Energy and global warming news for January 11, 2011: Edison signs deals for seven new solar power plants; China moves toward CO2 trading to boost efficiency and competitiveness; Spill panel recommendations

Edison signs deals for seven new solar power plants

Southern California Edison has signed contracts with two companies for the construction and operation of seven solar power plants in the state, including one that the utility said would be among the largest single solar photovoltaic installations in the U.S.

The facilities, when completed by 2016, would add a total of 831 megawatts of electricity-generating capacity, enough to power 540,000 homes, the Rosemead utility said Monday. That represents a significant increase in Edison’s ability to deliver power from the sun and other renewable sources.

“This is an unprecedented time for solar photovoltaic,” said Marc Ulrich, vice president for renewable and alternative power for Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International. “We’re seeing growth in technological advances and manufacturing efficiencies that result in competitive prices for green, emission-free energy for our customers.”

In 2009, Edison obtained 13.6 billion kilowatt-hours of power from renewable sources, about 17% of its overall power generation. That renewable electricity was generated by 3,296 megawatts of wind, geothermal, solar, biomass and small hydropower facilities, with solar representing only 382 megawatts of capacity, according to the utility’s website. Edison spokeswoman Vanessa McGrady said the megawatt total for solar and overall renewable power had increased since then, but she was unable to be more specific.

China Moves Toward Carbon Emissions Trading to Improve Energy Efficiency and Competitiveness

When professor Chen Hongbo tried to promote carbon trading in China three years ago, he found himself under fire. As developing countries like China aren’t obliged to limit the byproduct of their economic growth, opponents argued vehemently that they saw no need to motivate Chinese industries to either emit less greenhouse gases or pay for their emissions.

Today, China is still free of that obligation, but the internal dispute seems to have ended. In its proposed development plan for the next five years, the government has for the first time revealed its interest in building a domestic carbon market.

“Everybody now agrees this is a must,” said Chen, an associate professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a key government think tank in Beijing.

What silenced the dispute, according to Chen, was the recognition that carbon trading not only tightens a valve on China’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also goes hand in hand with another primary concern — energy efficiency.

To make local businesses more competitive and ensure national energy security, the Chinese government has been scrambling for ways to reduce the country’s energy use. But its previous attempts — such as simply shutting down inefficient factories — cost jobs and couldn’t be scaled up.

Carbon trading, however, may serve the mission better. In a nation where nearly 70 percent of the power supply comes from coal, a high carbon-emitting fuel, putting a price on carbon could drive businesses to use energy more wisely.

Oil spill panel recommends tighter rules, money for Gulf Coast

The presidential oil-spill commission said Tuesday that the federal government should require tougher regulation, stiffer fines and a new industry-run safety organization, in its final report released as part of an effort to prevent a repeat of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

The report suggests strengthening the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), calling it “underfunded” with personnel who are “often badly trained.

Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), one of the commission’s two co-chairs, said the Deepwater Horizon accident was “both foreseeable and preventable,” and reflected a failure on the part of both three individual companies and the federal government.

“I am sad to say that part of the answer is the fact that our government helped let it happen,” Graham said. “Our regulators were consistently outmatched.”

The panel proposes several safeguards aimed at strengthening regulators’ control over the oil and gas industry, including establishing an independent safety agency within the Interior Department that would be headed by someone for a fixed term in order to insulate the appointee from political interference. Graham said such a person should have “a background of both science and management.”

It also calls for funding the regulatory agencies that oversee offshore drilling with fees from the companies who are tapping into the nation’s petroleum resource, saying in its executive summary, “Funding sources could include a regulatory fee on new and existing leases or an increase in the inspection feeds already collected by the Department of Interior.”

William K. Reilly, the commission’s other co-chairman, emphasized that it would be a mistake to focus just on the three companies involved in last year’s accident. “The solution to the problem has to be industry wide.”

A Marshall Plan for Nature: How to Protect Endangered Species from Climate Change

If your house were on fire, what would you save? Where would you even start? What if not just your house, but your whole planet was on fire?

That is the scenario we face today. Climate change has arrived. No longer clouds gathering in the distance, the firestorm is here now — melting titanic glaciers, drying mighty rivers and setting deserts ablaze.

With our new report, It’s Getting Hot Out There: The Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World, the Endangered Species Coalition and our member groups attempt to answer the question: To save endangered species from climate change, where do we begin?

Threatened and endangered species, already in a precarious position, are the most vulnerable to additional pressures. For that reason, the vast and far-reaching impacts of global warming are a game changer for these plants and animals. In one stroke, climate change has introduced a new threat to edge a tremendous number of imperiled species ever closer to extinction.

So, if we are serious about our commitment to save our natural heritage for future generations, our response also must be a game-changer. We need a Marshall Plan for nature. The good news is that it is not too late to save endangered species from climate change, but we need to get to work now.

Duke Energy to Buy Progress Energy for $13.7 Billion

Duke Energy Corp. will buy Progress Energy Inc. for $13.7 billion in stock, creating the largest U.S. utility and increasing its ability to build new power plants to meet future greenhouse-gas emissions limits.

Holders of Progress Energy will get 2.6125 shares of Duke for each of their shares, the companies said today in a statement. The purchase values Raleigh, North Carolina-based Progress at $46.48 a share, 3.9 percent more than its Jan. 7 closing price, the companies said.

Duke, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, will assume about $12.2 billion in Progress Energy debt. The purchase would add power plants that operate near Duke’s service territories in North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as Progress’s Florida subsidiary. The company would serve about 7.1 million customers in six states.

Together, the companies will be better able to afford investments in new power plants, including nuclear reactors, to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, William Johnson, chief executive officer of Progress, said in a phone interview. With some plant retirements expected, “we’re going to have to replace those with something and of course nuclear is an option that is more feasible for a company this size.”

India Solar Program Passes Milestone But Hurdles Remain

India has passed a milestone in its push to become one of the world’s biggest producers of solar power, but executives warn investment could dry up if concerns including low returns and credit access aren’t resolved.

India is embracing renewable energy as it faces up to rising emissions growth caused by reliance on coal for power generation. Energy insecurity is also driving the change as India has few resources of its own to meet its rapidly growing economy and is dependent on energy imports from abroad.

Last month, India auctioned 620 megawatts of solar projects to 37 companies, an early step in a program that aims to have 20 gigawatts of solar generating capacity by 2022. Achieving this goal would see India outpace many nations in installing solar power — the International Energy Agency predicts the U.S. will have 17 GW of solar capacity by 2020.

India has committed to a feed-in tariff for solar power — a preferential policy that allows generators of renewable energy to charge more for their output because it is more expensive than traditional electricity production. Around 50 countries have a feed-in tariff policy to encourage renewable energy development.