Energy and Global Warming News for September 14: Green jobs legislation passes in New York; China clean tech market could be worth $1 trillion a year

Landmark Green Jobs Bill Passes Senate 52–8

New York may be on the verge of becoming a world leader in energy efficiency. Working late into the night, the State Senate passed the historic Green Jobs-Green New York bill yesterday after more than a year of hard work from the WFP and a broad coalition of environmentalists, businesses, community groups, labor unions and key Senators and members of the Assembly. The bill — which had already passed the Assembly unanimously and is supported by the Governor — would make energy efficiency upgrades to one million homes and businesses across the state over the next five years and create tens of thousands of badly needed jobs.

Sen. Darrel Aubertine, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor and champion said: “This program will create jobs, save consumers on their energy bills and help get our economy back on track. This bill encourages conservation, helps consumers with the cost of capital improvements to their homes and businesses, and creates jobs in the new economy. It’s a win-win for New York State, especially Upstate New York where a well-trained workforce will be in demand to keep the heat in and energy bills down every winter.”

The key innovation in the bill is a revolving capital fund, which would leverage private investment in energy efficiency to massively increase the use of existing technology. Here’s how it would work: State certified contractors would perform free or low-cost energy audits for homeowners, looking for repairs and upgrades (like air sealing, insulation, new boilers) that can pay for themselves through the energy savings they create.

China clean tech market could be worth up to $1 trillion annually

China’s booming clean tech market could soon be worth up to $1 trillion (£605bn) annually, according to a new report that credits the government’s support for the sector as central to its recent stratospheric growth.

The China Greentech Report 2009, released last week, looked at businesses that could feasibly be launched in the country in areas such as clean energy, construction, transport, water and other industries.

The sectors could eventually generate between $500bn and $1tn per year, with the higher figure equal to the nation’s forecasted GDP for 2013, said the study, which is the first to be issued by China Greentech Initiative, a collective of more than 80 technology firms, non-governmental organisations and policy advisers that are mostly based in the West.

The report predicts that, with the help of government support, China will grow into one of the world’s largest clean tech markets.

However, it warns that despite the growing role of private sector investment in the industry, state policies that would foster the widespread adoption of environmentally friendly technologies will remain vital.

“The story that has emerged is largely optimistic, tempered by the complexity of China’s markets and the challenges that must be overcome,” the report said.

Boxer Eyes Cost in Prepping for Climate Bill Fight

In May 2008, Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) delivered the final text of the Climate Security Act, the failed bill to conquer climate change. She included with her summary a long list of how the $6.7 trillion in pollution permits would be distributed.

Some observers equated Boxer’s list to a deli counter for special interests — line up, get a number, get a cut. The document read like a massive wish-list, and included “transition assistance” for every fossil fuel and heavy industry, and handouts to agriculture, the building sector, renewable energies, “clean” coal, cellulosic biofuels, truck fleets, firefighters, and state energy programs. The bill, which Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) co-sponsored and Boxer ushered through the Senate, aimed to slash carbon dioxide emissions 19 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 71 percent by 2050. The plan would create a cap-and-trade system that would require polluting entities to acquire permits to emit carbon dioxide. Some would be auctioned, while others would be handed out for free. In total, the plan would be worth trillions over the 38-year lifetime of the bill. It included a significant amount of money for consumer tax relief, but that was lost in the list of industry hand-outs. While Boxer’s allocations were the result of clear political and economic calculations, it wasn’t presented in a way that helped her sell it to the public.

Now, with the country wrapped up in the worst recession in decades and Republicans gearing up to malign climate legislation as just another tax on hard-working Americans, Boxer is going to have an even tougher time selling a climate plan. Her job will become more difficult if it reads like a laundry list of handouts to industry, while increasing costs on average energy consumers. Whatever climate bill Boxer puts on the table this fall will likely have a similar dollar figure attached, worth trillions over the bill’s lifespan. As she shapes the bill this year, however, Boxer seems to be taking more time and deliberation in crafting her plan for distributing value of a climate program, figuring out a way to keep costs low and making other “tweaks,” as she has told reporters. Environmental advocates say they are confident that stronger 2020 emissions reductions targets are among the tweaks she’s going to make to the House bill, but that would likely make the plan more expensive.

One of the reasons the House was able to pass a bill in June was that they employed more effective messaging on the costs and benefits of legislation than Boxer did last year, according to advocates who have worked closely with Congress on the bills. House leaders pushing the legislation billed each allocation as pursuing one of three goals “” creating new jobs, supporting the development of clean energy technology, or reducing costs to consumers. “I think that’s what was maybe missing a little bit “” without criticizing Boxer’s staff “” last year,” said Nathaniel Keohane, director of economic policy and analysis”¨ at Environmental Defense Fund. “I think one thing the House was able to do, with the benefit of the lessons learned from the Senate process, was to block out and frame what we were trying to do and accomplish with the allocations. I think that people didn’t get that same message coming out of the Senate.”

RPT-Calif. lawmakers pass tougher clean energy goals

A bill that would power up California’s already ambitious effort to shift to cleaner, renewable energy has cleared the state legislature, but it was uncertain if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign it.

Schwarzenegger, who supports the more aggressive requirements in the measure, is under pressure from interests such as small energy producers and local utility districts to veto the bill.

The plan, passed by the state Senate late on Friday, would require California’s utility companies to get one-third of their electricity from solar, wind and other alternative energy sources by 2020. The state has embarked on the most ambitious U.S. effort to switch to more environmentally friendly energy production. But it is struggling to meet its current goal of sourcing 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Senate Bill 14 would lift the existing renewable energy sourcing requirement and boost the 2020 goal to 33 percent. It also would limit the amount of out-of-state renewable power sold in California, a move meant to keep jobs in the nation’s most populous state as it grapples with dwindling revenue and high unemployment.

Schwarzenegger has 30 days to act on the legislation, which was written by Senator Joe Simitian. His district includes Silicon Valley — the famed technology hub that gave birth to companies like Web search company Google Inc (GOOG.O) and computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N).

Warming may cut risky states’ GDP by a fifth: study

Climate change could cut gross domestic product in countries at a high risk from weather catastrophes by up to a fifth by 2030 unless urgent steps are taken, a report said on Monday. Developing nations will be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change but a lot of their economic loss could be avoided, a report by the Economics of Climate Adaptation (ECA) Working Group said.

Together with prevention and mitigation measures, risk transfer like insurance or catastrophe bonds can play an important role by capping losses from catastrophic events, increasing willingness to invest and providing price signals to financial markets, the working group said. The ECA working group is a partnership between reinsurance group Swiss Re, consulting firm McKinsey & Co., the Global Environment Facility, ClimateWorks, the European Commission, the Rockefeller Foundation and Standard Chartered Bank.

Current adaptation measures like sea barriers, improved drainage and building regulations could prevent 40 to 100 percent of risk to 2030, from current and future climate conditions, the working group said.

Denmark’s DONG sees good demand for offshore wind

Denmark’s DONG Energy said on Monday it had enrolled around 20 corporate and municipal customers for power from its new Horns Rev 2 wind park, which will be inaugurated this week off the west coast of Jutland.

The Horns Rev 2 wind park in the North Sea will be the world’s biggest, with 91 turbines and a total capacity of 209 megawatts.

“Alone in August and September, three new partners have signed up (for supplies from Horns Rev 2), so DONG Energy is now up to 20 altogether,” Executive Vice President Lars Clausen said in a statement. “And there are more on the way.”

Customers include industrial groups such as drugsmaker Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO), enzymes producer Novozymes (NZYMb.CO) and insulation maker Rockwool (ROCKb.CO) and four municipalities, DONG Energy said.

The new wind park is expected to produce more than 800 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, which corresponds to the power consumed by about 200,000 Danish households.

U.S. climate bill should not delay grid overhaul: FERC

U.S. lawmakers should not let climate change legislation delays hold up proposals to overhaul the nation’s outdated electricity grid, a top energy regulator said Friday.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee approved a comprehensive energy package this year that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority override state objections to expanding electricity transmission lines.

“I would hope the Senate would consider looking at a (transmission) bill separately, if in fact the climate bill does seem to be stalled,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told reporters after addressing a “smart grid” event in Washington. Wellinghoff said additional federal government oversight was necessary to ensure transmission lines are updated and expanded to connect renewable energy sources in remote locations to urban populations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to combine the energy measures with legislation that would address global warming by establishing a system capping greenhouse gas emissions.

Sweden urges US Senate to act quickly on energy bill to help global talks on climate change

Sweden’s environment minister urged the U.S. Senate on Monday to pass legislation to control greenhouse gases, saying a delay in the vote is impeding negotiations on a new international climate treaty.Minister Andreas Carlgren said America’s complex debate over health care reforms is sidelining its vote on a climate bill that is needed to persuade other nations “” especially the fast-growing economies of India and China “” to commit to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions at the Copenhagen climate summit in December.

“It is crucial that the Americans deliver a reliable emission pathway,” Carlgren said, referring to a plan for how emissions will be cut to stated targets. “But that is dependent on the Senate’s lawmaking.”

Last week, Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for climate change, made a similar appeal, saying that with the negotiations on a new international climate treaty proving difficult, the U.S. Senate must pass legislation to control the gases blamed for global warming. He said that would give the U.S. the “credibility and leverage” it needs to persuade other countries to reduce their pollution.

Big utility puts carbon capture technology to the test

At the Mountaineer power plant, more than 10,000 tons of coal are pulverized to a fine powder each day and combusted inside the fiery inferno of one of the biggest boilers on earth.

Nestled in the hills along the Ohio River’s winding banks, this was a state-of-the-art coal burner when American Electric Power put it online in 1980. Thirty years and $650 million in air pollution control retrofits later, the 1,300-megawatt behemoth is still shiny and new compared to much of the utility’s aging fleet.

Now it is poised for another facelift: reducing its 8.5 million metric tons of annual CO2 emissions in what will be a first attempt to both capture and sequester carbon from an existing U.S. coal plant at any significant scale.

As Congress debates putting a cap on carbon, the fate of existing coal burners looms large over utilities. Unwilling to lose billions in investments — AEP alone has sunk more than $4 billion into air pollution scrubbers required by the Clean Air Act — companies say they have no intention of retiring their current fleets anytime soon.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) demonstration projects like the one slated for the Mountaineer plant are, experts say, vital to keeping their plants running while meeting a long-term cap.

Global Warming Causes Outbreak Of Rare Algae Associated With Corals, Study Finds

A rare opportunity has allowed a team of biologists to evaluate corals and the essential, photosynthetic algae that live inside their cells before, during, and after a period in 2005 when global warming caused sea-surface temperatures in the Caribbean Ocean to rise.

The team, led by Penn State Assistant Professor of Biology Todd LaJeunesse, found that a rare species of algae that is tolerant of stressful environmental conditions proliferated in corals as the more-sensitive algae were being expelled from corals. The results will be published in the online version of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on 9 September 2009.

“Symbiodinium trenchi is normally a rare species of micro-alga in the Caribbean,” said LaJeunesse. “Because the species is apparently tolerant of high or fluctuating temperatures, it was able to take advantage of the warming event and become more prolific. In this way, Symbiodinium trenchi appears to have saved certain colonies of coral from the damaging effects of unusually warm water. As ocean temperatures continue to rise as a result of global warming, we can expect this species to become more common and persistent. However, since it is not normally associated with corals in the Caribbean, we don’t know if its increased presence will benefit or harm corals in the long term.”

Putting cattle on a diet to curb climate change

Much has been made of the problem of livestock emissions of methane — a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 — but a solution might be just around the corner. Room here for both of us? If better cows’ diets mean less harmful methane is emitted, beef could stay on the menu.

Room here for both of us? If better cows’ diets mean less harmful methane is emitted, beef could stay on the menu. “I really think it’s a solvable problem,” Professor Jamie Newbold of the Animal and Microbial Sciences Division, Aberystwyth University, Wales, told CNN. “It is technically solvable. A rare good news story when it comes to climate change. While there is no magic bullet, and no one solution that will work for all animals, we are getting there.”

The problem occurs because as livestock digest their food they produce methane gas as a by-product; around 250 to 500 liters a day according to a Washington State University study. Estimates of the proportion of man-made greenhouse gases that now come from livestock vary, from around five percent, up to 18 percent, depending on the parameters of the study.

But whatever the percentage there is no doubting methane’s potency: it warms the Earth around 20 times quicker than CO2.