Energy and Global Warming News for May 1: Australian scientists get desperate and blunt

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Dear coal plants, you’re doomed

In Australia, desperate times call for hard truths. The island nation is experiencing the most severe effects of global warming of any inhabited region on earth today (see “Global Boiling: Australia’s Hellish Black Saturday Of Extreme Fire”). Most scientists believe the continent’s extreme heat and water shortages mark only the beginning of what will be a rapid deterioration in conditions needed to sustain life (see “Australia today offers horrific glimpse of U.S. Southwest, much of planet, post-2040, if we don’t slash emissions soon”).

A group of climate scientists with intimate knowledge of these dire circumstances have written a refreshingly blunt letter to the heads of Australia’s coal industry:

Evidence is mounting that climate change is occurring faster than previously predicted and we are perilously close to a number of tipping points which, if passed, would amplify the effects of climate change and make it much more difficult to bring further warming under control. We cannot emphasize enough just how serious the situation has become.

Their bottom line:

Unfortunately, the development of carbon capture and storage technology is not sufficiently advanced and is unlikely to be deployable within the timeframe necessary to cut emissions in order to avoid unacceptable levels of greenhouse gas concentrations and associated warming.

It is our considered view that no new coal-fired power stations, except ones that have ZERO emissions, should be allowed to be commissioned in Australia. Furthermore, we need an urgent program to replace existing coal plants with zero-carbon energy sources and energy efficiency programs as soon as possible….

Genuine action on climate change will mean that coal-fired power stations cease to operate in the near future.”

Amen. How serious will the situation have to get before leaders in the big polluting nations, such as ours, come to the same conclusion.

Senate energy bill may include broad OCS assessment

Senate energy legislation may require a major new assessment of offshore energy resources that would encompass fossil fuels and potential for alternative energy such as wind and wave power, sources on and off Capitol Hill say.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee tentatively plans to mark up oil and gas provisions of a major energy bill the week of May 18.

The oil and gas section of the bill has received less attention to date compared to provisions on renewable electricity, transmission, clean energy financing and other issues. Committee leaders have not yet unveiled a draft of the oil and gas section.

But Robert Dillon, a spokesman for ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), said lawmakers are eyeing ways to update assessments of energy potential on the outer continental shelf (OCS). “It is renewables too,” he said.

An environmental lobbyist tracking the bill also said the committee plans to seek an OCS assessment that would explore energy, and a range of other issues, such as coastal economies and recreation.

A spokesman for Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said oil and gas provisions are under development but declined comment when asked about inclusion of an inventory provision.

Bingaman has previously said that a better assessment of offshore oil and gas potential should occur in order to make informed decisions about future leasing policy (Greenwire, Nov. 17, 2008).

Report backs targets in House climate bill

The Southeast has enough renewable resources to meet the 25 percent renewable-power mandate proposed by draft House energy and climate legislation, according to a new assessment by environmental groups.

The report was released today as lawmakers negotiate over whether to scale back the renewable electricity standard in the bill sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

A dozen or so moderate and conservative committee Democrats want to lower the target. Southeastern lawmakers, who say their states could not meet the targets, say their districts would face higher costs because utilities would be forced to buy credits or make other payments.

But the World Resources Institute paper argues the target is more than achievable, finding that renewable energy could supply as much as 30 percent of the region’s power needs within 15 years.

Chu Promises Speedier Funding for Renewable Energy Projects

Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu announced $93 million in funding for American wind energy research and development on Wednesday, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“The goal is to set America on a course for a secure and sustainable energy future,” Mr. Chu said to a crowd assembled at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. The secretary restated President Obama’s target of generating 10 percent (PDF) of the nation’s electricity from renewables by 2012.

According to energy department statistics, in 2008, wind energy accounted for 42 percent of all new energy generation capacity in the United States.

Of nearly $100 billion in stimulus funds for energy, $26 billion have been authorized for clean energy projects since mid-February, Mr. Chu said. The Department of Energy’s goal is to award 70 percent of this total by Labor Day.

Gov. Palin on Energy Money: No, Thanks

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska has decided to accept all federal stimulus money her state is eligible for, with one exception: the nearly $29 million for the state energy office.

Ms. Palin has rejected the state energy office funds out of concern that it would obligate Alaska to enact more stringent building codes. “Alaska’s vast expanse and differing conditions are not conducive to a federally mandated, universal energy code,” she said in a statement.

First Solar’s profit triples in 1Q

First Solar’s first-quarter profits more than tripled as the result of signing several new power project deals and cutting its production costs, the nation’s largest solar panel maker reported.

The company earned $164.6 million, or $1.99 per share, in the first quarter, up from $46.6 million, or 57 cents per share, for the same period last year.

The company said it reached two key production milestones this year: It built a total of 1 gigawatt of photovoltaic modules, and its manufacturing costs dropped below $1 per watt.

Compiled by Max Luken and Carlin Rosengarten