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Energy and Global Warming News for June 1: Ford revamps shuttered plant for clean economy; Lots of activity in world solar markets

Ford plant renovation signals company’s new direction

Ford Motor Co. is about halfway through converting its Michigan Assembly Plant from one that used to build trucks and SUVs into one that produces the fuel-efficient vehicles the automaker hopes will be its cornerstone.

The $550 million project to convert the plant in Wayne, Mich., from a closed-down factory to the production site for the Ford Focus compact car could bring about 3,200 new jobs. The nearby Wayne Assembly Plant, where the Focus is currently built, will be closed once the transformation is complete.

Workers and Ford officials see the renewal of the factory as a symbol for how the company is changing its priorities to greener cars.

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CEO Alan Mulally wants to see the company make a profit off small cars in the United States while revamping production to use fewer platforms.Some 700 workers and contractors are helping refurbish the factory, which closed in 2008. The project, which started in December, was dominated in the early going by removing plumbing, wires and heating and cooling systems, some as much as 50 years old. Ford says the effort has now turned to installing platforms and conveyor belts with the goal of having the plant operational by the end of the year. By 2012, the company expects to be building multiple car models through the same pipeline.

The new Focus is expected to be more efficient than the last model, but will cost more than Ford’s previous compact cars. It is expected to compete against the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, which dominate the compact market (Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press, May 27).

China wind power group in $1.2 billion IPO: sources

China’s second-largest wind turbine maker, Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co Ltd, plans to raise up to $1.2 billion in a Hong Kong initial public offering, sources close to the deal said.“Goldwind’s IPO is set to test the market’s appetite for renewable plays,” said Jackson Wong, investment manager at Tanrich Securities.

“Its success could signal more IPOs of its kind in the next few months, though unstable markets are still a concern.”

Panasonic aims for top Japan market share in newly acquired solar-panel business

Panasonic Corp. is banking on the solar-panel business that it gained by acquiring domestic rival Sanyo, aiming for top market share of at least 35 percent in Japan by 2012.

New solar generation products, being offered in Japan starting next month, combine Sanyo Electric Co.’s solar technology with Panasonic’s sales networks in appliances and housing, said Panasonic Executive Vice President Toshihiro Sakamoto.

Panasonic will be able to provide overall energy-saving systems for homes that will include rechargeable batteries, heating and air conditioning, security systems and Net-linking gadgets besides solar panels, which will all be hooked up to each other, he said.

SunEdison venture could lead to $1.5 billion in solar energy projects

SunEdison, a Beltsville firm that develops solar energy plants around the world, is teaming with one of the industry’s largest private-equity companies in a joint venture that could generate up to $1.5 billion in new projects.

The deal with First Reserve comes as the price of manufacturing photovoltaic cells has dropped sharply in the past 18 months, making new projects much more affordable. At the same time, a growing number of governments around the world are requiring utilities to generate more power from renewable sources — helping to kick up demand for solar.

Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the deal could be a harbinger of what’s to come in the industry.

“The biggest challenge we have faced in recent years is project financing,” Resch said. “This starts to free up capital and allow the industry to begin to scale up.”

Ed Markey: BP ‘Lying Or Incompetent’ About Scope Of Gulf Oil Spill

Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of a House energy committee investigating the oil spill, slammed BP’s response to the disaster in an appearance on “Face The Nation” Sunday morning. He suggested that the oil company has misled the public about the magnitude of the spill, and warned the public not to trust what the company is saying.

From the very beginning, Markey said, BP low-balled the size of the oil leak, saying publicly that it was 1,000 barrels per day when in fact they believed that it could be upwards of 14,000 barrels per day. And they did so, he charged, in order to insulate the company from potential liability. “BP has a stake in their own liability here,” Markey said. “By that I mean the fine that can be imposed upon them is dependent upon how many barrels per day are going out into the Gulf.

Oil, the Pentagon, and the law of diminishing returns

“Plug the damn hole,” says the nation’s chief executive to his aides. Why does he bother? His aides don’t know anything about plugging oil leaks under the ocean. And those people who do know something about it have been unable to fix the leak.

Mr. Obama is not only America’s president. He also presides over the biggest single user of oil in the world — the US military. The Pentagon uses twice as much oil as the entire nation of Ireland. It sends soldiers in oil-burning airplanes to places of no apparent importance where they drive around in oil-burning machines for no apparent reason.

Naturally, oil becomes not just another commodity, but a strategic commodity”¦worth fighting for. Then, foreign wars use up the oil they were expected to protect.

Huge air pollution study under way in California

Instrument-laden aircraft and a research ship equipped to sniff the atmosphere and ocean have joined land-based monitoring stations in a huge field study of air pollution and climate change in California.

The goal of the $20 million state and federal project is to understand the origin of pollutants and greenhouse gases, where they go and what becomes of them as an integrated air-quality and climate-change issue.

“Many chemicals that change climate are also air pollutants and the chemistry that makes them are the same, and the atmosphere doesn’t care which issue we are dealing with,” said A.R. Ravishankara, chemical sciences director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

Time to turn to algae-based fuel

As an oilman, I’ve been talking about America’s energy future with folks for more than 30 years. And I’ve continued that conversation since I was sworn into Congress.

But the more people I talked to about solutions for America’s energy future, the more I kept hearing the same answers: stable, affordable prices; reduced dependence on foreign oil; fuels that are good for the environment; and energy jobs right here in America.

While domestic oil and gas, wind and solar power, nuclear power and traditional biofuels are critical parts of a do-it-all and do-it-in-America approach to energy, there’s one source that can meet all four of those needs: algae.

BP, Massey investors bite into Big Coal and Big Oil (sub’s req’d)

Call it the wrath of the common stockholders. BP PLC, Halliburton Co. and Massey Energy Co. are at the center of either the worst oil spill in the nation’s history or one of its deadliest coal mining disasters. Now Wall Street investors are exacting a price.

BP has lost 30 percent of its value, or roughly $50 billion of its market capitalization, since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. From the standpoint of environmental groups, the rapid sell-off of BP shares signals that oil companies can no longer cut corners and rest on their laurels as long as profits keep flowing. The gusher at the bottom of the sea reinforces concerns about U.S. reliance on oil for use in fuel-guzzling cars and about the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

The sell-off of Massey Energy stock has also been dramatic since the April 5 explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that left 29 miners dead. Safety citations from regulators are piling up, leaving investors on the hook. Massey share prices have since tumbled by 48 percent, from $54.69 to a $28.79 low on May 25.

Conn.’s governor vetoes energy and climate bill (sub’s req’d)

A verbal fistfight broke out in Connecticut last week among politicians, businesses and environmentalists over the governor’s veto of a law, a move that critics said would result in more greenhouse gas emissions and shut down much of the state’s solar industry.

Gov. Jodi Rell (R) vetoed a comprehensive energy package that would have provided extensive solar incentives, aimed at slicing electricity prices by 15 percent; expanded efficiency standards; and restructured Connecticut’s energy agencies. It was passed in both legislative houses before the state General Assembly adjourned at the end of May.

Environmentalists said the move was a slap in the face from the retiring governor, who in the past had been supportive of renewable initiatives and programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system operating in in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

“The governor caved in to big energy companies and utilities,” said Christopher Phelps of Environment Connecticut. “This is going to guarantee that we fall behind our neighboring states in terms of clean energy,”

Mike Trahan of Solar Connecticut Inc. said solar developers desperately needed the law, since they already were leaving the state because of a dry-up in financing. A Clean Energy Fund operated by the state providing financial assistance for solar power jump-started the industry with some of the most generous incentives in the country but ran out of money last year, he said.

Nation’s biggest energy spender tries to lead by example (sub’s req’d)

The U.S. Energy Department raised the bar for government buildings last week, requiring more sustainable features for new and renovated facilities.

DOE released a proposed rule in the Federal Register on Friday. Among its suggestions: The government should be required to build on-site renewable energy whenever it’s cost-effective, to use solar water heaters, and to buy Watersense products — high-efficiency appliances approved by U.S. EPA — whenever possible.

It also spells out other principles, such as using materials that have a lower environmental impact and setting up federal buildings to offer shorter commutes and brighter rooms.

Much of the letter and spirit of these ideas was already spelled out in executive orders, most recently when President Obama announced a goal to reduce federal agencies’ emissions 28 percent below 2008 levels by 2020.

Nevertheless, some environmental groups are cheering DOE’s proposed rule: They say an executive order can always be reversed, but a formal rule shows the White House putting its money where its mouth is.

Emma Cheuse, a lawyer for Earthjustice, said the scope of DOE’s proposal is no joke, either. It wouldn’t just apply to federally owned buildings, like post offices and Social Security offices; it would also capture private military housing, offices leased by federal agencies, and more.

The federal government uses 1.7 percent of the country’s energy, making it the largest energy consumer. It has more than half a million buildings, and on U.S. soil alone, it has 630,000 vehicles.

For more information on how the federal government can lead by example, see here.