Energy and global warming news for January 14, 2011: China sets goals to reduce emissions of pollutants and leads world to record global spending on clean energy

China sets goals to reduce emissions of pollutants

China said Friday it would cut emissions this year by rejecting construction projects that pollute too much and developing new technologies that curb greenhouse gases.

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The Ministry of Environmental Protection set a target to cut emissions of major pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxide by 1.5 percent in 2011 compared to last year, a report on the ministry’s website said.

China is the world’s largest polluter, with energy demands growing sharply every year. The consumption boom reflects the country’s transformation from a nation of subsistence farmers to one of workers increasingly trading bicycles for cars and buying energy-hungry home electronics.

Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian said in the report that construction projects that fail to meet environmental standards will not be approved or suspended.

New technologies, such as treatment plants for waste recycling and wastewater treatment, are also in development, Zhou said. Other measures include developing technology to remove sulfur, nitrogen and other polluting materials from industrial manufacturing.

2010 Was a Kick-Ass Year for Clean Energy Investments “” Thanks, China!

Global investment in clean energy rocketed to a record $243 billion in 2010, largely on the back of China’s rabid spending and solar rooftop installations in Europe, according to figures released this week from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Meanwhile, the Americas region “” which includes the U.S. “” brought up the rear. And the way things are shaking out, the U.S. won’t make any headway in 2011 either.

If anything, the U.S. is headed backwards. For instance, HBSC said in a research note Thursday the uncertainty that marked global investment in low-carbon energy tech has been replaced with optimism “” except in the U.S.

Uncertainty rulez in the U.S. “” thanks, Congress!

It’s not that the U.S. is at a standstill, while every other country busily slaps up solar panels and invests in wind power. New clean energy investments in the Americas region rose 35 percent to hit $65.8 billion, the BNEF said. And the U.S. was among several countries, led by Germany, that helped investment in small-scale, distributed generation projects surge 91 percent to $59.6 billion. BNEF even highlighted the $400 million financing for wind developer Pattern Energy Group and $350 million for Better Place as two notable U.S. private equity deals.

The U.S. is just slower, which is significant considering our wealth, size and resources. The problem stems from policy uncertainty, meaning Congress has punted repeatedly on climate-change legislation and even a narrow energy bill.

Duke, Progress Energy Merger Provides Bigger Clout to Energy Efficiency, Nuclear

The giant merger between the utilities Duke Energy Corp. and Progress Energy Inc. may have a telling impact on the congressional debate over U.S. energy policy during the new session.

The more than $13 billion utility merger announced earlier this week would provide electricity service to upward of 7 million customers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, if approved by federal and state regulators and the Justice Department. It would have the third largest fleet of nuclear plants. Both companies have made moves away from their coal generation to natural gas, although coal still provides more than half of the generation in the combined fleet.

The companies aim to complete the merger by the end of this year.

Leading the unified utility will be Jim Rogers, current CEO of Duke Energy and slated to be executive chairman of the new company, also to be called Duke Energy. Rogers has been a vocal leader on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy efficiency as the “fifth fuel.” Bill Johnson, Progress’ chairman, president and CEO, will become president and CEO of the new company.

Rogers’ sphere of influence will expand with the new company and on the level with other utility giants: Exelon Corp., Southern Co. and American Electric Power Co. Inc., utility lobbyists say.

EU May Consider Taxing Energy, Commissioner Says

The European Union may consider taxing energy resources to curb wasteful consumption and ensure the bloc follows its strategy of low-carbon growth, the EU’s Climate Commissioner said today.

The 27-nation EU is already running the world’s largest carbon market and wants to remain a global leader in combating climate change.

“If we tax more what we burn and less what we earn, there’s really room for a paradigm shift there,” Connie Hedegaard told a seminar organized by the Lisbon Council in Brussels. Hedegaard declined to say which resources might be taxed, nor did she specify the type of tax that might be introduced.

The bloc’s cap-and-trade emissions program, known as ETS, covers more than 11,000 installations that must have a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide they discharge. Those emitting more than their quota must buy more allowances.

“We need some pricing mechanisms. That’s what the ETS is basically about,” she said. “But we also need them outside the ETS to be able, to a higher degree, to price energy resources.”

EU tax laws and changes to them require the unanimous approval of member governments.

Major bank calls US ‘significant outlier’ on greenhouse-gas action

One of the world’s largest banks said Thursday there is “positive momentum” in 2011 for climate change-related investments. But the bank says there’s one exception to that rule: the United States.

The global research arm of HSBC, the world’s sixth-largest bank, said Thursday in an investment note that the uncertainty that marked climate investments in 2010 will be replaced this year by optimism.

But HSBC warns that the United States is a “significant outlier” in the world’s move toward policies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and encourage investment in low-carbon energy technology.The prediction comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for policies that will help build a so-called “clean energy economy” in the United States. But lawmakers have largely been unable to come to a consensus on the best path forward. The investment note is the latest indication that the United States is falling behind other countries in this effort.

“[L]ast year’s failure to pass federal climate legislation is set to be followed by efforts in the new Congress to roll back existing climate measures,” HSBC notes, a reference to efforts by Republicans and some Democrats to block

To save the planet and the budget, cut energy off the dole

President Obama promised in the fall that a top priority of his legislative program for 2011 would be an energy policy “that helps us grow at the same time as it deals with climate change in a serious way.” With global warming deniers now in charge of the House of Representatives, there would seem to be little hope for major legislation on clean energy or climate in this Congress. Even a member of his own party, West Virginia’s new senator, Joe Manchin, has boasted of extracting “a deep commitment and personal commitment” from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “that cap and trade is dead”

But all is not lost. If Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable-energy future — and a green one, too — he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. Yes, all of them — oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, and wind and solar. Energy subsidies are the sordid legacy of more than 60 years of politics as usual in Washington. It would be better for national security, the balance of payments, the budget deficit and even, yes, the environment if we simply wiped the slate clean and let all energy sources compete for the future.

And with anti-pork Tea Partyers loose in Washington and deficit-cutting in the air, it’s not as politically inconceivable as one might think.

As an investor in clean and green energy, I don’t make this suggestion lightly. But as environmentalists are realizing, the energy providers of the last century (oil and coal), and a few politically wired new energy interests (such as corn-based ethanol and nuclear), always seem to come out the big winners in the $20 billion annual energy subsidy game. As long as current energy subsidies stay in place, and K Street lobbyists have sway over what interests deserve congressional favoritism, American tax dollars will continue to retard the market forces that are pushing the United States toward energy independence and a greener future.

Green Energy Opponents Are the Real Job Killers

Listen to how we discuss clean energy in this country, and you’ll note that the conversation is exactly upside down. To hear the mainstream discourse tell it, clean energy may be a nice idea but it’s prohibitively expensive. Going green, it’s said, will cost jobs and strangle growth at a time when America must do whatever it takes to get our economy and people working again. Environmentalists are going to raise everyone’s energy bills. We’re the “job killers.”

This framing of the issue runs 180 degrees counter to the actual facts of life in the year 2011. Clean energy transformation is the best””perhaps the only””path to economic and job growth, including rebuilding our industrial base and competitiveness. As British economist Nicholas Stern has said of clean energy, “These investments will play the role of the railways, electricity, the motor car and information technology in earlier periods of economic history.”

Renewable energies, if properly financed and combined with energy-saving investments, will lead to lower net energy bills for Americans, cheaper transportation and price stability. With a smart grid, the savings from new refrigerators, cars, lights and air-conditioners that use far less energy will more than compensate for the relatively small increases in electric rates needed to discourage carbon and switch to wind and solar. McKinsey & Company’s 2009 report “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy” shows that for every dollar spent making buildings and appliances more efficient, we’ll get two in return. What other investment can match that? The same report estimates that the United States could reduce annual energy consumption by 23 percent with net dollar savings (not counting savings in transportation from vehicles, which would add more). And this is based on the price of fossil fuels remaining constant, which it won’t.

Kerry, other Dems say hottest year on record a wake-up call on global warming

Sen. John Kerry and other advocates for climate change legislation say data showing that 2010 was tied for the hottest year on record should prompt action.

“How many times do we have to be smacked in the face with factual evidence before we address global climate change? Report after report keep confirming it’s getting worse every year,” Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement Wednesday.

Kerry added: “Will we find common ground and adult leadership or keep piling the science on a shelf to collect dust?”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, citing temperature data that date back to 1880, reported Wednesday that last year was tied with 2005 as the warmest on record.

2010 was also the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th century average, the agency reported.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) also flagged the NOAA report Wednesday. “The hottest year on record is a difficult fact to deny,” said Markey, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee.