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Energy and Global Warming News for January 14: White House says stimulus created 51,700 clean energy jobs; Decision promised soon on Cape Cod Wind Farm

White House says stimulus created 51,700 clean energy jobs

The White House reported Wednesday that the $5 billion in stimulus funds spent to promote clean energy has created 51,700 jobs nationwide.

Clearly most of the $90 billion in the stimulus package for clean energy has yet to be spent, according to the second quarterly report to Congress on the Recovery Act’s impact by the Council on Economic Advisers. It says another $26 has been obligated but not yet doled out.

The Recovery Act, pushed by President Obama but opposed by Republicans when it passed last year, promotes renewable energy such as solar and wind, energy efficiency, grid modernization, high-speed rail, vehicles with advanced fuel technologies and green job training.

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“These investments have the potential to jumpstart the transition of the American economy to greater efficiency and cleaner energy,” says the CEA in a summary posted online. In addition to the 51,700 new jobs, it says the funds have helped create another 11,000 jobs.

“This employment impact is expected to increase substantially over time,” the CEA says. Measuring them in “job-years” — one job for one year, it projects 719,000 new clean energy “job years” by end end of 2012.

Decision Promised Soon on Cape Cod Wind Farm

The Obama administration moved a step closer on Wednesday to ending the nearly decade-long conflict over a major wind power installation off Cape Cod, Mass.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, after meeting with virtually all of the parties to the dispute, said that he intended to decide whether to approve the wind turbine project no later than April.

“What I want everyone to understand is that we will bring this process to a conclusion,” Mr. Salazar said at a news briefing. He said the drawn-out controversy and repeated challenges were “bad for everyone involved.”

The project, known as Cape Wind, is shaping up as a signal test of the Obama administration’s commitment to renewable energy projects on public lands and off the nation’s shorelines. Cape Wind, first proposed in 2001, would be the country’s first major offshore wind energy project, although wind power developers in Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island hope to follow soon.

A coalition of state and local politicians, American Indian tribes, preservationists and Cape Cod business operators oppose the project, saying the 130 wind turbines rising 440 feet above the surface of Nantucket Sound would spoil the ocean view and disrupt submerged Indian burial grounds.

Mr. Salazar said he was trying to balance two of his most important missions at the Interior Department: to promote development of renewable energy to address global warming and to preserve the nation’s public lands and historic heritage.

Although he gave no explicit clue to his intentions on Cape Wind at Wednesday’s briefing, he did say that pushing renewable energy was one of President Obama’s top priorities. And his sense of urgency on reaching a decision on Cape Wind appeared to be a sign that he was leaning toward approving it.

Mr. Obama has not publicly taken sides in the dispute. The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose family compound in Hyannis Port looks out on the proposed wind farm site, was one of the project’s most outspoken opponents.

In a meeting, the coalition opposing the wind farm asked Mr. Salazar on Wednesday to consider relocating the project to a less intrusive part of the sound. State officials who support the project, including Gov. Deval Patrick, rejected the proposed compromise, saying the alternate site has already been considered.

Mr. Salazar appeared to support the state officials’ position, saying that relocating the project would require a new multiyear permitting process. He said that some of the objections of the tribes and other opponents could be addressed within the existing application.

Opponents said Mr. Salazar could approve the alternate site because it had already been considered in federal permits. Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the principal opposition group, said that the alternate site would produce as much clean energy and have far less impact on tribal and historic sites than the current proposed site.

The project appeared to suffer a major setback last week when the National Park Service declared that Nantucket Sound was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The decision came in response to a petition from two Massachusetts Indian tribes who said the soaring turbines would thwart their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise.

But Mr. Salazar can still approve the project after consulting with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent body.

A coalition of New England environmental groups urged Mr. Salazar to give a green light to Cape Wind. “This project will show the country and the world that we can meet the twin objectives of delivering clean, renewable energy while preserving the nation’s historical, cultural and natural resources,” the groups said in a statement.

Climate activists keep watch on Google scandal

Google’s potential pullout from China over cyberattacks has climate change activists watching the scandal’s effect on U.S.-China relations that are crucial to progress on global warming.

China and the U.S. are the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, and their cooperation is considered vital to speeding deployment of low-emissions technologies and securing an international climate change agreement.

“Certainly it is something that we are watching,” said Joe Mendelson, the global warming policy director for the National Wildlife Federation. “It is clear that we can’t look at the U.S.-China climate relations in a vacuum, and it is also clear that we made significant progress in Copenhagen and we don’t want to see that jeopardized by things that are outside of tackling climate change.”

Climate activists say the U.S.-China rapport on climate took a step forward at the Copenhagen climate conference last month, where Chinese officials endorsed at least some outside review of first-time pledges to slow the country’s emissions growth.

For now, environmentalists and other experts say they don’t see a threat to bilateral work on climate change and energy, which has expanded in recent years.

“The check against that, at least as it relates to energy and climate issues, is that we have now built all this infrastructure and layers of cooperation,” said Jonathan Adams, a China expert with the World Resources Institute. He cited, for instance, formal memorandums of understanding between the nations that have been reached on green energy technology collaboration.

Jake Schmidt, director of international climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, similarly said he’ll keep an eye on the issue but does not yet see potential for spillover into climate change.

“The U.S.-China relationship is pretty broad these days and I would be surprised if one issue were to impact the relationship to an extent that it would damage the ability to move forward on other issues,” he said. “We are beyond the stage of having single-issue conversations with China.”

Gore Urges Senate to Defend EPA’s Power to Limit Greenhouse Gas

Former Vice President Al Gore joined a dozen Senate Democrats in opposing a Republican effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from placing limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Republicans may soon try to “strip” the EPA of “its ability to regulate most carbon pollution, letting the worst polluters off the hook,” Gore, who won an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to publicize global warming, said yesterday in an e-mail to supporters.

A Senate confrontation over the Obama administration’s move to limit emissions from cars, trucks and industrial sources may come as early as next week. Democrats have agreed to give Republicans a vote on the issue when they debate legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in an e-mail.

The EPA’s authority stems from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling on the scope of the Clean Air Act. Legislation to limit that authority and set up a cap-and-trade market for carbon dioxide permits is stalled in the Senate. On Dec. 7, the EPA declared carbon dioxide a danger to public health, opening the way for the agency to issue its own rules.

Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a letter to lawmakers yesterday that she expects Republicans to try to reverse the EPA’s so-called endangerment finding.

Senators should uphold the EPA’s authority because “repealing an endangerment finding based upon years of work by America’s scientists and public health experts is not appropriate,” Boxer said in the letter, which was signed by the 11 other Democrats on her committee.

Is the ocean choking on greenhouse gas?

Earth’s oceans may be losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, the worst of the human-generated greenhouse gases believed to drive global warming, according to a new study co-authored by a UC Irvine scientist.

If the study’s conclusions are right, implications for climate change could be serious. The oceans normally act as a giant sponge, mopping up excess carbon from the atmosphere; reducing that ability could, under some scenarios, hasten the planet’s rise in temperature, which scientists say is already being accelerated by human emissions.

“If we keep burning fossil fuels at the same rate, a bigger fraction will accumulate in the atmosphere,” said UC Irvine physical oceanographer Francois Primeau. “The ocean becomes more acidic, diminishing the ocean’s ability to take up the carbon.”

In a paper published in November in the science journal, “Nature,” Primeau and his co-authors describe the novel method they used, based in part on real-world measurements and in part on computer modeling, to create a kind of three-dimensional profile of ocean absorption since 1765.

Direct measurements of ocean chemistry go back roughly 20 years, allowing the scientists to map out how carbon dioxide has been absorbed, carried into the depths and stored there for decades or longer, then returned to the surface.

The more carbon dioxide held in the upwelling water, the less it can absorb from the atmosphere.

The scientists used these measurements to extrapolate backward in time, revealing how carbon dioxide moved through the oceans.

The scientists also relied on data from bubbles trapped in ice cores and other “proxy” measurements, which reveal the composition of the atmosphere in the deep past “” including concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Using the computer model to match these concentrations with ocean circulation patterns revealed how well the oceans were able to absorb carbon dioxide between 1765 and 2008.

“In the 1950s, there was a sharp rise, corresponding to the time when we started burning a lot more fossil fuels,” Primeau said.

The critical finding: that increase flattens out significantly starting in the 1980s, and most dramatically in the 2000s.

“That kind of suggests that the fraction of what we’re emitting that goes into the ocean is decreasing,” Primeau said.

Ocean acidification, which results from excess carbon dioxide being absorbed, also could have grim implications for sea life, perhaps interfering with the ability of coral to form skeletons, or tiny marine creatures to form shells.

There are uncertainties in the modeling “” for example, the assumption that ocean circulation patterns in the past were the same as they are today. The assumption is likely safe going back a couple of centuries, Primeau said, which covers the era of climate-altering human emissions.

Western Wind gets nod for turbine sites in Arizona

Canada’s Western Wind Energy Corp (WND.V) said it received approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority for 15 turbine locations for its wind and solar energy project based in Arizona. The company also said it was in the process of finalizing a turbine supplier, engineering procurement construction contractor and solar panel provider. Shares of the Vancouver-based company closed at C$1.77 Wednesday on the Toronto Venture Exchange.

Climate change: investors ignore it at your peril

In the investment world it is a challenge to predict with accuracy what will happen in the next week, let alone the next decade. But there are three trends which are set to unfold in the coming years which will have such a major impact on the global economy that the investment implications are reasonably easy to foresee.

The first and most potentially calamitous trend is climate change, both in terms of costs of mitigating its effects and also adjusting global energy use to ensure that the effects do not worsen. The second is a global water shortage. The third is demographic shifts, both in terms of population growth, which is partly the cause of the first two issues, and, in the developed world, a rapidly ageing population.

The floods in the Lake District last year were passed off by the Environment Agency as a ‘once in every 1000 years weather event’. Unfortunately, once in every 1,000 year events will start to occur with alarming frequency now that the effects of climate change are starting to be felt.

While politicians argued at Copenhagen about how much CO2 to reduce and who makes the first move on an international level, at a national level the shift to more sustainable energy production has already begun in earnest. In the UK, for example, 2.3 million homes are now fuelled by windpower.

The European Union as a whole is predicted to have 199 gigawatts of wind energy by 2020, about enough to fuel 100 million homes. The United States and China are rapidly growing their wind and solar capacity. At the moment only 1pc of urban air in China meets European equivalent standards and the Chinese government is facing civil unrest, so it is unsurprising that they are putting their weight behind the alternative energy industry.

A solar plant was recently commissioned by the Chinese to be built in Inner Mongolia which will be 25 square miles — about the size of Greater London — and will provide two gigawatts of capacity.

What this means in investment terms is that there is a tremendous opportunity to participate in an emerging growth area, not just by investing in wind and solar companies, but in other companies providing solutions to the now pressing problem of climate change: Insulation manufacturers, for example, companies involved in the smart grid, makers of batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles, rail companies.

All these sectors will see tremendous growth over the next decade and yet the share prices are still smarting in the wake of the financial crisis and are far off their 2007 highs.

Less headline grabbing than climate change, but nonetheless a disaster in store for many parts of the world is the increasing scarcity of water.

Already 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water. As the global population increases and water usage per capita grows, there will be a 40pc shortfall in the water needs of the world in the next 20 years. Again, as with climate change, companies providing solutions to this issue exist and it seems likely that, given the scale of the problem, they will see rapid growth in the coming decade.

The main areas of investment opportunity are threefold: companies controlling demand through water metering and other technologies; companies preventing leaks by shoring up decaying infrastructure (in the US it is estimated that between $30bn and $40bn annually needs to be spent on regenerating water infrastructure); and increasing supply through techniques such as desalination and filtration.

In addition, agriculture and manufacturing will be forced to find methods of production that are less water intensive. As an investment area, water is interesting because it is relatively under explored and so there are still attractive opportunities on reasonable valuations.

Finally, demographics, in particular the rapidly ageing population is a trend which will gather pace in the coming decade. Between now and 2050, the number of people aged over 85 is set to treble in the European Union. People over the age of 85 need on average nine times the amount of health care products and services that someone under 65 needs.

The implications for the health care industry are clear; strong and sustainable growth for companies providing goods and services such as orthopaedic equipment, hearing aids, dental implants, kidney dialysis machines, care homes and hospital equipment.

From an investment point of view, health care is attractive because the growth tends to be steady and counter cyclical so the investor need not suffer the roller coaster ride that other sectors proffer.

So at WHEB Asset Management, we believe that the most reliable way of making money over time is by identifying these long term trends and investing accordingly. One word of warning though: In the 1890s it was predicted that if the rate of traffic continued to increase in London, by the end of the 20th Century, London would be buried under six feet of horse manure.

Then the car came along. Mankind has a wonderful capacity to invent and adapt. But for the moment, we’ll be backing climate change solutions, water companies and health care providers. From where we see the future, it looks like the safest bet.

Britain confident of climate deal in Mexico: report

Britain is confident of reaching a legally binding climate agreement by the end of the year in Mexico, British Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said at an event for UK industry on Wednesday evening.

“I am confident we can get an agreement as we have made a lot of progress over the last year,” Miliband said, responding to a question from Reuters whether a deal can be reached in Mexico in November this year.

“We are trying to get consensus from 192 countries from very different places to be part of an agreement. That is tough and that’s what Copenhagen showed,” he added.

A U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in December merely noted a non-binding accord on broad principles, without commitments to binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

Talks ended with a bare-minimum agreement that fell far short of its original goal of forging a replacement for the climate-protecting Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

“It was definitely a disappointment. We wanted a tract to a legal treaty,” Miliband said, referring to the summit.

“But the year itself was a success. I genuinely believe the world moved in the course of the year in a way it wouldn’t have done without the coalition that was assembled.”

Miliband said the course to a legally binding agreement will be tough, with “bumps” along the way. A January 31 deadline for countries to commit to emissions cuts is fast approaching.

“We have to broaden, strengthen and deepen the agreement. Broaden it because we only have representatives from around 50 countries signing up. It is very important that we broaden the number of countries involved,” Miliband said.

“We need not only commitments on the January 31 but we need those commitments ratcheted up during the course of the year.”

European Union environment ministers will seek a strategy for reviving global climate talks at a meeting in Spain this week.

Miliband said developing countries have a lot to gain from signing up to a legally binding pact.

“For some developing countries, a legal treaty felt like a bridge too far. Personally, I feel we can convince them they have less to fear but more to gain from the assurance of a legal agreement.”

U.S. carbon emissions to rise next two years-EIA

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels like coal and oil should rise this year and next as the economy recovers, making the Obama administration’s goal to cut emissions by 2020 a tougher task, the government’s top energy forecaster said on Tuesday.

U.S. emissions of the main planet-warming gas should rise 1.5 percent this year to 5.53 billion tonnes as “projected improvements in the economy” boost demand for the fuels, the Energy Information Administration said in its monthly short-term energy outlook.

Emissions of the chemical, which represent about 80 percent of overall U.S. greenhouse gas output, should rise another 1.7 percent in 2011, on expected increases in coal burning at power plants and slightly higher oil demand from transportation fuels.

“It does mean the U.S. target will be more challenging,” said Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners LLC in Washington. “Everyone expects that fossil fuel demand from transportation will eventually flatten out, but electricity demand only goes up, even with efficiency gains,” he added.

President Barack Obama pledged at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen in December that the country would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Compared to 1990, the base year used by the European Union and many developed countries, the U.S. pledge corresponds to a 3 percent reduction in 2020.

The recession made Obama’s pledge look easy to achieve.

U.S. carbon emissions fell 6.1 percent in 2009 to 5.45 billion tonnes as the recession cut driving and electricity demand, the EIA said. That was about 8.9 percent below the 2005 level of 5.98 billion tonnes.

But expectations of an improved economy will push industrial demand for electricity up 2.2 percent in 2010 and 2.5 in 2011, the EIA said. The burning of coal, which emits more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel, generates about half of the electricity in the United States.