Energy and Global Warming News for July 16: Renewables see ‘resilient growth’ in 2009; New York City revs up for plug-ins; Natural gas company’s disclosure decision could change fracking debate

Renewables see ‘resilient growth’ in 2009

The building of new renewable energy sources continued to outstrip new fossil fuel power plants in Europe and the US during 2009, a report has shown.

The UN-backed study said renewables accounted for 60% of new electricity generation capacity in Europe.

And in the US, green electricity accounted for more than half of the generation capacity built last year.


The authors added that renewables were set to outpace conventional energy sources across the globe next year.

The global status report, produced by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), said green power had reached a “clear tipping point” during 2010.

“Renewables comprised fully one-quarter of global power capacity and delivered 18% of global electricity supply in 2009,” it stated in its review of the preceding 12 months.

The authors said the year was “unprecedented in the history of renewable energy, despite the headwinds posed by the global financial crisis, lower oil prices and slow progress with climate policy”.

One of the forces propelling the sector’s strong showing, they added, was the “potential to create new industries and millions of new jobs”.

The findings also showed that emerging economies were also embracing the new technologies, especially China, which added 37 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity last year — more than any other nation in the world.

New York City Revs Up for Plug-Ins

New York City has just unveiled the first of about 100 electric vehicle charging stations to be installed under a national program that aims to have nine metropolitan regions ready when automakers begin rolling out some electric vehicles later this year.

The public car-charging station, at an Edison Properties parking facility on Ninth Avenue between 35th and 36th Streets in Manhattan, is part of ChargePoint America, a federally sponsored program that promotes the quick adoption of electric cars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs. The program envisions 4,600 public and home charging stations around the country by October 2011.

City officials said they planned to buy 40 electric cars this year for various government agencies.

Richard Lowenthal, chief executive officer of Coulomb Technologies, the company installing the chargers, said the stations accept credit cards just as a gas pump does. But it can take one to four hours to charge a car, he said.

Indian Ocean levels rising, study shows

Indian Ocean sea levels are rising unevenly, posing a threat to residents in some densely populated coastal areas and islands, a new study says.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, attributes the sea-level rise in part to climate change.

Along the coasts of the northern Indian Ocean, seas have risen by an average of about 0.5 inches a decade, the research shows. The increases are particularly noted along the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java.

Natural Gas Company’s Disclosure Decision Could Change Fracking Debate

A Texas natural gas producer’s decision to voluntarily disclose the chemicals it injects into the ground could prompt other drillers to do the same, and pave the way for regulators to require such disclosure.

But Range Resources Corp.’s move also reflects the desire of industry to get out ahead of the issue to prevent federal regulation of the key drilling practice called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

At least one other major driller, Chesapeake Energy Corp., says it is considering disclosing chemicals used in fracking on a well-by-well basis as Range is planning.

And members of the industry’s main trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, are finalizing their own proposal for disclosure, an API spokeswoman said yesterday. But it could provide less information than what environmentalists and lawmakers have sought, and also less than what Range is preparing to disclose.

Firm proposes 200 megawatt Nebraska wind farm

A Chicago company submitted plans Thursday to build a 200-megawatt wind farm in northeast Nebraska on the same day a new state law encouraging wind power development took effect.

Invenergy submitted a proposal to the Nebraska Power Review Board to spend $448 million installing 133 wind turbines on about 45,000 acres of Antelope and Boone counties. One megawatt is roughly enough to power 200 to 300 American homes for a day.

The American Wind Energy Association says Nebraska ranks sixth in the country for wind-energy potential, but 24th for actual production at the end of last year. One reason is it’s the only state where all electric customers are served by publicly owned utilities.

State Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler said Invenergy’s application suggests the new wind power law will have a positive impact.

“It also sends a message that Nebraska is officially open for the business of renewable energy development,” Langemeier said.

Enviro Groups to Sue Coal Plant Touted by Texas as Permitting Success

In the wake of U.S. EPA’s rejection of a Texas program that permits the state’s largest air pollution sources, environmental groups have challenged a coal-fired power plant that Gov. Rick Perry (R) had hailed as a symbol of the value of the state’s “flexible” permitting program.

When federal regulators rejected the Texas permitting program on June 30, it raised the pitch of an already unusually noisy fight between state and federal regulators. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) sued EPA last month over the agency’s rejection of one air permitting program, and with the publication of the agency’s final decision on the “flexible” permitting program in today’s Federal Register, the door is open for another legal challenge from the Lone Star State.

More than half new power in U.S., EU is green: study

More than half of all new electricity capacity added in the United States and Europe last year was from renewable power such as wind and solar, a body backed by the International Energy Agency and the UN reported.

Last year was also a record year for the amount of new green power added to the grid, partly a result of shifting deployment and manufacture to emerging economies including Brazil, India and China, from flagging developed countries.

“In 2009, China produced 40 percent of the world’s solar PV supply, 30 percent of the world’s wind turbines, up from 10 percent in 2007,” REN21, or the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, said in a report on Thursday.

REN21, launched in 2005, is supported by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises 28 industrialized countries — and by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Of an extra 80 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable power capacity added worldwide, China added 37 GW, more than any other country, said the study, titled “Renewables 2010, Global Status Report.”

Green energy market ‘resilient’ to downturn in 2009, according to U.N.

The creation of new power capacity from renewable energy has exceeded new fossil fuel power generation in the United States and Europe for the second year running, according to two United Nations reports published Thursday.

Renewables accounted for over 50 percent of new capacity in the U.S. in 2009 while in Europe the figure was 60 percent, leading the U.N. to predict that the world as a whole will add more capacity to the electricity supply from renewables than non-renewables this year or by 2011.

Globally, nearly 80 giga-watts (GW) of new renewable power capacity was added in 2009, the U.N. reported.

U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) executive director, Achim Steiner said in a statement that the story of renewable energy investment in 2009 was one of “resilience to the financial downturn,” with many businesses and governments determined to “transform the financial and economic crisis into an opportunity for greener growth.”

Science says Asian carp are a serious threat to the Great Lakes (Sen. Debbie Stabenow)

On Tuesday, The Hill’s Congress Blog ran a post entitled “Asian carp solution: Use science, not scare tactics,” by Lisa Frede, a lobbyist for the chemical industry and an adviser to an interest group opposed to our efforts to stop the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. Her post mirrored the comments made by her boss at the Chemical Industry Council, Mark Biel, whose June 3 post on Congress Blog (“Carp catastrophists come up empty handed”) attacked the science and the federal response to the Asian carp threat.

Mr. Biel said that “no evidence of Asian carp breaching existing barriers has been found.” He went on to argue that the whole effort was a waste of time and money because of all the fish caught as part of the prevention efforts, “Asian carp just did not happen to be among them “” not even one.”

Well, unfortunately, a few weeks later, Asian carp were found past the barriers just six miles from Lake Michigan. A bighead carp was caught in Lake Calumet, and Asian carp were found spawning in the Wabash River in Illinois, not far from a connection to the Maumee River, which feeds into Lake Erie.

Firm Seeks ‘Blue Gold’ in Alaska

Freshwater supplies are strained in countries all over the world. But in a few places like Alaska, Greenland and Canada, there’s more than enough to go around. So why not ship water from where it’s plentiful to where it’s scarce?

Most people would call this a fool’s errand: water is heavy and transporting it thousands of miles is tremendously expensive and energy-intensive. But not S2C Global Systems, a small Texas company now in the developmental stage that hopes to ship billions of gallons of freshwater by tanker to India and the Middle East from Alaska.

The water will come from Sitka, a small town on an island in southeast Alaska that holds the rights to 6.2 billion gallons a year from a large reservoir nearby. The town recently signed a contract with S2C to export nearly half of that allocation at a price of a penny a gallon. The company’s first “water hub” is under development at a port south of Mumbai, an S2C executive told Circle of Blue, a global research group on water issues that has been following the deal.

Illegal logging of tropical forests in decline: study

Illegal logging of tropical woodland has fallen sharply, providing welcome news in the fight against climate change and a lifeline for a billion poor people who depend on forests for survival, a report released Thursday said.

Since 2000, international efforts to stem the illicit felling of trees has spared some 17 million hectares (42 million acres) in three countries alone, amounting to a preserved area larger than England and Wales, the London think tank Chatham House said.

In Brazil, which contains more than a quarter of the planet’s tropical cover, outlaw logging over the last decade dropped by between 50 and 75 percent, mainly due to stricter laws and tougher enforcement.

The rate of decline in Indonesia was 75 percent, and in Cameroon pirate logging was cut in half.

But in two other countries covered by the study, the level remained roughly unchanged over the same period.

In Ghana, the problem continues to be endemic, accounting for around two-thirds of overall timber production. And in Malaysia, illegal harvesting still represents 14 to 25 percent of total output, the lowest of the five nations under review.

Brazil, Indonesia Illegal Timber Trade Shrinks, U.K. Study Says

Illegal logging in Brazil, Indonesia and Cameroon shrank as much as 75 percent in 2000–2008, lowering carbon emissions from tropical forests that have been blamed for adding to global warming, a study by Chatham House said.

About 17 million hectares (42 million acres) of rain forest have been protected and 1.2 billion tons of polluting emissions avoided over that period, Chatham House, a London-based non- governmental research organization, said today in a report.

Cutting trees illegally in rain forests is one of the biggest greenhouse-gas contributors after burning fossil fuels including coal. Earlier this month, the European Union parliament voted to force companies to ascertain that the timber sold in the 27-nation EU was harvested legally. The U.S. also prohibits the import and sale of illegally logged wood.

U.N. calls for holistic climate effort

A strong partnership between the public and private sector is needed to address the challenges presented by climate change, officials said in Mexico.

An advisory group assessing energy and climate change issues for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met in Mexico City to examine the holistic work needed to tackle climate-related issues.

Kandeh Yumkella, the chairman of the advisory group and director general of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, said governments alone can’t deal with climate challenges.

“We need a commitment from all sectors of society, including the private sector, academia, and civil society, as well as from international organizations and non-government organizations,” he was quoted by UNIDO as saying.

Britons urged to count trees to fight climate change

A British museum is urging the public to record trees in parks, streets and gardens as part of a three-year survey to uncover how climate change is affecting the environment.

London’s Natural History Museum is enlisting the public’s help to locate, identify and count trees to find out which species is growing where and how climate change impacts the tree population.

Scientists know a lot about trees in rural areas but relatively little is known about urban areas, the survey’s website says.

China Wind Power Priorities Offers Europe Opportunities, Oxford Study Says

China’s changing priorities for wind power are creating opportunities for European companies as the world’s biggest polluter seeks to boost wind-park efficiency, a study by researchers at Oxford University said.

Wind park siting, or picking the best site for the turbine to gain the most wind energy, and grid development are among opportunities for collaboration between European and Chinese companies, Benito Mueller, director of Oxford University’s Institute for Energy Studies, and colleagues wrote in a study.

China erected more turbines last year than any other country and may install a record 18 gigawatts of wind power capacity this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates. Second-quarter financing of renewable energy in China surged 72 percent to $11.5 billion, more than Europe and the U.S. combined, New Energy Finance said on July 13.

The European Union and China should explore more ventures to collaborate on wind park development, operations and transmission, the authors wrote. Additional cooperation may help China establish targets for carbon-dioxide reductions through wind power expansion, they said.

Obama: ‘Jobs of the future’ in Mich.

President Barack Obama trudged through a muddy construction site to break ground Thursday on a high-tech battery factory here, calling it proof that his emergency spending programs are lifting the nation out of deep recession.

“For years, you’ve been hearing about manufacturing jobs disappearing overseas,” said Obama, standing in front of trucks and mounds of dirt. “You are leading the way in showing how manufacturing jobs are coming right back here to the United States of America.”

In this distressed city, where unemployment lingers at more than 16 percent, Obama pledged more new jobs and said a stronger economy is within sight.

Michigan and the White House have pinned hopes of an economic revival here on the fledgling electric-car industry, hoping it can fill the void left by the vanishing auto manufacturing jobs that built Michigan’s middle class. On Thursday, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proclaimed Michigan the “North American battery capital,” which the president said bodes well for the state’s future.