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Energy and Global Warming News for June 11, 2010: Wind companies to buy more U.S. parts

Wind Companies to Buy More U.S. Parts in Agreement With Unions

Wind-energy companies agreed to buy more parts from U.S. suppliers, and a labor union promised to join in lobbying Congress for a requirement to use more renewable energy.

The accord announced today by the American Wind Energy Association and the United Steelworkers union grew out of objections by lawmakers that federal money was being spent to purchase clean-energy components made abroad.

The agreement “sends a very positive message” to Congress that the clean-energy industry is trying to build an industrial base in the United States, following the example set earlier by Japanese automakers, Christine Tezak, senior energy and environment policy analyst at Robert W. Baird, a Milwaukee-based asset management fund, said in a phone interview.

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The partnership calls for the “aggressive development and utilization” of domestically based equipment manufacturers and suppliers. Targets remain to be set, according to a summary of the agreement.

Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio who has opposed U.S. subsidies to projects dependent on equipment from abroad, said today the agreement will ensure that clean-energy investments revitalize domestic industries.

“This is really a big deal,” Brown said on a conference call announcing the agreement. “It is a great story for American manufacturing.”

U.K. Likely to Miss Green Energy Goals After Subsidy

The U.K. government is likely to miss its goals for producing more electricity from renewable energy sources even after spending $386 million to spur investment in the industry, the nation’s spending watchdog said.

The National Audit Office said support for green forms of power, which included 265 million pounds ($386 million) in direct aid between 2000 and 2009 and 1 billion pounds in fiscal and regulatory action last year, has contributed to an increase in renewable energy production. Poor collection of data means it is hard to calculate exactly how much.

The findings may help David Cameron’s government push through a shakeup of energy policies after it took office last month. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition has promised it will make change policies that subsidize renewable energy instead of following the European model of offering above-market rates for electricity from solar and wind power.

World Takes ‘Baby Steps’ Toward Treaty at UN Talks

Climate change envoys inched toward an eventual treaty, narrowing gaps between industrialized and developing nations during two weeks of global-warming talks that conclude today in Bonn.

A draft negotiating text circulated today narrows options from a document published in May by the UN. The 22-page proposal seeks to limit warming since industrialization began to either 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) or 1.5 degrees, eliminating a previous option of 1 degree. Options on emissions reductions were also eliminated. The document will be used as a basis for negotiation at a week of talks in Bonn in August.

Advances were made in two areas that may help unlock a wider deal, said Jake Schmidt, climate policy director for the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. They are the governance of climate aid and how to measure, report and verify — MRV in UN jargon — emissions reductions made by developing nations such as India and China, he said.

State sets aside key rule on energy

The state has suspended a regulation that may have blocked approval of the first contract to buy power from Cape Wind.

TransCanada Power, a Canadian energy company with operations in Westborough, sued several state officials challenging the constitutionality of a mandate that utilities make long-term deals to buy renewable energy generated in Massachusetts. On Wednesday, the state Department of Public Utilities suspended that rule under a provision written in case of challenges such as the TransCanada suit. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Suspending the requirement to buy in-state power sidesteps the lawsuit for now, allowing the state to proceed with its review of the recently signed, 15-year contract for the utility National Grid to buy half the power generated by Cape Wind. The deal, seen as critical to Cape Wind’s ability to raise money for construction, must need state Department of Public Utilities approval.

Oil spill paves way for alternative energy push

As the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to wreak havoc, renewable energy may never have looked better.

A new poll out of Stanford University, surveying 1,000 Americans between June 1 and June 7, found that while about three-fourths oppose new taxes on gas or electricity to force conservation, 84 percent favor the federal government offering tax breaks to encourage more wind, solar and water power.

Alternative energy proponents say the time is right for help from Washington.

“Our thoughts are with the people living and working in the Gulf as they and other organizations deal with the oil spill,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “Americans’ support for pure, clean energy is clear, and events such as this heighten the need for Congress to pass needed energy and climate legislation.”

According to a recent national bipartisan poll, 89 percent of the voters believe that increasing the amount of energy America gets from wind is a good idea, Bode said.

Wood burning power plants may hurt global warming fight

Burning wood to generate electricity can be worse for global warming than burning coal, according to a Massachusetts-sponsored study released yesterday. That surprising conclusion immediately prompted state officials to reconsider substantial financial incentives provided to wood-burning plants.

The six-month study by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Plymouth comes amid controversy over the proposed construction of two large wood-burning power plants in Western Massachusetts.

“These findings have broad implications for clean energy and the environment in Massachusetts and beyond,” said Ian Bowles, state secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Wood-burning has been promoted as a “green” energy source because growing forests can absorb the same amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted from burning wood, essentially canceling out the pollutants.

Microbes Reprogrammed to Ooze Oil for Renewable Biofuel

Using genetic sleight of hand, researcher Xinyao Liu and professor Roy Curtiss at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute have coaxed photosynthetic microbes to secrete oil — bypassing energy and cost barriers that have hampered green biofuel production.

Their results appear in this week’s advanced online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The challenges of developing a renewable biofuel source that is competitive with the current scalability and low-cost of petroleum have been daunting. “The real costs involved in any biofuel production are harvesting the fuel precursors and turning them into fuel,” said Roy Curtiss, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and professor in the School of Life Sciences. “By releasing their precious cargo outside the cell, we have optimized bacterial metabolic engineering to develop a truly green route to biofuel production.”

Photosynthetic microbes called cyanobacteria offer attractive advantages over the use of plants like corn or switchgrass, producing many times the energy yield with energy input from the sun and without the necessity of taking arable cropland out of production.

Parsing Europe’s New Biofuel Rules

Companies that produce biofuels are broadly cheering the introduction of a certification system by the European Commission. The system, unveiled on Thursday, is supposed to ensure that the industry does not lay waste to forests, drain peat lands or destroy other zones of environmental value in the course of production.

All the same, the system does not yet include any specific criteria governing the greenhouse gas emissions created when food crops are displaced by fuel crops, or when areas with high stores of carbon like grasslands, peat lands or forests are chopped down to produce food crops elsewhere. And some critics say that the European rules still do not do enough to encourage development of so-called second generation biofuels, which use what remains of the crops after the food content is removed.

The new system allows companies and industry organizations to continue developing their own labels for “green” biofuels. But the European Commission would review the criteria they use for applying that label.