives.
It isn’t that Republicans oppose renewable energy; on the contrary, Nevada’s conservative contingent has voted regularly in favor of promoting the solar, wind and geothermal industries that have a growing footprint in the Silver State.
Whether you think the energy plan President Obama announced yesterday is worth applauding depends on whether you think a clean-energy standard is worth supporting. For most people, that raises a second question: What’s a clean-energy standard?
Let’s start with a quick history of climate-change policy proposals: In the beginning, there was the carbon tax, which would work by putting a price on carbon. But that had no political support. Then there was cap-and-trade, which would work by making producers purchase permits for the carbon they emitted, and in so doing, would put a price on carbon. But though John McCain actually had a cap-and-trade proposal in 2008, Republicans eventually turned on cap-and-trade “” Sarah Palin’s firstpost-election op-ed was dedicated to decrying “cap-and-tax” as “an enormous threat to our economy.” Then there was a renewable energy standard, where the government would simply tell energy utilities that they had to generate most of their power using renewables. But that was abandoned because “clean coal” isn’t renewable, but it is politically powerful.
That brings us to a clean-energy standard. It works like a renewable-energy standard “” we tell utilities that they have to produce 80 percent of their energy from clean sources by 2035 “” but includes non-renewables that are, in theory, clean. Like clean coal. But it’s a pale imitation of everything that came before it: worse for emissions, for the deficit, for our international strategy. Oh, and it’s less market-based than any of the others, too.
For one thing, a CES only covers electricity, which means it’s only catching about a third of emissions. For another, it targets “emissions intensity” rather than “total emissions.” If we say the economy can only emit X tons of carbon, that holds down the carbon we pump into the atmosphere. If we say that only 20 percent of our energy can come from dirty sources, well, one way to slip under the limit is to increase the amount of energy we produce. It’s the difference between trying to lose weight by cutting calories and trying to lose it by cutting the percentage of your calories that come from junk food.
No one should be surprised to learn that in trying to woo a reluctant community, developers in just about every industry tend to exaggerate “” or perhaps optimistically overestimate “” the number of jobs they expect to create by building that new shopping mall, industrial park, widget factory or other project.
But in a study released on Thursday, the folks at the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies in Chattanooga, Tenn., decided to take an in-depth look at the promises made by purveyors of new coal plants.
Their findings seem to suggest that the trade-off that many cash-strapped communities make “” specifically, accepting the health and environmental risks that come with having a new coal-burning power plant in their midst, in return for a boost in employment “” is not what it’s cracked up to be.
“I think the overarching issue here is that for a lot of the communities that are being asked to host these plants, there’s an extremely difficult cost-benefit analysis that they’re being asked to make,” said David Eichenthal, the president of the Ochs Center. “They are aware of the environmental and health issues that you take on when you have a coal plant put in your backyard. But many of these communities are in dire economic straits, and it tips the balance for them to allow this to occur.”
“But what they’re being promised,” he said, “isn’t what’s being delivered.”
The analysis looked at the six largest new coal-fired power plants to come online between 2005 and 2009, including facilities in Pottawattamie County, Iowa; Milam and Robertson Counties, Tex.; Otoe County, Neb.; Berkeley County, S.C.; and Marathon County, Wisc. All were plants exceeding capacity of 500 megawatts.
A Google Inc (GOOG).-backed effort to build a $5 billion undersea power line to support wind energy from New Jersey to Virginia is seeking approval from the U.S. Interior Department.
Atlantic Wind Connection filed an application today with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement for the right to build the transmission line on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Atlantic.
The project “would enhance the competitive regional electric market by increasing supply options and reducing congestion on existing facilities,” Markian Melnyk, president of Atlantic Grid Development, which is developing the project, said in a statement.
Atlantic Wind Connection’s 300-mile power line, buried under the sea floor, would connect to wind turbines off the mid- Atlantic coast. Maryland regulators and regional utilities have opposed the project’s request for incentives, including a guaranteed 13.58 percent return on equity, to build the line.
Google of Mountain View, California, operator of the world’s most popular Internet search engine, owns 42 percent of the project. Backers include Tokyo-based trading company Marubeni Corp. and Good Energies, a clean-energy investment firm based in Zug, Switzerland.
Germany’s change of heart on nuclear energy will likely produce power capacity shortfalls that could be filled by natural gas, a board member of supplier Wintershall said on Thursday.
“A number of gas-fired power station projects were put on ice when the government lengthened nuclear life cycles last autumn,” said Gerhard Koenig, in charge of gas trading at the BASF unit that spans oil and gas production through to sales.
“I am absolutely certain that these plans will now be revitalized,” he told Reuters after a presentation of 2010 results.
The government in light of events in Japan ordered seven reactors shut for extra checks. It may not only renege on lifetime extensions for all its nuclear plants but also start shutting the seven plus some others prematurely.
When it granted an average 12 years of extra lifetime to reactors last autumn, local utilities under protest said they had to abandon a gas project pipeline worth 8 billion euros ($11.37 billion) as nuclear would clog up the power grids.
Among quick responses to the changed policy, Bremen local utilities Stadtwerke Bremen and Iserlohn last week said they will build a 445 megawatts (MW) gas turbine plant to be ready for production in 2013, with a number of partners including railway company Deutsche Bahn.
Officials from China’s renewable energy sector called for more government support on Wednesday as an ongoing reactor crisis in Japan put Beijing under increasing pressure to scale back its ambitious nuclear building plans.
Speaking at an industry conference, they said the promotion of clean energy sources such as wind, solar or hydropower could help fill the supply gap that might arise were China’s nuclear programme to slow as a result of safety concerns.
“We have a large scale renewable energy capacity with such rich natural resources, really good industry technologies and none of the safety risks,” said Shi Dinghuan, chairman of the China Renewable Energy Institute and an adviser to China’s cabinet, the State Council.
“I believe we need to put more focus on renewable energy development in our future development plans,” he said.
Li Hejun, chairman of the China New Energy Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies on behalf of the renewable sector, said the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex should lead to a reassessment of China’s long-term energy strategy.
“Nuclear power can probably improve China’s energy security, but whether it improves overall national security is something that needs to be thought about deeply,” he said.