Energy and Global Warming News for September 1: DOE says 2 million smart meters installed nationwide; Nuclear giant Exelon switching to wind; L.A. mayor, Latinos take on oil companies over Prop 23

Energy Dept. says nationwide ‘smart meter’ army hits 2 million

The Energy Department said Tuesday more than 2 million “smart” electric meters have been installed nationwide, sped along by funding in the big 2009 stimulus law.

The devices help consumers and businesses track and control power consumption and, hence, costs.

Lots of them (more than 180,000) are in Ohio, where they’re being distributed through a partnership between DOE and utility giant American Electric Power.


“As a result of an unprecedented investment from the Recovery Act, smart meters are being installed in Ohio and across the country to create a more reliable, modern electrical grid and give consumers the ability to monitor and control their energy use,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a prepared statement.

DOE cited an analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute “” a utility industry group “” that found various “smart grid” technologies could trim power use by more than 4 percent annually by 2030.

“That would mean a savings of $20.4 billion for businesses and consumers around the country each year and more than $700 million for Ohio alone “” or $61 in annual utility savings for every man, woman and child in Ohio,” according to DOE.

A Nuclear giant moves into wind

Exelon, a nuclear giant that recently backed away from building new nuclear plants, is moving into wind.

The company announced today that it was buying John Deere Renewables, which has 735 megawatts in operation and 230 megawatts in “advanced stages of development” in Michigan. The price was $860 million, plus another $40 million if ground is broken on the Michigan projects.


In March, Exelon withdrew its application for a construction and operating license for a twin-unit nuclear plant in Victoria County, Tex., citing lower projections for electric demand because of the recession. It had stopped work on the application last year. Instead, it asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for pre-approval of the site, which would speed up the approval process if it decided later that it wanted to build. But the decision left the country’s largest nuclear operator without a direct role in what the nuclear industry hopes is a renaissance.

But the company says it is sticking by its commitment two years ago to cut its carbon dioxide output in 2020 by 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases. That would be more than its total emissions in 2001, the company said.

The purchase will instantly make Exelon one of the nation’s largest wind operators.

L.A. mayor, Latinos take on oil companies over Proposition 23: They say the ballot initiative to suspend the state’s climate change law would hurt low-income communities already suffering the most from pollution.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday rebuked Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., which operate refineries in Wilmington, for bankrolling a measure that would effectively scuttle the state’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“Go home, Texas oil companies,” Villaraigosa urged at a news conference aimed at encouraging voters to oppose Proposition 23, a November ballot initiative to suspend California’s 2006 climate change law until the state’s unemployment rate drops.

“We won’t compromise our environmental and health standards so you can make more money,” he said.

The sharp tone was an early indication of the battle expected over the measure, which proponents say would save jobs and lower energy costs but that opponents say will choke California’s pioneering effort to reduce planet-warming pollutants and attract alternative-energy jobs….The No on 23 campaign released a four-page report, “Toxic Twins: Soiling the Southland,” detailing environmental violations and fines assessed against the two Wilmington refineries in recent years.

Cleaner cars, A to D

The Obama administration has proposed new stickers for cars and light trucks that will make it easier to see whether you are buying a fuel-efficient one or a guzzler, and how much it contributes to global warming. The stickers are a symbol of how far this country has come in providing a wider range of environmentally responsible choices to help ensure cleaner air and a healthier planet.


The present labels, created three decades ago, display fuel economy estimates for city and highway driving. The administration is offering two possible variants, the winner to be chosen after a public comment period.

Both would include the traditional miles-per-gallon metric plus an estimate of the vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions, expressed in terms of grams per mile, as well as an estimate of annual fuel costs. One would assign a letter grade for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from A+ to D. The other would not, but both systems would provide enough information for consumers to make sound choices.

New fault lines in mountaintop coal debate

The war over mountaintop removal mining is opening up on several new fronts “” including, as I note in an article in The New York Times on Tuesday, among several big banks.

Several lenders, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargohave developed internal lending policies that limit or eliminate their relationships with mining outfits that engage in mountaintop removal mining, which is precisely as it sounds: mining companies simply blast off mountaintops to quickly (and cheaply) gain access to coal seams, dumping the debris in valleys below.

The banks appear to be wagering that mountaintop removal has become sufficiently objectionable that it threatens their reputations if they’re seen as connected to it “” something opponents have become all too happy to expose.

The policies also suggest that the environmental risk divisions within these banks believe that the regulatory noose is tightening around this and other forms of extreme surface mining “” making it a risky investment on its face.

World Bank says population growth, climate change demand better water management

A soaring world population, climate change and greater demands for food are placing greater demands on the planet’s water resources. The World Bank says the best way to address those issues is to have better information and a more integrated approach to water management.

The bank says a review of its 2003 water resources strategy finds many successes in water projects. But it also sets priorities and makes recommendations as access to water becomes critical for many people around the world.

Life and death

“As every high school child knows, water runs through absolutely every we do,” says World Bank Water Sector Manager Julia Bucknall. “We can’t grow any food without water. We can’t live without water. We can’t run our cities without managing our water properly.”

The floods in Pakistan, she says, show the importance of having a good water management policy in place.

“Both from the resource point of view, in the sense of the floods, but also from the basic management of water supply and sanitation. That’s what is going to be killing a lot of people now after the immediate impact of the floods,” she says.

Cape Wind gets key green light on state permitting

Developers of the Cape Wind project won a legal decision that brings the controversial offshore wind farm in Massachusetts closer to the start of construction.

In a 4–2 decision issued on Tuesday, the state supreme court upheld an earlier ruling that Cape Wind could get a “composite” of permits from the state to cut through the local permitting process.

Placement of the turbines would be in federal waters, but a transmission line connecting to the mainland on Cape Cod needs to be built. Local towns and the Cape Cod land planning agency denied the project a permit in 2007, saying it didn’t have enough information, according to The Boston Globe. Cape Wind appealed to the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, which was created to evaluate energy projects held up by local permitting.

The board approved a single permit for construction of the transmission line but the decision was challenged by the Cape Wind opposition group Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound and local permitting agencies, according to the Globe.

Flexible rooftop-mountable solar panel unveiled by global solar

Global Solar, a solar cells manufacturer, has just developed and released a flexible solar panel designed for flat commercial rooftop buildings. The modules, consisting of solar panels 19 feet long and 1.5 feet wide, are actually made with CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenium) cells that work as well as their rigid counterparts.

Their advantage, though, is that they occupy less space, because they don’t need frames and are much lighter. Global Solar’s solar cell modules can be embedded into the roofs they are installed on, and because they need no racks, they don’t occupy as much space, hence producing more power.

About the prices, the company says that they are comparable with those of standard solar cells installations. The only thing Global Solar needs right now is to get certifications for the modules, and they’re ready to ship the first units as soon as next year. No word about the efficiency, though. We may suspect it lies somewhere between 10 and 15 percent.

To prove their technology works, the company has already built solar power systems worth 75 megawatts in Tucson, Arizona and Berlin, Germany. Their CEO, Jeff Britt, has also revealed that they want to produce their own solar panels, rather than sending the cells to panel manufacturers, like they did until recently.