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Energy and Global Warming News for February 23rd: DOE guarantees $1.37 B concentrated solar loan; Hu says China committed to fighting climate change

Loan Guarantee for a Big Solar Power Plant

The United States Energy Department on Monday offered a $1.37 billion loan guarantee to a company planning to build a large-scale solar power plant in the Southern California desert.

The loan guarantee, for BrightSource Energy of Oakland, Calif., is the largest given for a solar project. BrightSource’s 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is the first utility-scale solar power plant to undergo licensing in California in nearly two decades. It would use solar thermal technology, in which mirrors concentrate sunlight to heat a fluid and generate steam, and if built it would be the world’s largest such plant.

“We’re not going to sit on the sidelines while other countries capture the jobs of the future — we’re committed to becoming the global leader in the clean energy economy,” Steven Chu, the energy secretary, said in a statement.

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The loan guarantee is contingent on the Ivanpah project passing state and federal environmental reviews….

The Ivanpah plant will deploy thousands of mirrors called heliostats that focus the sun on three towers that each will contain a water-filled boiler. The heat creates steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. The project, to be built by Bechtel, is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs.

BrightSource has signed contracts to deliver 2,600 megawatts of electricity to utilities Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison.

For background on this technology, see Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload “” a core climate solution.

Hu says China committed to fighting climate change

President Hu Jintao said on Tuesday China was committed to fighting climate change, both at home and in cooperation with the rest of the world, but stopped short of offering any new policies.

Britain, Sweden and other countries have accused China of obstructing December’s Copenhagen climate summit, which ended with a non-binding accord that set a target of limiting global warming to a maximum 2 degrees Celsius but was scant on details.

Chinese officials have said their country would never accept outside checks of its plans to slow greenhouse gas emissions and could only make a promise of “increasing transparency.”

Hu told a study meeting attended by senior politicians, including Premier Wen Jiabao, that China took the problem seriously, state television reported.

UN climate talks to resume in April in Germany

The United Nations says formal negotiations on an international treaty to control global warming will resume in Bonn in April, four months after the failed climate change summit in Copenhagen.

U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said Tuesday the negotiating schedule is being intensified in order to secure a global climate deal at the end of the year. After the Bonn meeting April 9–11, more talks are scheduled there for May 31-June 11.

The next world climate summit is to take place in Cancun, Mexico, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10.

De Boer, who will resign July 1, said that since Copenhagen 100 countries have submitted individual emission cut targets. He said he saw commitment by governments “to move negotiations forward toward success in Cancun.”

Markey: Brown Win No Death Knell For Climate Bill

Backers of a sweeping climate change bill say it could still win passage in the U.S. Senate despite the election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who campaigned against the measure.

Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, one of the bill’s chief sponsors in the U.S. House, said legislation’s fate in the Senate never hinged on Democrats having 60 votes. The measure would put the nation’s first limits on pollution linked to global warming.

Markey, chairman of House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said the bill was always going to need support from both parties. It passed the House last summer on a 219–212 vote.

“I’m still confident that something can happen and my hope is that we can do it with the support of Sen. Brown,” Markey said Monday during a conference call with reporters. Markey said he hasn’t spoken to Brown yet about the legislation.

During the campaign, Brown criticized so-called “cap and trade” legislation, which he said would “cause energy prices to spike and chase businesses out of Massachusetts and cost individual families more money just to heat their homes and turn on their lights.”

“The cap and trade bill moving its way through Congress will kill jobs at a time when our economy is on the brink,” Brown said after winning the Republican nomination for the Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward Kennedy. “To me that is unacceptable.”

Administration mulls higher bar for Energy Star label

With more than half of appliances in some categories bearing the Energy Star label, Obama administration officials are examining the program’s standards, concerned that the glut of certified products could dilute the label’s value by preventing consumers from finding the most efficient appliances.

An audit released in November by U.S. EPA’s inspector general found that some products without the label were more efficient than others bearing it. “EPA cannot be certain ENERGY STAR products are the more energy-efficient and cost-effective choice for consumers,” the report concluded.

About 80 percent of televisions on the market have received the Energy Star certification, as have about three-quarters of dehumidifiers and two-thirds of dishwashers. More than

40,000 products have received the certification in about 60 categories, and in about 10 of those categories, Energy Star-certified products constitute a majority of all sales, according to the agency.

EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, which administer the program, have resolved to update their criteria more quickly so consumers can be sure a certified appliance provides energy savings.

“It may have been typical” in the past for large proportions of appliances to qualify for the label, said EPA spokeswoman Maria Vargas, but “it is not an illustration of the future” (David Fahrenthold, Washington Post, Feb. 22).

Carbon index cranks up heat on blue chips

The not-for-profit Environmental Investment Organisation (EIO) is to launch a carbon ranking of the world’s largest companies with the aim of helping fund managers build carbon emissions into their investment decisions.

The Environmental Tracking (ET) Carbon Rankings Index could be signed up as a live investment index by Standard & Poors if fund managers indicate their backing for the initiative.

Indexes — of which the FTSE100 is probably the best known in the UK — rank companies so as to enable fund managers to invest in proportion to the companies’ position in the ranking. For example, FTSE100 companies are ranked by size of market capitalisation.

The Carbon Rankings Index similarly ranks companies by market capitalisation, but adds a weighting based on their emission reduction performance.

Ranking companies in this way encourages fund managers to invest in proportion to the companies’ efforts to reduce emissions as well as their market capitalisation, the EIO said. In theory, the greater a company’s effort to reduce emissions, the higher it appears in the index and therefore the greater the demand for its shares, driving up share price and rewarding the company for its initial efforts.

Conventional Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) funds tend to favour specific companies and exclude others based on varying ethical criteria. But Michael Gill, strategic director of the EIO, said the ET Carbon Index would mark the first time emissions metrics apply a uniform pressure on the share prices of all large companies.

E.P.A. Plans to Phase in Regulation of Emissions

Facing wide criticism over their recent finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public welfare, top Environmental Protection Agency officials said Monday that any regulation of such gases would be phased in gradually and would not impose expensive new rules on most American businesses.

Skip to next paragraph The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a letter to eight coal-state Democrats who have sought a moratorium on regulation that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be subjected to limits before 2013. Smaller ones would not be regulated before 2016, she said.

“I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” Ms. Jackson wrote.

Industry expects record sales even without climate bill

Existing programs to support clean energy investments combined with the prospect that Congress will pass an energy and jobs bill have set the U.S. clean-energy industry up for record growth, with big companies expecting to invest billions of dollars this year.

Though many politicians and environmentalists had argued that a clean-energy future would hinge on passage of cap-and-trade program that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions, industry analysts forecast a year of record sales in 2010, even without the prospect of such legislation moving forward in Congress.

The top names in the industry, such as General Electric Co., Iberdrola SA, NextEra Energy Resources, First Solar Inc. and Horizon Wind Energy, all say they are confident of a strong year.

“We still support cap and trade, but the price on carbon emissions we would expect to see simply isn’t sufficient to make a difference to our industry,” said Don Furman, senior vice president for development, transmission and policy at Iberdrola Renovables, the company’s clean-energy unit.

Last year the clean-energy sector expected to struggle after companies’ investments were strained due to the credit crunch and the recession, but the U.S. government’s stimulus package, which included cash grants for clean-energy projects, turned 2009 into a record breaker. The U.S. wind-power industry, for example, installed nearly 10 gigawatts of new turbines, keeping the United States as the world leader by capacity

Bill would prevent admin from creating national monuments in Utah

Three Utah Republicans are introducing legislation that would prevent the White House from designating national monuments in Utah

The move comes after an internal document obtained by House Republicans and released to the press last week identified 14 sites, including two in Utah, for new or expanded national monument designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which would allow the Obama administration to make the designations without congressional approval.

The legislation from Sens. Robert Bennett and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop would prevent President Obama and all future administrations from designating monuments in the state, leaving the power to Congress. The lawmakers said they want to prevent a repeat of the controversial designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 by the Clinton administration, which was done with little advance notice.

“The Obama administration continues to put the needs of environmentalists who want to keep the public away from public lands above the needs and desires of Utahns,” Bennett said in a statement.

Bishop added, “I was deeply troubled to find yet another example of this in the document I obtained from the Department of Interior, which targeted two areas in Utah as potential new national monuments. Decisions like this shouldn’t be made behind closed doors and with no local input.”

The legislation is modeled on a 1950 law that prohibited the future establishment of national monuments in Wyoming except as authorized by Congress, Bishop said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday said his department has no “secret agenda” to bypass Congress and designate millions of Western acres as national monuments (E&ENews PM, Feb. 22).

“We have no secret agenda,” Salazar told E&E. “We want to work with hunters and anglers, local governments, the governors and the Congress as we figure out how we’re going to move forward with respect to using and protecting the great outdoors of America.”

Salazar said that several Western governors, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), pressed him on the issue Sunday during a meeting of the National Governors Association and that he assured them of a collaborative process.

“As secretary of Interior, I’ve asked my agencies to come up with ideas for dialogue,” Salazar said. “It’s the beginning of the dialogue, as I told Governor Herbert from Utah yesterday. We’re going to work closely with them and with others.”

Salazar cited Utah’s Balanced Resource Council, which brings together all sides in public land disputes, as an example of the collaborative process he wants to pursue. He also noted Interior’s efforts to work with Bennett to include his proposal to designate more than 260,000 acres in Utah as wilderness as well as 166 miles of the Virgin River and its tributaries as wild and scenic in last year’s public lands omnibus measure.

“That’s the kind of process we’re going to engage in,” Salazar said. “People ought not to fear.”

For his part, Herbert had said he believed Salazar’s reassurances that the administration is not moving forward with fast-track or clandestine efforts to designate national monuments.

Fuel from Tobacco?

It’s not so long ago that corn-based ethanol was being widely touted as a nearly ideal form of alternative energy. It was liquid, so it could be used for a transportation fuel. It came from plants, so the carbon dioxide it emitted during burning was at least partly offset by the carbon dioxide it absorbed while the corn was growing. And it was domestic “” no need to deal with unstable or unfriendly regimes across the sea.

The bloom has faded from corn ethanol, though, mainly because it turns out to be less kind to the atmosphere than you might think. In large part, this is because plowing and harvesting take lots of energy. So does the manufacture of fertilizer you need to grow the corn, and so does the plant that processes the corn into ethanol. Even if you calculate it generously, only about two of every ten gallons of ethanol actually represent renewable energy.

That’s not the case with cellulosic ethanol “” that is, ethanol made from woody plants, cornstalks, wood chips and other fibrous plant matter, which in many cases are simply the byproducts of agriculture. But there’s a catch there too: ethanol is harder and more expensive to make from these materials than it is from corn.

But a paper just published in Plant Biotechnology Journal may point the way to a solution “” and offer an important, unrelated benefit as well. A team of scientists at the University of Central Florida has engineered tobacco plants to churn out enzymes normally produced by fungi. Enzymes are crucial to breaking cellulose down into a fermentable form, but they’re prohibitively expensive to use at commercial scale. “The cost of these enzymes,” says molecular biologist Henry Daniell, a co-author of the study, “has been the greatest barrier.”