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Energy and Global Warming News for September 9th: Salazar says U.S. climate bill remains high on agenda; Boxer vows to introduce bill by months end; First Solar to build 2000 Megawatt plant in China

Salazar says U.S. climate bill remains high on agenda

Despite Washington’s nearly single-minded focus on healthcare reform, the Obama administration still expects the U.S. Senate to pass climate change legislation, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Tuesday.

“Right now we are focused on this crusade for healthcare reform for the country and that’s where our time and energy will go for the days ahead,” Salazar said during an interview at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit.

Even so, he added, “We want both (healthcare and climate bills). The president has been very clear that these are two big issues for the United States and for our time”….

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If Congress fails to produce a climate bill for President Barack Obama to sign into law, Salazar noted, the White House could direct executive-branch offices to go ahead with new regulations controlling carbon pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency already has started that process.But Salazar also pointed out: “It (climate change) will not be addressed in a complete and long-term manner unless there is congressional action.”

While public support for healthcare reform has slipped in recent weeks, polls indicate that the public still backs Obama’s efforts to expand solar, wind and other alternative energies and to wean the United States off its reliance on foreign oil….

Without tough new steps, environmentalists fear worsening droughts and floods, the spread of disease and melting ice caps that would contribute to dangerously rising sea levels.

For the media, it’s always “environmentalists fear worsening droughts.” How about “Without tough new steps, the top scientists of the world and every major government project worsening droughts and floods, the spread of disease and melting ice caps that would contribute to dangerously rising sea levels”? But even Reuters prefers the political drama to straight reporting.

Boxer Vows to Introduce Energy Bill by Month’s End

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who heads the Environment and Public Works Committee, insisted Tuesday that her panel will introduce sweeping energy reform legislation by the end of the month.

“The bill will be introduced this month, and we’re going to be marking it up shortly thereafter,” Boxer said.

The Californian, who has been working alongside Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) on the bill, tossed aside suggestions that the Senate’s overwhelming focus on health care reform will curtail its ability to also tackle energy policy this year.

Boxer and Kerry were originally slated to introduce a bill this week, but the Aug. 25 death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), coupled with Kerry’s hip surgery in August, contributed to the delay. Kerry is also a member of the Finance Committee, which is expected to take up a massive health care bill in the coming weeks.

Six Senate committees have jurisdiction over climate change: Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; Finance; and Foreign Affairs. Boxer maintained Tuesday that jurisdictional issues over which committee is responsible for certain portions of the energy bill will not be an issue.

“I think all the committees will do their work. We’ll do our bill, the others will do their bill and the [Majority] Leader will marry it,” she said.

First Solar To Build 2-Gigawatt Solar Power Plant in China

Solar-panel maker First Solar is cracking open the Chinese market, which could become one of the world’s most promising for solar power.

Arizona-based First Solar said today it signed a deal with Chinese officials to build a 2,000 megawatt solar-power plant in Inner Mongolia over the next decade at an estimated cost of $5 billion to $6 billion.

UPDATE: That figure is apparently what it would cost to build a similar plant in the U.S. today; building a large plant in China in the future would likely cost less, due to labor costs especially, say First Solar spokesmen.

For First Solar, which already has contracts to build smaller, though still utility-size, solar-power plants in the U.S., the Chinese deal could be a game-changer. “If you have two gigawatts, it could change the image of solar power from niche to nuclear-plant-size installations,” said First Solar chief executive Mike Ahearn in an interview.

State predicts bright future for jobs in solar energy

The number of jobs in the state’s solar energy industry nearly doubled from 2007 to 2008 — and the numbers are on pace to grow sharply again this year, according to Massachusetts officials.

Ian A. Bowles, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said he would disclose the numbers today at the trade show Cleantech Forum XXIII. The two-day show opened today at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

A survey of nearly 100 solar energy employers in Massachusetts showed the number of jobs in the sector grew from 1,086 in 2007 to 2,075 in 2008, Bowles said. The growth is “indicative of the health and welfare’’ of the local solar energy industry, he added.

Green Force: U.S. Military’s Interest in Algae Fuel Grows

Here’s a future checklist for a military deployment: rations, boots, camouflage, bullets “¦ algae?

Solazyme Inc. said today it had a contract from the Defense Department for 20,000 gallons of algae-derived diesel fuel for testing.

What is the Pentagon doing? Dreaming some more about cutting its own supply lines, perhaps. Imagine a mobile army that can take an algae farm that can produce diesel fuel along with it, reducing the need for fuel convoys.

Governor Rendell Announces Federal Funding for Diverse, Renewable Energy Technologies

Governor Edward G. Rendell today announced the first in a series of competitive grant programs to help fund large-scale renewable energy projects.

Green Energy Works! is now accepting applications for $11 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for combined heat and power projects, which generate power and thermal energy from a single source. All projects must create jobs, be able to start work within six months, and be completed within 24 months and before April 30, 2012.

EU cuts funding for post-Kyoto climate deal

The European Union has scaled back plans to give billions of euros to poor countries to persuade them to help battle climate change, a draft document shows.

Funding from rich nations to the developing world has emerged as the main stumbling block to progress in climate negotiations ahead of international talks in Copenhagen in December.

Ethiopia warned last week that Africa would veto any deal at Copenhagen that was not generous enough.

Climate cash could create “Copenhagen stimulus”

Climate talks could draw on global recovery spending to smooth a deal in Copenhagen in December to replace the Kyoto Protocol, said Nick Robins, head of HSBC’s climate change research center.HSBC analysts estimate the green portion of a $3.1 trillion fiscal stimulus at about $512 billion.

Those funds to boost renewable energy, efficiency, public transport and water treatment so far exclusively focus on domestic economies and jobs, but could be turned to the aid of faltering U.N. talks meant to agree a new climate treaty.

“If we’re anywhere near the $500 billion we’ve identified, then one should hope there is some scope for governments to think about a contribution that would be the Copenhagen stimulus,” Robins said at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit.

“The missing element in the stimulus debate is that all the stimulus angles, unsurprisingly, have been very domestically focused, stimulating our economy, our sectors.”

Denmark to help Maldives attend climate talks: minister

Denmark on Tuesday said it was ready to help the Maldives, whose fight against rising sea levels has become a cause celebre for environmentalists, to attend key climate talks in Copenhagen.”In the past two years we have allocated 2.5 million euros to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change so that the poorest states and islands can attend the Copenhagen summit with three delegates each,” Cooperation Minister Ulla Toernaes told AFP.

It is “clear that the Maldives, which is one of the worst affected nations by climate change, must take part in the Copenhagen summit as their future depends on it,” Toernaes said of the December summit.

The Indian Ocean atoll nation said Monday it would have to skip UN climate change talks because of lack of funding.