Energy and Global Warming News for September 24th: UK opens world’s biggest offshore windfarm; GE chief slams U.S. on energy; “Sea snot” explosion caused by BP oil disaster, possibly crippling Gulf food chain?

UK opens world’s biggest offshore windfarm

It is a very rare thing for the UK to claim pre-eminence in the much-touted global green economy, so the assembled local dignitaries, industry folk and one cabinet minister were not letting the dismal maritime backdrop put a downer on proceedings.

The official opening of the Thanet windfarm off the coast of Kent — the biggest offshore project in the world — means that Britain generates more power from offshore wind than the rest of the world put together.

Launching the project on P&O’s Pride of Burgandy ferry, the energy and climate change minister Lib Dem Chris Huhne promised that Britain would shed its traditional “dunce” status on renewable energy….

The eight lines of turbines, running north-west to south-east, cover a total area of 35sq km off Foreness Point near Margate. With 100 turbines, each 115 metres high with 44-metre blades, it can generate 300 megawatts (MW) of power — enough for 200,000 homes.

The project also takes the UK past a small but important milestone (although one Germany passed more than a decade ago) of having generated 5,000MW (5 gigawatts) from all renewable energy. The UK is still woefully short of its target of generating 15% of energy from renewables by 2020.

Thanet will not keep the “world’s biggest” accolade for long though. Guests were already speculating about the next major offshore launch they might be invited to. Just up the coast is the Greater Gabbard offshore project with its 140 turbines, which will be followed by the even bigger London Array scheme in the Thames Estuary. When completed, this could generate 1000MW.

GE Chief Slams U.S. on Energy

General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jeff Immelt warned that the lack of a comprehensive U.S. energy policy and the “stupid” current structure of the industry are causing America to fall behind in new energy fields.

GE’s Jeff Immelt called the U.S. energy regulatory system ‘a relic of 1860 or something’ at the Gridwise Global Forum in Washington Thursday.

In sharply worded comments at an energy event in Washington, Mr. Immelt on Thursday praised China’s approach to energy and criticized what he called a stalled effort to revamp U.S. energy policy. The remarks came as GE is facing tougher competition around the world from rivals in the markets for renewable and nuclear energy that the company believes get more help from their governments.

“The rest of the world is moving 10 times faster than we are,” Mr. Immelt said, referring to the U.S. during a speech at the Gridwise Global Forum. “This is a great country. But, you know, we have to have an energy policy. This is just stupid what we have today.”

The head of the Fairfield, Conn., conglomerate said China is moving faster to develop clean technologies such as nuclear power, electric vehicles and wind power. He also said China has the right mix of a big local market, innovation in technology, a low-cost supply chain and government policy support. China’s State Grid utility, he said, is larger than nearly all U.S. utilities combined.

Meanwhile, Mr. Immelt characterized the energy regulatory system in the U.S.””split between federal and state authorities””as “a relic of 1860 or something” and said “it has fundamentally no basis in the modern world.”

“Sea Snot” Explosion Caused by Gulf Oil Spill?Marine “snowstorm” possibly crippled base of Gulf of Mexico food chain.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill sparked an explosion of sticky clumps of organic matter that scientists call sea snot, according to ongoing research.

The boom likely precipitated a sea-snot “blizzard” in Gulf (map) waters, researchers say. And as the clumps sank, they may have temporarily wiped out the base of the food chain in the spill region by scouring all small life from the water column.

In the weeks after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, scientists surveying the surface near the drill site spotted relatively huge particles””several centimeters across””of sea snot.

These particularly slimy flakes of “marine snow” are made up of tiny dead and living organic matter, according to Uta Passow, a biological oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Tiny plants in the ocean called phytoplankton produce a mucus-like substance when stressed, and it’s possible that exposure to the Deepwater Horizon oil caused them to pump out more of the sticky stuff than usual.

This abundance of “mucus” made the naturally occurring marine-snow particles””usually about a few millimeters wide””even stickier.

“Everything they collide with in their path they collect and take with them,” said project leader Passow, who’s currently tracking marine snow aboard the research vessel Oceanus.

“Cascading” Geothermal Energy Could Revive Small Towns with Green Jobs

Part of a new U.S. Department of Energy grant for innovative geothermal technology is going to fund a project that could help small towns and mid-sized cities generate low cost local power, cut their carbon footprint, create new green jobs, and even develop local sources for fish and produce. The technology is called “cascading” geothermal because it uses and re-uses the same fluid in a series of applications.

Cascading Geothermal Technology

Oddly enough a religious community called I’SOT in Canby, California provides a textbook example of a cascading geothermal project, which is under development in partnership with the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In 2006 the community began operating a geothermal heating system that provided heat and heat and hot water for 34 buildings, but the effluent from that operation was simply filtered and discharged to a river. Under the new project, the highest-temperature fluid will be used to generate electricity. After that, energy can still be extracted for additional space heating and hot water, operating up to ten acres of greenhouses, heating up to four 30-foot diameter aquaculture tanks, and for melting snow. The system may also provide enough energy to operate a new food storage and laundry facility.

Geothermal for Small Communities

The Modoc Contracting Company — also of Canby — won the DOE grant, receiving $2 million out of a larger $20 million grant for job-creating, innovative geothermal technology that was shared among six other projects. That $2 million is a modest amount compared to the impact it could have on communities across the U.S., as DOE estimates that in the west alone there are about 1,500 possible well sites in small towns and mid-sized cities with the potential to develop cascading geothermal projects. That in turn could create new green jobs in local aquaculture and greenhouse-based agriculture operations.

Renewable Electricity Standard Bill Stands Alone or Dies, Senate Sponsors Vow

A Senate bill to implement a national renewable electricity standard should be brought to the floor this session as a stand-alone measure or not at all, a leading co-sponsor of the legislation said today.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said the point of introducing the stand-alone RES bill is to get enough co-sponsors to show the bill can pass without amendments.

“If we aren’t able to do that, then I think it will make a lot of sense for Senator [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] not to bring it up,” Bingaman told reporters after the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. “But I hope we are able to do that.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), the other lead author of the bill, backed up Bingaman’s plan.

“If our best shot is going stand-alone, then we should do it that way,” Brownback said.

Mine threatens city water

THE company about to start coal seam gas drilling around southern Sydney and the Illawarra plans to use the controversial ‘’fracking’’ technique to mine directly beside Warragamba Dam, which holds much of the city’s drinking water.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to shatter rock strata and force coal seam gas to the surface, where it can be refined into natural gas for fuel.

The fracking process has raised serious environmental concerns centred on the impact of potentially toxic, rock-dissolving chemicals on underground water tables, and the disposal of big volumes of saline water pumped back to the surface.

The gas industry says the process is long established in Australia and completely safe.

Leaked confidential company documents written for a Sydney gas drilling company, Apex Energy NL, detail plans to extract coal seam gas from old coalmines along the edge of Lake Burragorang, the reservoir at Warragamba Dam.

Some gas can be extracted without fracking to stimulate the release of gas but ‘’Apex expects that commercial levels of production will not be met without such seam stimulation,’’ the documents say.

Environment groups say fracking should be banned from around water sources.

‘’No one else would be allowed to enter the area with hundreds of chemicals and pump them into the ground. The catchment manager would throw the book at them,’’ said Jeff Angel, the executive director of the Total Environment Centre.

More signs of warming, but legislative climate still cold

The evidence for climate change grows: The first eight months of 2010 put this year on track to tie 1998 as the hottest year on record, global bleaching is devastating coral reefs and Arctic summer sea ice is reaching new lows.

But for all the visible signs of global warming, weakened political support for curbing emissions means the United States is unlikely to impose national limits on greenhouse gases before 2013, at the earliest. Several leading GOP candidates this fall are questioning whether these emissions even cause warming, while some key Democratic Senate candidates are disavowing the cap-and-trade bill the House passed in 2009.

“I don’t see a comprehensive bill going anywhere in the next two years,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told a Washington policymakers conference sponsored by Reuters on Tuesday.

This disconnect has left environmentalists and many climate scientists pessimistic. For years, activists argued that it was hard to limit greenhouse gases because, unlike other forms of pollution, they are impossible to see, smell or touch. Climate effects are increasingly plain to see but no easier to address.

Rafe Pomerance, a senior fellow with the group Clean Air-Cool Planet, said he and other experts are stunned to see so many examples of global warming materializing at once.

Planned distribution of BP research funds worries some scientists

The oil giant nears an agreement to dispense $500 million through an alliance overseen by gulf state governors. Critics fear expertise elsewhere will be overlooked.

With its well finally shut down, BP is close to agreement on funneling a promised $500 million in research funds through an organization overseen by Gulf Coast governors, not the nation’s scientific community.

The pending decision has stirred concern among some scientists who fear most of the money will be doled out to institutions in the governors’ home states “” in effect making the distribution of research grants more like pork-barrel projects, rather than pure scientific pursuits.

Critics worry the expertise of distinguished oceanographic organizations such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California could be excluded from the complex task of determining the full effects of the massive spill.

Less is more for greener insecticide.

No solvent and no corrosive acids. That’s part of the recipe for a new, less polluting method of making chemicals that kill an important crop pest. Taking their inspiration from natural plant chemicals called flavones, the authors of the study developed a way to make, compare, and test the insecticides, and used the information to create a predictive computer model.

The cleaner synthesis was used to control fall armyworms, one of the main threats to corn crops in many parts of the world. The new method avoids toxic solvents and strong mineral acids that were needed in earlier processes.

Instead, it relies on a metal catalyst that works at low levels: one catalyst molecule per 200 molecules of starting material. The catalyst could be easily recovered at the end of the chemical reaction and recycled several times, reducing waste.

Flavones protect plants against a variety of bacteria and insects. Some flavones also show beneficial effects in humans as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, antimicrobials and anticancer agents.

Solar boom underway in Tucson, Southern Arizona (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords)

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has a proud and distinguished record of training this nation’s fighter pilots and protecting our country’s air space for more than eight decades.

Soon, D-M will write a new chapter in American leadership by having the military’s largest solar-generating capacity.

The base will turn to the sun for one-third of its power needs, relying on what will be one of the nation’s biggest solar power plants — a 14.5-megawatt photovoltaic array slated for construction next year. That will give D-M the military’s largest photovoltaic plant, surpassing the 14.2-megawatt array built at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada three years ago.

D-M already is home to the largest solar neighborhood in the nation. Some 6 megawatts of solar generating capacity has been installed at the Soaring Heights community on the base, meeting about 75 percent of the peak power demand in the housing area.