Energy and Global Warming News for December 3: Kerry see ‘definite Republican votes’ for climate change bill; Vilsack: Climate bill to be boon to farmers

Sen. Kerry sees ‘definite Republican votes’ for climate change legislation

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a major architect of Senate climate change plans, on Wednesday said there are already GOP supporters of the legislation.

“There are definite Republican votes for this legislation right now, and we hope to grow that over the next weeks and months,” said Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, on a conference call with reporters. He did not provide names or numbers.

Senate legislation is evolving and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to bring a major climate change package to the floor next spring.


Securing some GOP support is likely crucial because a small number of Democrats, such as Mary Landrieu (La.), are considered unlikely to endorse cap-and-trade legislation. Several Republicans, including Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), are potential votes in favor of a climate bill.

Kerry said another meeting with Reid and chairmen of the committees with jurisdiction over climate legislation will occur early next week. Kerry is attending the upcoming international climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, and plans to offer an outline of the unfinished U.S. plans.

Kerry said he will be able to provide a “pretty good outline” in Copenhagen about what will be contained in the legislation. Thus far two Senate committees have acted on major portions of the bill. The Environment and Public Works Committee approved a cap-and-trade plan in early November, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a large energy package in June.

But other committees “” including the powerful Finance Committee “” have yet to weigh in. Kerry is also working outside the committee process with Graham and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a compromise plan.

Vilsack: Climate bill to be boon to farmers

Farm incomes would be significantly increased by climate change legislation, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.

Vilsack said carbon offsets and other provisions in the House-passed climate change legislation would not only erase the extra operating expenses due to higher energy costs, but could offer a chance for a windfall for farmers and ranchers.

Farm practices that could qualify as offsets include no-till farming, which is less disruptive of carbon-absorbing soils, and the installation of digesters on hog-waste lagoons or at dairy operations to trap methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

“Bottom line: We think this will be a net benefit for farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack gave his comments in a conference call to reporters on Wednesday morning before his department’s chief economist, Joseph Glauber, testified at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the potential impacts of climate legislation by crop and region. On Thursday, Glauber was expected to testify before the subcommittee on how those costs could be mitigated through offsets and other efforts.

The administration is seeking to build support in rural America for climate change legislation in the face of a lobbying campaign by one prominent farm group against a cap-and-trade bill.

Farm-state votes are critical to passing climate legislation. Democrats like Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska have criticized parts of the climate bill passed by the House, or a cap-and-trade system in general.

That may explain why Vilsack sought to paint a broader picture of the potential cost impacts before Glauber’s testimony on offsets on Thursday. He said the opportunity for new income through offsets would “overwhelm” higher energy costs.

Vilsack also said the review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that climate legislation’s effect on food prices would be “extraordinarily small.” Food prices could increase by 2 percent by 2030, he said.

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As emissions increase, carbon ‘sinks’ get clogged

In the race to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, scientists have been looking to forests and oceans to absorb the pollution people generate.

Relying on nature to compensate for human excesses sounds like a win-win situation — except that these resources are under stress from the very emissions we are asking them to absorb, making them less able partners in the pact.

Consider it the latest inconvenient truth about climate change.

The benefits of these natural carbon “sinks” are many: Their diverse ecosystems soak up carbon dioxide. What’s more, the international carbon enables industries to compensate for their emissions at a fraction of the price of installing cleaner technology, essentially by investing in forests; meanwhile, poorer countries that are rich in woodland profit from selling not lumber but carbon credits.

Now, a global society of conservation biologists has launched a lobbying campaign, asking key decision-makers — from the Danish officials chairing next week’s climate talks in Copenhagen to U.S. lawmakers — to push for steeper emission cuts to ensure that humans do not exhaust forests’ capacity to store carbon in the decades to come.

Earlier this year, a team of nearly 70 researchers published a paper in the journal Science showing that the drought-stressed Amazon rain forest emitted roughly as much carbon dioxide in 2005 as it usually stores — about the same amount as the European Union and Japan together emit in a single year.

“This dramatic new information confirms that unsustainable human demands on the Earth’s dwindling primary and old-growth forests have pushed them to the wall,” said Dominick DellaSala, president-elect of the Society for Conservation Biology’s North America section.

A separate article published last month in the journal Nature analyzed the sea’s uptake of carbon between 1765 and 2008, finding that the proportion of fossil-fuel emissions absorbed by the oceans since 2000 may have declined by as much as 10 percent.

Google offers a graphic glimpse of how climate change might affect California

Researchers and policymakers have long rued that it’s hard to illustrate the perils of global warming when its most serious impacts won’t be visible for decades.

But thanks to the state Natural Resources Agency and Google, a graphic view of climate change’s potential effect on California — based on scientific modeling — is now just a mouse-click away.

Do you want to know if global warming will wipe out the Sierra snowpack before your great-great-grandchildren hit college?

Whether rising sea levels will obliterate landmarks in Baghdad by the Increasingly Deep Bay?

Whether your neighborhood will be safe from wildfires whipped by rising temperatures 76 years from now?

If Google Earth already lives in your computer, see for yourself in living color. Dodger fans take note: Much of the field at AT&T Park, where San Francisco Giants play, could someday be under five feet of water.

The interactive initiative is called CalAdapt, and it was unveiled Wednesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Google CEO Eric Schmidt on scenic Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.Why there? “Within a century, Treasure Island, this place where we are right now, could be totally under water,” Schwarzenegger said during a late-morning news conference. But when it comes to climate change, “it is technology in the end that will save us.”

CalAdapt, which is still in the prototype stage, isn’t a forecaster but rather an electronic way to visualize the possible effects of climate change based on current scientific data, according to the site.

“It’s a whole new way of communicating research,” said Anthony Brunello, deputy secretary for climate change and energy. Although “grandmas, mothers and individuals are a key audience,” the main focus for the site is local planners and scientific researchers.

CalAdapt is part of what Schwarzenegger described as a first-ever, comprehensive state-level strategy to adapt to the future effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, increased temperatures and disappearing snowpacks.

The governor also released the final 200-page report on California’s climate change strategy Wednesday and introduced a new climate adaptation advisory panel composed of 23 leaders from business, labor, government and the private sector.

Crude Reality: Oil Execs See a Glum 2010

It’s going to be a long 2010 for the oil industry.

That’s the key takeaway from a survey of the chief financial officers of 100 U.S. oil and natural gas companies, conducted by the accounting and consulting firm BDO Seidman. (Check back here for a link when it’s available.)

According to the survey, most companies don’t expect demand for energy to rebound until 2011 or later (18% think it won’t happen until after 2012). They also don’t expect access to credit to improve until at least the second half of next year. And they don’t expect industry spending to rebound to 2007 levels until 2011 or beyond.

“Certainly in comparison to last year, the tone seems to be that we’re in for a rough ride,” BDO Seidman partner Charles Dewhurst told Environmental Capital.

The comparison to last year is interesting because the 2008 survey was conducted in the absolute heart of the economic meltdown. According to Mr. Dewhurst, executives back then were more worried than they are today about access to capital, but they didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation when it came to the broader economy. A year later, that reality has set in.

“I wouldn’t say that the CFOs appeared to be overly pessimistic, but they realize that this is a long way from the end of the recession,” Mr. Dewhurst said.

The gloomy outlook is notable given that many forecasters have been getting a bit more optimistic recently. Both the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration recently revised upward their respective forecasts of global oil demand.

The BDO Seidman survey included only small-to-mid-sized U.S. companies which don’t have the global reach of giants like Exxon Mobil or BP. This could explain why they’re glummer than the big energy forecasters. Smaller companies are more sensitive to both commodity prices and the credit markets than better-capitalized majors””meaning they might be more likely to pick up on short-term trends.

If the survey is right, and demand stays slack and credit markets stay tight, how will companies stay in business? One likely answer: sell assets. ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, El Paso and other companies have all announced big divestiture plans in recent weeks, and big-time corporate law firm Mayer Brown is predicting a wave of deals in 2010 as companies look to pay down debt and raise cash.

Is China’s Oil and Coal Binge Coming to an End?

Is Chinese energy demand — the key factor that has sent nearly all commodity markets to record high prices in recent years — on the cusp of easing up?

A bottomless faith is China’s thirst for more and more energy has been a mainstay for the oil market’s most bullish investors. It’s also a big reason oil futures prices have jumped almost 80% this year.

But some industry analysts are starting to think Chinese energy demand could take a hit down the road if the Chinese government makes good on its pledge last week to slice the energy “intensity” of China’s economy by 40% to 45% per unit of gross domestic product by 2020.

Amy Myers Jaffe, a senior fellow in energy studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute, calculates that 4.5 million barrels a day of Chinese oil demand may not materialize over the next two decades if China’s big plan is implemented. For that to happen, China would have to make big strides in improving energy efficiency, cutting out a lot of wasteful energy consumption.

“Should the Chinese people and Chinese industry start paying close attention to the real international price for oil, instead of the subsidized price they are use to historically, the impact on Chinese demand trends could be huge,” Jaffe said in a blog earlier this week.

The International Energy Agency in Paris, in its recently released long-term energy forecast, projects Chinese oil consumption, based on current policies, to grow to 16.3 million barrels a day by 2030. That’s more than double current levels. By comparison, oil demand in the U.S., the world’s biggest oil producer followed by China, is expected to drop by 0.2% over that 20-year period to 21.8 million barrels a day due to energy efficiency improvements.

In a missive on Wednesday, Barclays Capital — long one of the more bullish outfits on China and its future energy consumption — also acknowledged the big “ramifications for the entire energy complex,” and particularly coal, of China’s energy-intensity reduction plans. China is the world’s biggest coal consumer.

Using figures from the IEA and BP’s annual statistical review, Barclays said coal’s share in the Chinese energy mix could fall from over 75% currently to 52% by 2020 as other fuel sources are tapped, such as nuclear. Such a drop would have big implications for coal producers and other consumers around the world. “If brought to fruition, while China would continue to hold a key position for coal demand in the future, its position of solitary dominance may well come under challenge,” Barclays said in a research note.

Of course, China could have trotted out plans to reduce energy intensity simply to get the U.S. and other developed nations off its back ahead of next week’s climate change meeting in Copenhagen, with no real intention to implement them. Or is the country waking up to that old industry chestnut — a barrel saved is a barrel discovered.

China will remain the driver of world oil demand growth in the years ahead, to be sure, but China’s government is now taking steps to slow that growth with new fuel-efficiency regulations on everything from new vehicles to home appliances.

SD group studies plan to sell wind power to Minn.

The newly formed South Dakota Wind Energy Association has commissioned a study into the feasibility of developing projects that would sell wind-generated electricity to Minnesota, association officials said.

Board President Jeff Nelson said Tuesday the study will evaluate the benefits and challenges of developing 1,000 megawatts of wind power in eastern South Dakota. That electricity could be sold to Minnesota utilities so they could meet that state’s standards for renewable energy, he said.

The project would be a test of South Dakota’s ability to develop more wind farms that could sell power to distant markets, Nelson said at the association’s first membership meeting.

South Dakota is considered to have the fourth best wind potential among the states, but it lacks access to enough transmission lines to get wind energy to markets in large cities.

The Wind Energy Association was formed earlier this year by a number of electrical utilities and farm groups, including the South Dakota Farm Bureau and the South Dakota Farmers Union. Nelson is general manager of East River Electric Power Cooperative, based in Madison.

Peak demand for all of South Dakota is just 3,000 megawatts an hour, Nelson said. The state has wind farms that generate about 300 megawatts, and it will be producing about 700 megawatts by 2011, he said. One megawatt of wind power will supply electricity to 250–300 average homes.

Because wind power can reasonably provide about 20 percent of a state’s electrical power, any substantial increase in wind generation would require that South Dakota export wind power to other states, Nelson said.

Steve Wegner, the association’s executive director, said rural areas in South Dakota and other Great Plains states have great potential for generating wind “” and that wind farms can help boost those rural communities, which have been losing population in recent decades.

Larry Flowers of the National Wind Technology Center, which operates under the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said South Dakota can play a big role in the nation’s drive to increase the amount of power generated by wind but is hampered by the lack of transmission lines.

About 2 percent of the nation’s power now comes from wind, but the U.S. has set a goal to have 20 percent of its electricity come from wind by 2030, Flowers said. Utilities are still figuring out how to integrate wind energy into their systems, he said. Wind is not reliable, but utilities can predict when weather conditions will make it available, he said.

“Wind is a valuable resource that is controlled by a higher power than utilities. That makes them very nervous,” Flowers joked.

However, wind does not depend on fossil fuel and does not emit greenhouse gases, he said. Wind power also uses no water, which Flowers said gives it a big advantage over coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

South Dakota could reasonably develop enough wind projects to generate 8,000 megawatts of electricity, which would have a $9 billion economic impact and create about 4,000 long-term jobs, he said.

Ameren announces solar energy demonstration initiatives for Missouri and Illinois

Ameren Corp. will build solar energy systems in Missouri and Illinois to explore how best to use the sun to generate electricity, the St. Louis-based utility said.

Ameren plans a solar demonstration project at its St. Louis headquarters, and another at a site to be determined in Illinois.

The electric company tapped Kansas City engineering firm Burns & McDonnell to design the projects, which it will evaluate for efficiency and effectiveness. At least three different technologies will be used and tested.

Once the systems are running late next year, Ameren will share its findings online with customers who may be considering installing their own solar energy systems.

Ameren currently has no solar projects, although it is working with wind, methane and other alternatives to fossil fuels. It is under mandates in both states to have part of its energy portfolio in renewable energy.

Ameren president Thomas Voss said the company has been evaluating solar energy for its headquarters for years, and tracking technological developments. Costs of solar power installations have dropped significantly, which helped prompt the timing of the decision announced Tuesday.

Ameren’s solar installations should generate from 25 to 550 kilowatts of power.

Ameren’s current energy portfolio consists of 85 percent coal, 10 percent to 15 percent nuclear, and a smattering of hydroelectric, gas and other sources.

An energy answer in the shale below?

The first time Chesapeake Energy tried to buy mineral rights from Diana Whitmore, a 74-year-old retired real estate broker in southern New York, it offered her $125 for every acre of land plus a 12 percent royalty on whatever natural gas it extracts.

Nearly two years later, she’s still holding out. Along with hundreds of other landowners, she has joined a coalition that is negotiating with nine oil and gas companies. The latest offers in the area are running as high as $5,500 an acre with 20 percent royalties.

“It’s what’s really going to turn this whole place around,” said her son Daniel Fitzsimmons, who has since helped form the Binghamton Conklin Gas Lease Coalition.

This corner of the state is at the forefront of an old-fashioned land rush that has implications far beyond Conklin, N.Y. Oil and gas companies are vying to stake out territory where they can tap natural gas trapped in shale rock. Just a few years ago, the industry didn’t have the technology to unlock these reserves. But thanks to advances in horizontal drilling and methods of fracturing rock with high-pressure blasts of water, sand and chemicals, vast gas reserves in the United States are suddenly within reach.

As a result, said BP chief executive Tony Hayward, “the picture has changed dramatically.”

“The United States is sitting on over 100 years of gas supply at the current rates of consumption,” he said. Because natural gas emits half the greenhouse gases of coal, he added, that “provides the United States with a unique opportunity to address concerns about energy security and climate change.”

Recoverable U.S. gas reserves could now be bigger than the immense gas reserves of Russia, some experts say. The Marcellus shale formation, stretching across swaths of Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia, has enough gas to meet the entire nation’s needs for at least 14 years, according to an estimate by two Pennsylvania State University experts. Just in Broome County, N.Y., where Fitzsimmons lives, shale gas development could create $15 billion in economic activity, according to consultants hired by the county.

The country is carpeted with shale gas plays, including the Barnett in Texas, Fayetteville in Arkansas and Haynesville in Louisiana. Since 2000, gas from shale has grown from less than 1 percent of the nation’s production to about 10 percent, according to the consulting firm PFC Energy, and it’s picking up fast.

Climate e-mail hackers ‘aimed to maximise harm to Copenhagen summit’

E-mails alleged to undermine climate change science were held back for weeks after being stolen so that their release would cause maximum damage to the Copenhagen climate conference, according to a source close to the investigation of the theft.

Climate change sceptics obtained the e-mails by hacking into a computer at the University of East Anglia. Professor Phil Jones, director of the university’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), has agreed to stand down during an independent review of the affair.

The first hack was in October or earlier, the source said. The e-mails were not leaked until mid-November. Sceptics allege that Professor Jones’s e-mails show that climate change data was manipulated and that scientists discussed how to suppress alternative views. The leader, terms of reference and timing of the review are expected to be announced today or tomorrow. The university has received thousands of international media calls and is concerned that the row is distracting attention from the key issues due to be discussed at Copenhagen.

Sceptics, including Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Conservative Chancellor, have seized on the e-mails as evidence that man-made global warming has been exaggerated.

The e-mails, which were sent over a 15-year period ending on November 12, first appeared on websites run by sceptics on November 20. They were posted with a message, apparently from the hacker, which said: “We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it.”

The computer was hacked repeatedly, the source close to the investigation said: “It was hacked into in October and possibly earlier. Then they gained access again in midNovember.” By not releasing the e-mails until two weeks before Copenhagen, the hacker ensured that the debate about them would rage during the summit. Very few of the e-mails are recent. One, in which Professor Jones mentions a “trick” which could “hide the decline” in temperatures, was sent in 1999.

Bob Ward, director of policy at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, based at the London School of Economics, said: “From the timing of the release of the e-mails, it seems that the intention was not just to inform the public but to undermine mainstream climate researchers and influence the process in Copenhagen.”

The Met Office Hadley Centre, which uses CRU data, said the same warming trend had been detected by two other completely independent sets of data held in the US, at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which is part of Nasa, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dr Peter Stott, of the Met Office, wrote in a briefing on its website that the three data sets agree that “global-average temperature has increased over the past century and this warming has been particularly rapid since the 1970s”.