Energy and Global Warming News for March 2: Large NC solar project begins generating power; Britain announces soft loans for home efficiency

Large N.C. project begins generating power

FLS Energy unveiled a 555-kilowatt photovoltaic array atop a former landfill in western North Carolina today.

The so-called Evergreen Solar Farm, located in Haywood County, is the largest photovoltaic array in the area.

Asheville-based FLS Energy will own and operate the project and sell its power to Progress Energy Inc. The companies anticipate the project, which consists of more than 2,300 photovoltaic panels, will generate about 730,000 kilowatt-hours annually.


The Evergreen project marks Progress Energy’s (NYSE: PGN) fourth large-scale PV array in North Carolina. The Raleigh-based utility has another four projects under contract.

“Solar power, along with energy efficiency and state-of-the-art power plants, will play an important part of a balanced approach to meeting the challenges of growing energy demand and global climate change,” said John Smith, a vice president with Progress Energy’s Carolinas business unit.

Britain Announces Soft Loans For Home Efficiency

Households will be able to take out soft loans to improve the efficiency of their homes from 2013, repaying these from energy savings made, the government said on Tuesday.

The “Warner homes, greener homes” initiative aimed to cut carbon emissions from homes by 29 percent by 2020.

The strategy will continue the government’s present approach which forces energy companies to help pay to improve home efficiency.

“New pay as you save green finance, a new alliance between energy companies and local authorities … will help deliver the radical transformation that’s necessary,” said energy and climate minister Ed Miliband.

Around a quarter of British carbon emissions come from energy used in homes.

The new initiative will succeed the present Carbon Emissions Reduction Target, from 2008–2011, the third, three-year phase of a domestic energy supplier obligation, expected to drive utility investment of around 2.8 billion pounds into efficiency improvements.

The new strategy aimed to offer up to 7 million “eco upgrades” by 2020, compared with 26 million homes in Britain in total.

Britain has previously announced plans to have all lofts insulated by 2015, where practicable, and for smart meters which allow residents to view their energy use in real time to be rolled out across all homes by 2020, replacing all 47 million gas and electricity meters.

Underground drill tests begin for energy storage project

Kent Holst stood in front of the Iowa Stored Energy Park’s municipal utility members and proclaimed, “This time, we have something to show you.”

Holst, the park’s development director, showed the officials a drill rig behind a house on the south side of Iowa Highway 44, two miles west of Dallas Center.

The rig is drilling a 2,800-foot well, which will be used to test the hardness of a sandstone formation. The energy park hopes the formation can hold energy that has been converted into air.

When the municipal utilities that own stored energy need electricity at peak periods, the air will be released to the surface to power turbines in two 134-megawatt generators, making electricity.

The drilling project is the first tangible sign of activity for the long-discussed energy park, though the project is three years away from becoming a part of Iowa’s electricity grid.

The energy park would be one answer to a problem that has long confounded the utility industry: the inability to store electricity.

Holst and other company officials say that Iowa’s bountiful wind energy can be best used if some type of electricity storage is available. For all its popularity and greenness, wind energy can be the least reliable form of electricity generation.

“The wind just doesn’t always blow at the right times when the electricity is needed,” said Thomas Wind of Jefferson, who is a consultant to Iowa Stored Energy Park.

The Iowa Power Fund has put $3.2 million into the project west of Dallas Center in hopes of putting the state ahead of what may be the next big thing in electricity. One other stored energy park, in Alabama, exists nationwide.

Report: China drafts 10-year ‘green energy’ plan

China plans to have “clean energy” account for 15 percent of its total consumption under a 10-year renewable energy promotion program soon to be made public, a state-run newspaper cites the head of the country’s National Energy Administration as saying.

The government will spend billions of dollars on building nuclear and solar power plants, wind farms and on research into renewable energy technology, Zhang Guobao said in Tuesday’s edition of the China Daily.

The plan would accelerate efforts already under way to help ease reliance on expensive oil imports and heavily polluting coal, which fuels about three-quarters of China’s electricity generation.

It also is in line with Beijing’s pledges to rein in output of greenhouse gases by reducing China’s carbon intensity “”its use of fossil fuels per unit of economic output “” by 40 to 45 percent by 2020.

Zhang did not say when the plan would be made fully public.

Officials at the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees the administration, said they could not immediately comment on the report.

L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa considers a carbon surcharge for DWP customers

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is moving ahead with a plan requiring customers of the Department of Water and Power to pay higher bills to help the utility tap more sources of renewable energy.

While Villaraigosa has been talking publicly about the need for the city to tighten its belt, his advisors have been working behind the scenes to gauge public support for a monthly DWP “carbon surcharge” of $2.50 — one that would move the utility away from coal and toward wind, solar and geothermal sources of energy.

Unless the DWP secures the extra revenue, Villaraigosa will not meet his goal of having 20% of the utility’s electricity come from renewable sources by Dec. 31, said former Deputy Mayor Sean Clegg, a political consultant who worked on a voter survey dealing with the issue.

“Without a carbon surcharge . . . the DWP is going to start going backwards on the renewable portfolio,” he said.

Clegg said the mayor had not settled on the size of a proposed surcharge, which could be higher or lower than the $2.50 proposal included in a voter survey commissioned by the mayor. That poll, commissioned by Villaraigosa’s Committee for Government Excellence and Accountability, concluded that 64% of respondents would support a $2.50 surcharge.

The results were obtained, in part, to influence the city’s “opinion makers” — including the City Council, which will probably vote on a new DWP surcharge in coming weeks.

During last year’s inaugural ceremony, Villaraigosa promised to end the DWP’s reliance on coal by 2020 and ensure that the agency’s renewable-energy portfolio reached 40% the same year.

Since then, the mayor and council members have spent much of their time on a plan to eliminate a $484-million budget shortfall, which could result in the layoffs of thousands of city employees.

Councilwoman Jan Perry said it would be “hard to explain” why the city is scaling back on services, including road repairs and libraries, while asking DWP customers to absorb more expensive bills.

“I think this is a tough time to ask people about any increase, unless you’ve made a very strong case to show that you have reduced operating costs as much as possible,” she said.

Villaraigosa aides have already met twice with Perry, who heads the council’s Energy and Environment Committee, to discuss the process for reviewing a new surcharge on DWP bills. During those conversations, the mayor and his aides have mentioned the poll.

“Even in this tough economic context, there is broad-based support from the Valley to the harbor for a modest carbon surcharge that will help wean this city off of coal,” Clegg said.

On Friday, a city-hired consulting firm released a report on the DWP’s existing surcharge, known as the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor.

A federal effort to lead ‘green’ technology

Reporting from Washington — Half a century ago, after the Soviet Union jolted Americans by sending Sputnik into orbit, the Defense Department launched a little-noticed program designed to help the United States leapfrog the frontiers of technology by doling out millions of dollars for research on radically new ideas.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — DARPA in Pentagonese — backed projects that led to such military advances as the light, rapid-fire M-16 rifle and Stealth warplanes that were invisible to radar. The efforts also led to revolutionary civilian technology, such as the Internet.

Now, the same approach is being tried for energy and “green” technology. Though critics say innovation is best achieved by private-sector entrepreneurs, the Obama administration is betting an initial $400 million in government seed money on such future possibilities as giant batteries filled with molten metal and exotic materials that spin sunlight and water into methane.

Arun Majumdar, a former UC Berkeley professor and national lab assistant director who worked under DARPA funding for a decade, is the director of ARPA-E — the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy created under the Energy Department — which will showcase its program at a meeting in Washington on Monday.

“We have taken the best practices for how we operate from DARPA,” Majumdar said, including focus, collaboration and hiring practices. But unlike the military, which could buy the fruits of DARPA research technologies, ARPA-E technologies will have to compete on an existing energy market.

“In some sense,” he said, “the challenge is harder.”

Majumdar further discusses the difficulties his agency faces.

So the ultimate price of the technologies you’re pursuing is very important?

We’re much more conscious about price [than DARPA]. . . . One of the main purposes of this summit is, how do we scale innovation in the United States [so that energy technologies are manufactured domestically]? . . . Our goal is to provide those technologies that allow people to make money. That’s the best way to scale in the United States.

Is there pressure on ARPA-E to invest in projects that could show results quickly enough to affect the security, climate and economic debates we’re having today?

We need to have a balanced portfolio there. Some things we have to invest [in] which are longer-term. . . . It took 20 years or so for the Internet to scale up. . . . I wish we could say we would develop the equivalent of the Internet in two years. That would be unrealistic.

Skelton seeks distance on cap and trade

Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri has introduced a resolution in the House to block the federal government’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, a measure that his GOP opponents view as an attempt to distance himself from his vote for cap and trade legislation last summer.

Republicans have been hammering the House Armed Services Committee chairman for months on his vote to control carbon emissions, saying that policy could produce higher energy costs that would be crippling to farmers and small businesses.

The 16-term congressman sought to defend his support for sweeping energy reform last summer as a vote to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The reason I voted for it was to strip the EPA from controlling greenhouse gases,” Skelton said, in an interview in his Rayburn office.

That’s a message Skelton said he’s conveyed to constituents frustrated by his stance on cap and trade: “Every time I raise it, I explain to them, yes, I was trying to save you from the EPA.”

Skelton’s new EPA-targeting resolution, which is sponsored by Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), would effectively overrule the agency’s findings that greenhouse gases are a growing threat to human welfare. The Missourian said he became convinced a new measure would be necessary after the cap and trade bill flagged in the Senate.

“That bill’s stalled in the Senate. The cap and trade part will probably be dropped out. I don’t think it’s a good part, I was hoping it would be dropped out,” he said, referring to the regulation of carbon. “With this legislation, if we get that to a vote, that will help.”

Climate change may extend allergy season: study

Pollen seasons as well as the amount of pollen in the air progressively increased during a six-year study in Italy, the doctors told a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in New Orleans.

The team at Genoa University recorded pollen counts, how long pollen seasons lasted and sensitivity to five types of pollen in the Bordighera region of Italy from 1981 to 2007.

“By studying a well-defined geographical region, we observed that the progressive increase of the average temperature has prolonged the duration of the pollen seasons of some plants and, consequently, the overall pollen load,” Dr. Walter Canonica, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

The percentage of patients with reactions to the allergens increased throughout the study but it is not clear whether longer pollen seasons actually put more people at risk for developing allergies, the researchers said.

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is a reaction to indoor or outdoor airborne allergens, such as pollen.

“Longer pollen seasons and high levels of pollen certainly can exacerbate symptoms for people with allergic rhinitis and for those who previously had minimal symptoms,” said the AAAAI’s Estelle Levetin, who was not involved in the study.

About 25 million Americans, nearly half of them children, had hay fever in the past year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The science budget and the future

Mother Nature’s recent one-two Washington weather wallop was big, it was debilitating and its first phase posed a formidable threat to Super Bowl parties. But it was not a surprise. Days in advance, weather forecasters warned of the first storm’s arrival, predicting an accumulation of up to 30 inches, which is precisely what the capital region got. Soon after, we were told to brace for a follow-on storm with high winds and a dozen or so more inches expected. And, like clockwork, that aftershock arrived and delivered its predicted payload.

Behind those spot-on forecasts was a sophisticated network of satellites eyeing our skies from above, radar and other sensors on the ground and sophisticated communication networks that coordinated with one another to give early and accurate assessments. The storms still did a lot of damage, but their impact was clearly diminished by a largely invisible and generally taken-for-granted web of technology, including wireless communications that have allowed many who were unable to reach their workplaces to continue their work.

Just as our country’s capacity to predict and cope with extreme weather events depends heavily on science and technology, so does our ability to provide better health care for more Americans at lower cost; to meet energy needs without wrecking global climate; to protect our troops abroad and our citizens at home; and to create the new products, services and high-quality jobs that real economic recovery and sustained growth will require. Putting the science and technology in place to meet these challenges requires a vigorous partnership between the public and private sectors in which the federal government’s funding and encouragement of research, development and science and math education are crucial. For an example of how well these kinds of synergies can work, we need look no further than today’s booming market for global positioning system devices, which includes countless commercial products made by competing private companies, all using a technology initially developed for Department of Defense applications.

President Barack Obama understands the importance of the leadership role the federal government must play in nurturing the science and engineering capabilities needed to meet the challenges before us. That is why his recently released budget for fiscal year 2011 provides continued strong, strategic investments in this area, despite the overall budget austerity that our country’s fiscal circumstances require. Now we need Congress to match the president’s leadership, so that this budget’s vision for investing in science, engineering, innovation and education becomes a reality.

DOJ pick could be key backstage player for enviro regs

The Senate Judiciary Committee will press forward this week with a second vote on a controversial Justice Department nominee who has called for “substantial change” to the administration’s environmental enforcement efforts on topics such as climate change and water quality.

If confirmed by the Senate as assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen could be in a position to affect the White House’s environmental and energy policy from behind the scenes.

Supporters say the Indiana University law professor has demonstrated a willingness to advance legal opinions that are at odds with the administration’s political goals — a tendency that would give her substantial influence as head of an office that could eventually be tasked with setting binding precedent for the executive branch on topics such as climate change regulation.

Johnsen has set that type of environmental precedent before. As interim head of the OLC during the Clinton administration in 1997, she issued an opinion that said U.S. EPA was entitled to assess penalties against the Defense Department for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Before Johnsen issued the opinion, DOD had challenged EPA’s authority to issue the fines, describing the agency’s enforcement as a “statutory scheme that contemplates judicial intervention into what should be a purely executive branch function, thus raising significant constitutional separation of powers concerns.”

The precedent set by Johnsen’s opinion long outlasted her tenure, as DOD fought enforcement of the Clean Air Act for a decade before abandoning its efforts to secure an exemption from Congress.

The Pentagon asked Congress in 2003 for changes to a handful of environmental statutes, saying that compliance with the laws hindered training and readiness exercises. Congress ultimately approved exemptions or exclusions to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, but declined to make changes to Superfund regulations, the Clean Air Act or the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Requests for Clean Air Act, Superfund and RCRA changes were included in the administration’s defense authorization proposals between 2003 and 2008 but were abandoned for the 2009 fiscal year, according to a 2008 Congressional Research Service report. The Obama administration has not sought those types of exceptions, said David Bearden, an environmental policy specialist at CRS and the author of the report.

More recently, Johnsen has called for stricter environmental enforcement by the administration. A donor in the past to the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy, Johnsen wrote an essay last year that criticized the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, saying the office will “require attention and substantial change.”

“ENRD continues to defend controversial Bush administration actions,” Johnsen wrote in a chapter of the book “Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President.” “The new administration should carefully review past agency action and litigation positions regarding environmental and natural resources statutes. It should also pursue innovative litigation and policy initiatives, such as the pressing issue of climate change and a possible water project to assess water allocation and quality issues.