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March 30 News: China cuts nuclear goal, raises solar goal after Japan meltdowns; Halting CO2 regulations will help China

Solar Farms Gain Priority in China as Atomic Goal Cut After Japan Accident

China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, will cut its 2020 target for nuclear power capacity and build more solar farms following Japan’s atomic crisis, said an official at the National Development and Reform Commission.

The country will reduce its nuclear capacity goal of 80 gigawatts, Ren Dongmin, the head of the economic planner’s renewable energy development, said at a Beijing conference today, without giving a new target. The goal for solar-power capacity will increase from the current target of 20 gigawatts, he said.

“We can see delays in some projects, but in the longer term, I don’t see how they can change the program they have in place without facing drastic power shortages,” David Lennox, an analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney, said by telephone. “It’s difficult to see what their alternatives to nuclear are.”

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Radiation leaks from the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station following Japan’s record March 11 earthquake have prompted other countries to review their nuclear development. NDRC Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua said yesterday China won’t alter its atomic energy plans, even as the Cabinet had stopped approving new nuclear plants, pending safety checks.

Shares of nuclear plant-equipment maker Shanghai Electric Group Co. and Dongfang Electric Corp. both slumped 2 percent in Hong Kong trading. The benchmark Hang Seng index rose 0.3 percent. Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co. advanced 1.8 percent on the Shenzhen exchange.

Sen. Boxer: Halting CO2 regs. helps China

Halting the first-ever nationwide greenhouse-gas emissions regulations will help China dominate clean-energy technology, a Democratic U.S. senator said.

Senate legislation to be voted on that would permanently block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions would cause the United States to forfeit “leadership in environmentally clean technology to China,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Wednesday.

“That’s the last thing we want to do,” she said. “They are already surpassing us in solar production, and we created it.”

China is the world’s biggest exporter of solar panels. The United States was No. 1 until 2008, when it was eclipsed by Germany.

The official China Securities Journal reported Wednesday China might double its target for solar power capacity over the next five years following Japan’s nuclear crisis.

China was also the world leader in clean-energy investment last year, ahead of Germany and the United States, a study by the independent, non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts’ Pew Environment Group said. The United States fell from No. 2 in 2009.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the Senate measure blocking regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions would “rein in the EPA and protect jobs.”

Revived Senate energy ‘gang’ meets anew

A group of senators met Wednesday afternoon to test the waters on an idea that seems far-fetched amid the sharply partisan battles on gas prices: Crafting a broad bipartisan energy proposal.

As E2 reported Tuesday, Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are re-forming the bipartisan “gang” that floated a sweeping energy framework in the summer of 2008 only to see it collapse amid election-year gas price battles.

Conrad told E2 after Wednesday’s meeting “” which took place in the hearing room of the Senate Budget Committee he chairs “” that more sessions are planned and that he’s hopeful about the prospects.

Other senators who attended include John Thune (R-S.D.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) “” who are both members of the GOP leadership team “” as well as Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Conrad and several other senators exiting the meeting said they’re not talking about policy specifics “” yet.

“This was just to explore ‘is there interest in re-engaging,’ and clearly there is,” Conrad said after the roughly 45-minute meeting. “There are going to be more meetings. There is clearly strong interest.”

Murkowski signals she’s open to some fees on oil industry

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, signaled she is open to the idea of charging oil companies additional fees in order to speed up the permitting of offshore drilling projects.

In a sit-down interview with reporters Wednesday, Murkowski, a staunch proponent of expanded oil-and-gas drilling, said the new fees would have to be targeted toward speeding up the permitting process at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

“I do think there is a reasonable level where … what is happening with the increase in fees is to help facilitate the issuance of permits that we absolutely must have,” Murkowski said.

But she added that revenue collected from the fees must go toward BOEMRE’s efforts to issue permits. Republicans, including Murkowski, have criticized the BOEMRE for not moving quickly enough to issue new permits under beefed-up safety standards put in place in the aftermath of last year’s massive oil spill.

Murkowski said she would not support additional fees “if what is happening is you are increasing fees to put it in the black hole of the treasury to pay for who knows what.”

Call for stricter emission rules worldwide

Strict vehicle emission standards in developing countries could mitigate climate change and benefit human health and food security, U.S. researchers say.

Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York said adopting stringent European on-road vehicle emission standards for non-carbon dioxide pollutants would lead to annual benefits in 2030 and beyond.

Writing this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, Shindell and colleagues said the benefits could potentially be 120,000 to 280,000 avoided premature air-pollution-related deaths, and 6.7 million to 28 million tons of avoided ozone-related yield losses of major food crops.

Such regulations would also lead to $0.6 trillion to $2.4 trillion of avoided health damage and mitigation of 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit of Northern Hemisphere warming during 2040–2070, they wrote.

While current vehicle emission standards in China, India and Latin America could substantially mitigate climate change, they said, the standards would still result in premature deaths and ozone-related agricultural yield losses.

Tapping The Earth For Energy Savings Year-Round

Increasing numbers of homeowners are installing geothermal heat pumps, which take advantage of the constant temperature underground to provide more efficient heating and cooling. Initial costs are high, but a 30 percent federal tax credit can make the systems more affordable.

Suzi and James Bryant started thinking about going geothermal after their first winter in their house in Sterling, Va. It came with a rumbly 50-year-old oil furnace in the basement.

Last winter’s oil bill was $2,000 and they didn’t want a repeat of that. And they weren’t looking forward to another summer with their aging air conditioner, which last year couldn’t keep the house cooler than 80 degrees.

The Bryants had heard that geothermal systems can heat and cool homes with much less energy because they use the constant mild temperature underground. They did a lot of research, crunched the numbers and decided to take the plunge.

“We looked into it, and our payoff was three to seven years, so it kind of just made sense,” says Suzi Bryant, an electrical engineer who is staying home to raise their three young children.

Solar Gains Traction””Thanks to Subsidies

Falling solar-panel prices, generous government subsidies and rising power costs are creating a new breed of solar enthusiasts: people who are installing panels on their roof because they see it as a good investment, not because they are out to save the world.

That’s the case with Dave Shiels and his wife Kathleen Kiely. With his Harley and her Cadillac and their sprawling ranch house, they aren’t central casting’s version of environmentalists, but they are the kind of people who must embrace solar if it’s going to take off in the U.S.

Rebates and credits are the main reason Mr. Shiels and Ms. Kiely have 72 solar panels on their red-tile roof and are considering installing another 20 later this year. For 11 months of the year, their meter spins backwards. Only in Arizona’s August heat do they typically use more electricity than they generate, and even then credits they have banked during cooler months mean they won’t have to pay to keep their house cool as desert temperatures outside hit 110 degrees.

There is debate, though, about whether it makes sense to subsidize solar power, as it is more expensive than power generated from coal or natural gas. The Energy Department estimates that solar panels, all in, cost about $210 for each megawatt hour, more than twice as much as a coal, which runs about $95, and nearly twice as much as natural gas, which costs about $125.

Those who support subsidies say they are necessary to drive demand to achieve market scale so that prices continue to drop. Opponents say the government supports only make power more expensive for all users.

Arteries of Power: How Solar Energy Could Reshape the West

As the railroads shaped the American West in the 19th century and the national highway system shaped the region in the 20th century, a new electrical generating and transmission system for the 21st century will leave a lasting mark on the desert, for better and worse. Much of the real significance of railroads and highways is not in their direct physical impact on the landscape, but in the ways that they affect the surrounding landscape and communities. The same is true of big solar and wind generating plants and the power lines that will be laid down to move electricity around.

Look at any map of the West that shows land ownership patterns and you will see what I mean about the railroads. Instead of just a thin pair of tracks, the railroads have left a wide swath of “checkerboard lands” through the territory. For 20 miles on each side of the railroad, companies were granted alternating square sections of land. In much of the West, the other squares have remained public land. Some of the railroad sections were developed, others remain undeveloped, and in both cases the crazy quilt of landownership has presented daunting challenges for land management to this day. Poke around towns along the interstate highway system in the West and you’ll find old abandoned town centers that lost their lifeblood as the railroad station was displaced as the heart of the town by a new highway. Later that strip was abandoned when an interstate exit became the key connection to the arteries of the region. More than a few towns lost their souls in the process.

Big solar and wind generating plants and their power lines will also have effects far beyond their direct footprint in the West. This is not an argument against building them. We need alternative energy sources badly, and to really take advantage of them we need to be able to move electricity around far more readily than we can now. The western power grid is a fragmented hodgepodge. It needs to be much better integrated. And that is going to require major power lines across the West.