Energy and Global Warming News for April 2: CleanTech investments in Q1 soar 83% from Q1–09; EPA sets water standards to curb mountaintop-mining pollution; Cape Wind inks 130-turbine deal

Q1 CleanTech Investments soar 83% from Q1–09

In another sign of a rebound for green technology, global investors poured $1.9 billion into green tech startups in the first three months of the year, up 29 percent from the fourth quarter of 2009 and an 83 percent rise from the year-ago quarter, according to a report released Wednesday by the Cleantech Group and Deloitte.

“The bounce back in venture investment from lows in early 2009 has continued, with the first three months of 2010 representing the strongest start to a year we have ever recorded,” Sheeraz Haji, president of Cleantech Group, said in a statement.

The Cleantech Group, a San Francisco market research and consulting firm, and Deloitte, the international accounting firm, surveyed investments made in 180 companies in North America, Europe, Israel, China and India.


Investors favored electric car-related startups, which captured $704 million in the first quarter of 2010. Half of that investment went to Better Place, a Silicon Valley company that has struck deals to build charging stations and other infrastructure in Australia, California, Canada, Denmark, Hawaii and Israel.

Two California electric carmakers, Fisker Automotive and Coda Automotive, took in $140 million and $30 million, respectively.

Solar startups scored $322 million, with solar cell maker SpectraWatt, an Intel spinoff, receiving $41.4 million and Enphase Energy, which makes microinverters for solar panel systems, taking in $40 million.

Energy efficiency companies continued to attract investors, with lighting startups making some of the biggest deals of the $217 million invested in the first quarter. Although North America’s share of green tech deals in 2009 fell to 62 percent from 72 percent, the region was responsible for 81 percent of investments in the first quarter of 2010, an increase of 133 percent from the year-ago quarter.

EPA sets water standards in bid to curb mountaintop-mining pollution

U.S. EPA set new water-quality standards for surface coal mining in central Appalachia today that Administrator Lisa Jackson said would likely block mountaintop-removal projects from dumping wastes in streams.

The guidance sets the first-ever numeric water standards for conductivity — a measure of the level of salt — in streams near surface coal mines and is intended to protect 95 percent of the region’s aquatic life and freshwater streams, the agency said.

To qualify for a Clean Water Act permit, mining companies must show their proposed project will leave streams with conductivity measured at no more than 500 microsiemens per centimeter, a measure of salinity that EPA said is roughly five times above normal levels.

There are “no or very few valley fills that are going to meet this standard,” Jackson told reporters in a conference call. “Valley fill” refers to the practice of dumping waste from mines into nearby valleys. Mining operations have buried nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams, the agency said.

“We expect this guideline to change behaviors, to change actions,” Jackson said. “Because if we keep doing what we have been doing, we’ll continue to see degradation of water quality.”

The standards were prompted by a growing body of research indicating surface mining is damaging Appalachia’s environment and public health, Jackson said.

“The people of Appalachia shouldn’t have to choose between a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they need to support them,” she said. “This is not about ending coal mining, it is about ending coal mining pollution.”

EPA today also released two draft studies, one documenting the adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems of pollutant levels associated with high conductivity. Conductivity levels are on average 10 times higher downstream from mountaintop mines and valley fills than in unmined watersheds, the draft concludes.

The new regulations are effective immediately on an interim basis while EPA takes public comment and considers revisions. The regulations do not apply retroactively to existing Clean Water Act permits, but they will be applied to the nearly 80 permits that EPA last year held for “enhanced review,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the new guidelines apply for now only to surface mines in central Appalachia because that is where the data they are based on were gathered, but she said the science could eventually compel the agency to consider conductivity standards for waters surrounding underground mines, as well.

West Virginia’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Robert Byrd, praised EPA’s action. “I am pleased that EPA Administrator Jackson took our concerns about the need to provide clarity very seriously and has responded with these guidelines,” he said in a statement. “Today’s announcement will hopefully now have everyone reading off the same page.”

… Environmental groups called the standards a major and much-needed crackdown on coal-mining pollution.

“The new policy represents the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop-removal coal mining,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “Today’s announcement reaffirms the Obama administration’s commitment to science and to environmental justice for the communities and natural areas of Appalachia.”

Cape Wind inks 130-turbine deal with Siemens

Though their project has not yet secured approval from the Interior Department, the developers of the controversial Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound announced yesterday that they will purchase the wind farm’s 130 turbines from Siemens Energy Inc.

Cape Wind declined to discuss terms of the contract, but it is worth hundreds of millions of dollars — the turbines cost between $5 million and $10 million apiece, a state official said. The project, which could become the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, would provide roughly 75 percent of the energy needed by Cape Cod and surrounding islands, the company says.

With a market share of more than 50 percent, Siemens is the world’s leading offshore wind turbine manufacturer. About three-quarters of offshore turbines installed in Europe last year came from Siemens, according to a report by the European Wind Energy Association.

The Cape Wind contract is contingent upon final federal approval for the project, which has drawn criticism from several American Indian groups in Massachusetts. The Mashpee, Aquinnah and Chappaquiddick Wampanoag tribes say the the wind farm would interfere with their rituals by obstructing their view of the sun over Nantucket Sound.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said he will make a decision by the end of April after receiving recommendations from a federal advisory panel on historic preservation.

“We’ve been working hard for the last year to make our selection,” Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said, when asked why the company announced the contract before securing approval. “Now that we’ve made it, we thought, why wait?”

Volt finds a willing customer: Washington

The Obama administration said it placed an order for 100 Chevrolet Volts, scheduled to be the first electric-powered vehicles made by a U.S. automaker.

U.S. President Barack Obama set a goal of putting 1 million plug-in cars on the road by 2015. The order placed this week is a small part of the administration’s long-term goal of purchasing 5,000 hybrid vehicles, the Detroit Free Press reported Thursday.

“We’re going to lead by example and practice what we preach,” Obama said.

The order continues an environmentally themed week in Washington.

On Wednesday, Obama announced he was lifting some restrictions on offshore drilling.

On Thursday, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency said they would cut greenhouse gas emissions by raising standards for vehicle fuel efficiency.

By mandating an increase in fuel efficiency of 5 percent a year 2012 through 2016, the administration expects to raise the average fuel efficiency for U.S. cars made in that span to more than 34 miles per gallon.

NASA: Agency plans 62% boost in climate research funding

NASA rolled out a new plan yesterday to bolster spending on climate research by 62 percent by 2015. The dramatic budget increase is meant to make up for cutbacks during the George W. Bush administration and marks what NASA officials call a “philosophical shift” on the issue.

Under the new plan, NASA’s Earth Science budget would get a $2.4 billion or 62 percent infusion over the next five years, according to Edward Weiler, the agency’s associate administrator for science.

NASA’s capabilities will not change dramatically, but the new funds will provide for improvements, innovations and replacements, said Michael Freilich, Earth Science Division director.

By 2015 the division will have launched as many as 10 new missions to collect information about ice coverage, ocean temperatures, ozone depletion and how much carbon dioxide is being released through human activities. Five of the satellites have been in the works for years but did not have firm launch dates because of funding questions.

With the new strategy, the agency plans to focus more on collecting a broader swath of interrelated climate data in a long-term, continuous fashion, Weiler said.

“The key to Earth system science is to make multiple measurements more or less simultaneously of many different quantities — that’s the only way we can understand how the various processes that define Earth system interact,” Freilich said.

The agency currently has 13 climate research satellites in orbit, but all but one are “well beyond their design lifetimes,” Freilich said. Without action, NASA would have “played a much smaller role” in Earth and climate science in the future as the older systems failed, he said.

The budget for other NASA programs is expected to remain generally flat in the coming years

New US vehicle fuel standards to cut oil imports

The U.S. government’s higher fuel economy requirements for new vehicles are expected to reduce gasoline consumption and cut fuel imports, the government said on Thursday.

The vehicle fuel efficiency standards will be phased in starting with the 2012 model year, raising vehicle fuel economy to an average 35.5 miles per gallon by the time the 2016 models are in showrooms — up 42 percent from the current level.

Over the two-decade life-span of the better-mileage cars and trucks, the government expects about 1.8 billion barrels of oil will be saved. [ID:nN01242702]

That’s about a quarter of current annual consumption of oil. The Energy Department forecasts U.S. oil consumption at 6.9 billion barrels for 2010.

“The new standards, coupled with the shift in consumer preferences induced by the 2008 oil price spike, are likely to limit U.S. gasoline demand and overall petroleum use to an extent last seen in the early 1980s,” said Tim Evans, analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York

“There is a chance that the 2007 U.S. peak in gasoline demand may hold up as a record for quite a long time, even a decade or more, particularly if we continue to see periodic oil price spikes that would reinforce the message to conserve,” Evans said.

About half the reduction in gasoline consumption caused by the new standards will be reflected in lower U.S. imports of refined fuel, and the other half will come from reduced domestic fuel refining, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

In turn, about 90 percent of that reduction in U.S. oil refinery output is expected to result in lower crude oil imports as a refinery feedstock, while the remaining 10 percent will reduce U.S. oil production, the agencies said.

“Each gallon of fuel saved as a consequence of improved fuel efficiency standards and (greenhouse gas emission) standards is anticipated to reduce total U.S. imports of crude petroleum and refined fuel by 0.95 gallons,” the agencies said in their technical documents supporting the new standards.

Automakers will meet the fuel efficiency requirements by selling cars and trucks that use less fuel, but also by selling more vehicles that don’t run solely on gasoline, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or cars and trucks that operate with clean-diesel engines, the government said.

These alternative vehicles also will help shave U.S. gasoline demand.

Car owners will save an average $4,000 in fuel expenses over the life of a model-year 2016 vehicle, according to agencies’ estimates.

Everything you need to know about Obama’s new fuel-economy rules

The federal government rolled out new auto fuel-efficiency standards today, capping more than a year of planning and, as the New York Times notes, a 30-year battle between regulators and automakers.

The new standards are a big deal””they’ll do more to cut the pollution of heat-trapping gasses than anything the Obama administration has done so far. But if it seems like you’ve heard about them before, you probably have””the regs got lots of press when they were first proposed last May. Thursday’s action puts that plan into effect, for 2012–2016 vehicles.

In Europe, a Call for Tighter Caps on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate advocates called for tighter caps on greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union after figures released on Thursday showed that some of the dirtiest industries benefited from a surplus of permits.

The figures from the European Commission showed the largest annual decline in emissions from industries covered by the bloc’s carbon trading program since it began in 2005, a drop that was largely a result of the global economic slowdown.

Many of the companies that were issued permits have made millions of euros from selling their excess credits, anticipating that they would have plenty in years to come, or because they needed to generate cash to shore up their balance sheets as the economic crisis bit deeper.

In many cases these companies have also held on to some of their surpluses, which would make it easier for them to offset future emissions after the economy recovers.

Emissions from factories and power plants covered by the European Union’s Emissions Trading System fell by 11.3 percent, according to Emmanuel Fages of Orbeo, a carbon trading unit in Paris partly owned by the French bank Soci©t© G©n©rale. The price of a permit to emit one ton of carbon dioxide was mostly unchanged at about 13 euros ($17.66) in afternoon trading on European markets.

Carbon trading, also known as cap and trade, is supposed to be the European Union’s main tool to control greenhouse gases. The system is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas market. The same businesses that emitted 1.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2008 emitted 1.7 billion tons in 2009, according to Mr. Fages.

The figures were only about 90 percent complete, but Mr. Fages said they were “probably a good proxy” of the final, verified results, expected in May.

Trevor Sikorski, an analyst with Barclays Capital, attributed some of the decline in emissions in the electricity sector to an “increasing move in power towards gas and other forms of low-carbon generation.”

Environmentalists and other analysts said the overall results showed that companies that were big polluters were not facing sufficient pressure from the system to cut emissions in Europe.

“This new information makes it clearer than ever that the union must increase its climate ambitions,” said Bryony Worthington, the director of Sandbag, a nonprofit organization that advocates improving the way carbon trading functions.