Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bi-partisan Energy Effort forms in U.S. Senate

Good news - there seems to be emerging a bi-partisan effort to roll out better energy policy in the Senate. Nothing is perfect - and this proposal will certainly contain imperfections -- but its looking like it has the potential to be the most productive thing this Congress has done so far.
E&E Daily

OIL AND GAS: 'Gang of 10' nears roll out of energy plan as floor talks collapse
Ben Geman, E&E Daily senior reporter (07/31/2008)

The collapse of Senate leadership negotiations over energy legislation is prompting greater attention on a bipartisan group planning to roll out a proposal they say would require concessions from both sides.

The so-called Gang of 10 is planning to unveil a framework this week that relaxes oil-and-gas leasing bans on the outer continental shelf (OCS), coupled with conservation and alternative energy measures. The group, led by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), has been meeting frequently in recent days and weeks.

"I think they have become very important," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Members of the Gang of 10 also have called for a bipartisan energy summit. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday wrote to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stating they should together take the group up on its call for a summit to address various dimensions of energy policy, such as economic security, global warming and our "addiction to oil."

Reid cited the current impasse over the speculation bill, S. 3268, which Republicans want to amend with offshore drilling and other production measures -- and extension of renewable energy tax credits. "Given we have been unable to make progress on these measures, I think it is important that we both look at other ways to break the current legislative impasse on energy," Reid wrote.

Other members of the Gang of 10, which is modeled on the Gang of 14 that in 2005 that helped broker a deal on judicial nominees, are Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

A Democratic aide close to the process said it was a serious effort, with daily meetings at the member level. "I don't want anyone to have the misconception that is some show caucus that announces something and then has their LAs [legislative assistants] talk from time to time," the aide said.

Oil taxes, royalties in play?

Lawmakers and aides say the Gang of 10's plan will be comprehensive, encompassing domestic production, alternative transportation fuels and measures to reduce energy demand.

"Hopefully, we can get something out there that can be talked about over the August break," Thune said yesterday. "We will continue to build support and expect that when we get back, the leaders ought to move on this and give us a chance to debate it and get it voted on."

The framework is expected to include changes to the structure of drilling bans that currently cover both coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The Democratic aide, stressing the plan is not finalized, said OCS proposals floated in the negotiations have included a systems in which the bans would change depending on the distance from shore.

For instance, one approach includes a zone closest to shore where they are retained, followed by an area where states would have discretion over whether to OCS leasing would be allowed, while the bans would be lifted even further out.

"The consistent theme to all the zone proposals is a system by which the state authority diminishes and the federal authority increases the further you get offshore," the aide said. Another idea floated would create compacts of coastal states that would make decisions jointly about leasing in the region.

The expanded leasing would be coupled with a share of offshore oil-and-gas development revenues for the states that have leasing in adjacent OCS regions.

This aide also said that repealing a moratorium on commercial leasing for oil shale in Western states, which Republican leaders have been pushing for, was not expected to be included, nor is drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Offshore drilling is one of the stickiest issues because relaxing leasing bans faces heavy -- though not unanimous -- opposition in the Democratic caucus. Thune said yesterday that the proposal is being crafted with the goal of winning 60 votes in mind (E&ENews PM, July 30).

But "there will be some pain in this for Republicans, too," he added.

Another Senate aide said one idea being explored would repeal the Section 199 deduction on domestic manufacturing for oil producers, which would raise billions of dollars, while the Democratic aide said changes in royalty rates is also under consideration.

To date, most GOP lawmakers have strongly opposed repealing oil industry tax incentives.

The brewing Senate effort comes as a bipartisan group of 13 House members is also proposing a plan that links wider offshore drilling with renewable energy. But a proposal to ease OCS leasing bans faces very high hurdles due to opposition by Democratic leaders, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has not allowed a vote on the issue.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Grid - Making it Work for Renewable Energy

Below is an interesting article with some good suggestions for getting America's grid in shape to be able to handle the power that renewable energy could provide. This is by no means the only way forward - but something to consider!

July 30, 2008

Interstate Transmission Superhighways: Paving the Way to a Low-carbon Future

by Michael Goggin, AWEA

Imagine, for a moment, that today's Interstate superhighway system did not exist. Coast-to-coast delivery time for all sorts of goods we take for granted, from automobiles to asparagus, would take much longer and cost substantially more. Some goods might even be priced out of reach.

Across the country, hundreds of wind projects comprising tens of thousands of wind turbines are on hold because no one wants to step forward and pay for upgrades that will primarily benefit others. The obvious solution to this problem is a policy framework that will allow firms interested in building new transmission to collect the costs of the infrastructure investment from those who will benefit from it.

This situation, obviously undesirable, is similar to the problem plaguing the U.S. electricity transmission system, where the lack of a robust, integrated electric grid is rapidly emerging as the largest obstacle to the continued growth of the wind industry.

In its recently released report "20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030," the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) identified transmission limitations as a chief roadblock to realizing the enormous economic, environmental and energy security benefits of obtaining 20% of our electricity from the wind. Similarly, a poll conducted by NRG Systems Inc. at last month's Windpower 2008 Conference in Houston, Texas, found that participants saw transmission issues as the biggest problem facing continued development of wind energy in the U.S.

The lack of electricity transmission infrastructure is particularly burdensome for wind energy development because wind resources tend to be located at a significant distance from population centers. The bulk of America's best wind resources are located in the plains, stretching south from the Dakotas to Texas, while most of the country's population lives along the coasts. Putting our country's incredible wind energy potential to use requires finding a way to move this electricity from where it would be generated to where it is needed.

Since almost all low-carbon electricity generation technologies are heavily dependent on developing new transmission infrastructure, significant investments in transmission are essential for the transition to a lower carbon future.

A renewed investment in our outdated transmission system is a priority for other reasons as well. A stronger grid will be more reliable and more resilient in the face of potential disruptions caused by accidents or terrorist attacks. An investment in the grid will also reduce congestion — the grid's equivalent of traffic jams — that already costs consumers tens of billions of dollars per year in the form of higher electricity prices.

Of course, rethinking and ultimately reshaping the nation's electric grid is no small task. While the benefits of solving the country's transmission problems significantly outweigh the costs of the required investment, enacting the policies that will allow this investment to take place will require a hard-fought battle against entrenched political interests. To use an analogy that works both in terms of its scope as well as the political will that was necessary to get it done, solving our country's transmission problems will require the same type of forward thinking and bold leadership that made it possible to build the interstate highway system starting in the 1950s.

The Transmission Superhighway Vision

American Electric Power (AEP), a major investor-owned utility with regulated power companies serving customers in eleven states, and AWEA have partnered to create a vision of what a nationwide transmission superhighway would look like. One potential transmission build-out scenario that would allow the U.S. to obtain 20% of its electricity from the wind would include 19,000 miles of new 765-kilovolt (kV) transmission lines, for an estimated price tag of US $60 billion. (A 765-kV line is a high-voltage power line that can carry larger amounts of electricity — and with significantly higher efficiency — than most older transmission lines in use today.) These high-voltage lines would serve as the backbone of an interstate transmission superhighway. A map of this scenario is provided in Figure 1, illustrating how new 765-kV transmission lines would be integrated with the existing high-voltage grid to interconnect new wind energy development in regions with significant wind resources.

Figure 1: AEP-AWEA Transmission Superhighway Vision

While the size and cost of the transmission superhighway may sound large at first glance, it is important to keep these numbers in perspective. Given that electricity transmission infrastructure typically remains in service for 50 years or more, the cost of the investment for the average household would be equivalent to about US $0.35 per month, less than the cost of a postage stamp.

Those costs would be more than made up by the economic savings from replacing natural gas use with wind power generation, not to mention the benefits of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants. In fact, the DOE report estimated that obtaining 20% of U.S. electricity from wind would reduce electricity sector natural gas use by 50%. In addition, the DOE study found that the 20% wind energy scenario would reduce CO2 by 7.6 billion tons between now and 2030. Electric sector CO2 emissions would be reduced by 825 million tons in the year 2030 alone, an amount equal to 25% of all electric sector carbon dioxide emissions in that year or the equivalent of taking 140 million cars off the road.

A number of studies have found that the costs of transmission investments for wind power are significantly outweighed by the consumer savings that those investments produce. As illustrated in Figure 2, a 2006 study by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) found that over time an investment in new transmission infrastructure would produce benefits many times larger than the cost of the investment.

Figure 2: Results of Texas Study on the Costs and Benefits of Transmission for Wind (Source: ERCOT)

In April of this year, ERCOT followed up with a more detailed analysis of the costs and benefits of potential transmission expansion plans. The study found that the smallest transmission investment plan would bring enough new wind energy online to save US $1.2 billion per year in fuel costs — enough savings to cover the US $3.8 billion cost of the transmission infrastructure in a little over three years. The new wind brought online by the next largest transmission plan would save $1.7 billion per year in fuel costs, repaying the $4.9 billion cost of the investment in 2.9 years.

Similarly, the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) recently studied the costs of developing 16,000 megawatts (MW) of wind within its system (Midwest ISO, Midwest ISO Transmission Expansion Plan 2006), along with 5,000 miles of new 765-kV transmission lines to deliver the wind from the Dakotas to the New York City area. Although the overall generation and transmission costs reached an estimated investment of US $13 billion, the project produced annual net savings of US $600 million over its costs. These savings are in the form of lower wholesale power costs and prices in the eastern U.S. resulting from greater access to lower cost generation in the western states such as Iowa and the Dakotas.

Multiple Benefits
Higher-voltage lines that would be built as part of a forward-looking transmission plan have a number of economic and environmental benefits over the lower-voltage lines that are built through the piecemeal, incremental transmission expansion practices employed in the past and still prevalent today. According to an April 2008 report by M. Heyeck and E. Wilcox entitled, "Interstate Electric Transmission: Enabler for Clean Energy," a single 765-kV line can carry as much electricity as six 345-kV lines, using one-fourth as much land at one-third the cost and with one-tenth of the electricity losses. As a result, even though the 19,000 miles of new transmission lines envisioned in the AEP scenario would only amount to a 12% addition to the 160,000 miles of existing high-voltage transmission lines already in use in the U.S., they would be able to carry at least 20%-40% of U.S. peak electrical capacity.

In addition to the benefits of integrating a large amount of new wind generation, a renewed investment in the country's transmission infrastructure would also have significant economic and reliability benefits that would justify this investment even in the absence of wind. An ongoing study of new transmission options found that transmission congestion currently costs eastern U.S. consumers US $29 billion per year in the form of higher electricity costs. The preliminary results of the study indicate that an investment in the transmission needed to significantly reduce this congestion would produce a net benefit for consumers of US $5 billion over the cost of the transmission. (Presented in D. Osborn, "Planning of a Power Transmission System Using Economic Tools," JCSP Transmission Design Workshop, June 2008) Similarly, Idaho National Laboratory recently released a study concluding that five proposed transmission lines in the western U.S. would provide US $55-85 billion in annual benefits.

A Key to All Low-carbon Technologies

A growing chorus of experts has begun to express the concern that a lack of transmission infrastructure will present an obstacle for all low-carbon energy technologies, including renewable energy, nuclear power and coal power plants outfitted with carbon capture and sequestration technology. One of these voices is Kevin Kolevar, DOE's assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, who explained in his written testimony at a Senate hearing on June 17:

Significant new transmission will be necessary in the 21st century, largely because much of the Nation's future electricity demands will be met by generation sources located in areas that currently lack adequate grid connectivity. This applies to almost every type of generation:

  • Most of the nation's best wind and solar resources are located in remote areas where existing transmission capacity is either minimal or non-existent;

  • Most new nuclear plants will not be sited in populous areas, and will likely require additional transmission capacity;

  • Clean coal with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will presumably be sited near geologic formations suitable for CO2 storage, and may not be near major existing transmission facilities.

Richard Sergel, president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), expressed similar concerns at an AWEA press conference on March 19:

We're sitting on the precipice of climate change legislation...It is in that context that we believe that the grid will be threatened unless we build the transmission infrastructure that is necessary to support renewable resources like wind, that will enable us to locate new clean coal facilities or even the gas facilities to locate them in places in which the grid will be able to withstand that so that we can meet the load requirements as they grow and have a reliable system for the operators to deal with."

Later, he added, "It doesn't matter if it's going to be the clean coal plant or the nuclear plant or the wind project or the solar project. The common denominator is that they are going to require transmission to move [electricity] from where it is [generated] toward the load centers."

Given that the process of planning, permitting and building transmission lines can take five to ten years or more, a failure to enact the policies to enable a major investment in our transmission infrastructure will seriously limit our country's ability to address the climate change issue in a timely or cost-effective manner.

Forging A Path

Although a number of studies have made it clear that the multiple benefits of investing in new transmission drastically outweigh the costs, thus far policymakers have been slow to take action. Fortunately, however, awareness among policymakers is growing. The June 17 hearing at which Kolevar spoke, held by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee "to examine the challenges and regional solutions to developing transmission for renewable electricity resources," was its first hearing ever on the topic. AWEA Transmission Committee Chairman and Board President-Elect Don Furman of Iberdrola Renewables testified on behalf of AWEA at the hearing. The hearing was well attended, with four Republican and five Democratic Senators present and the hearing room full.

In his testimony, Furman asked Congress to ensure that:

  • there are sufficient incentives to encourage investments in the transmission facilities necessary to fully develop our renewable resources;

  • the costs of new transmission facilities are fairly allocated to take into account regional and national benefits, including the development of renewable electric generation;

  • utilities are able to recover the costs of reasonable transmission investments;

  • states cannot unfairly inhibit the development of transmission that will provide multi-state benefits;

  • U.S. power marketing agencies, the Department of Energy, and [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] are encouraged to promote regional transmission infrastructure and system operations in support of renewable energy development; and

  • legislation regulating greenhouse gas emissions recognizes the contributions transmission can make to reducing emissions in the electric generation sector.

To use terminology from the field of economics, our inability to build new transmission is fundamentally a public goods problem. In most regions, policies require wind plant developers that want to connect to the electric grid to pay for the full cost of an upgrade to the grid network, even though the majority of the benefits of this upgrade would accrue to millions of electricity consumers and other power plants that could piggyback on this investment. Across the country, hundreds of wind projects comprising tens of thousands of wind turbines are on hold because no one wants to step forward and pay for upgrades that will primarily benefit others. The obvious solution to this problem is a policy framework that will allow firms interested in building new transmission to collect the costs of the infrastructure investment from those who will benefit from it. Reforming the patchwork of policies that currently govern the allocation of transmission costs and the siting of new transmission lines will require cooperation among local, state, regional, and national entities.

It is fitting that our response to issues of such immense chronological and geographic scope as climate change and energy security should be forward-looking and based on the larger national interest. A large-scale investment in a transmission superhighway is a critical first step in this direction. To do so, we must move beyond the narrow, short-term view that is frequently applied when assessing the costs and benefits of new transmission investments. In a similar display of leadership 150 years ago, a former railroad lawyer named Abraham Lincoln saw the important national interest in opening the American West to growth. He signed legislation to create the transcontinental railroad network in 1862, and seven years later a railroad system spanning the country was completed. Effectively addressing issues as large as the energy and climate change problems currently facing our country will require bold, forward-looking action of the type that our country has rallied to before in the face of adversity.

Michael Goggin is an electricity industry analyst with AWEA.

This article first appeared in July 2008 Windletter, the monthly newsletter of the American Wind Energy Association

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

US vs Them

I heard an interesting review of a new book that is out making the claim that the conservative mindset on foreign policy (the Us vs Them mentality) has weakened America's national security over the past half century because it treated foreign nations that may pose a threat to America as "evil enemies" that can not be negotiated with, rather than nations seeking power and having interests/cultures other than our own.

What is so striking to me about this description, is how similar it is to the way the traditional environmentalist movement has viewed industry in this country -- and rural areas or occupations like farming that oppose their viewpoint.

Some of the same people who would argue passionately for why we must negotiate with Iran to avoid nuclear war fail to see that negotiation is needed with parts of their own country and the economy that don't ascribe to the typical command-and-control environmental policies they support. While folks on the left often understand well that care is needed in terms of how you talk to a foreign country (including the terms that are used and trust-building, good-faith gestures that are needed), they don't take that same care with their fellow countrymen who see the world differently. All too often, traditional environmental politics sees their opponents as pollution-loving, "haters" rather than recognizing that they have grown up with an entirely different world view.

Now - I know that there are plenty of conservatives who have refused to be open to new ways of thinking about the environment -- failing to see how renewable energy can be a key engine in growing the economy . . . refusing to recognize the immensely challenging energy and pollution problems facing our country.

Certainly, neither political point of view has the monopoly on closed-mindedness.

I've traveled all around the U.S. and much of the world -- and it is crystal clear to me that America is actually made up of several different countries combined together. The cultures of the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, the West and California -- are all substantially different from one another -- to the extent that what seems obvious and "righteous" to one region is baffling and ridiculed by others.

Perhaps we'd get much further on environmental and energy issues if we recognized the very real cultural differences that exist within the U.S. and negotiated them out rather than trying to control and demonize other parts of the country through the 30 second attack ad.

Both the political left and the political right have developed very good narratives that explain why the other side is wrong, stupid, evil. Casting aspersions on "the other" is easy -- and as we have discussed here before, is a GREAT way to raise funds and power. But NONE of that ego-based hot air ever solved a problem over the long run.

Surely, negotiating with our fellow countrymen and women -- as different as we all are from one another, can not be more difficult than negotiating with cultures that share little of our collective values? All it really takes is an open heart, a willingness to really listen and the ability to compromise for the greater good. Here's hoping there's more of that on the horizon -- both on the international and the domestic fronts.


Monday, July 28, 2008

World's Largest Wind Farm: In Oregon

Great news for us all - Oregon is going to build the largest wind farm, maybe in the world. Bringing jobs in tow with it! More of this please!!

The Seattle Times / Associated Press

Oregon to have world's largest wind farm

A state energy panel has approved building what developers say would be the world's largest single wind farm in Gilliam and Morrow counties...

SALEM, Ore. — A state energy panel has approved building what developers say would be the world's largest single wind farm in Gilliam and Morrow counties in northeastern Oregon.

Officials say the Columbia River Gorge wind farm will be capable of generating 909 megawatts at its peak — enough to power some 225,000 homes.

That would double the state's current wind-generated energy capacity.

The wind farm is expected to employ up to 300 people during construction and about 25 when it is operational.

"This is a tremendous day for renewable energy in Oregon," state Energy Department Director Michael Grainey said Friday after the project got the go-ahead from the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council.

The project is being developed by Caithness Shepherds Flat, LLC of Sacramento, Calif., and proposes 303 turbines. It was not immediately clear when it would be operational.

Caithness says Shepherds Flat will be the largest single wind farm in the world. The project is planned for privately owned land about five miles southeast of the Columbia River town Arlington.

Output would enter the Federal Columbia River Transmission System through Bonneville Power Administration's Slatt Substation.

Other wind projects under review in Oregon include the 400-megawatt Golden Hills Wind Farm in Sherman County and the 143-megawatt Newberry Geothermal Project in Deschutes County.

The largest wind farm in the United States is Horse Hollow in Texas at 736 megawatts.

But investor T. Boone Pickens has said he plans to build a wind farm with a peak of 4,000 megawatts in Texas by 2014.

The Problem with Partisanship

The story below from today's Financial Times makes some very good points about the dysfunction of "politics-as usual" that has unfortunately settled into both presidential campaigns in America.

The force of political machines in both the democratic and republican parties is intense -- but equal contribution comes from the press and the myriad of "special interest groups" whose market economy DEPENDS on propelling the problem they are organized around (i.e. environment, guns, health care) rather than around solving it. After all, what reward to any of the various associations or non-profits get for "fixing" their problem: less fundraising, and eventually, being put out of jobs.

The same elements that are eating away at the republican "maverick" and the democratic "outsider" are those that stand in the way of making real progress on any major issue. We, the people, need to become aware of the true price of indulging in partisan "feel good" blame games -- or we are doomed to keep playing them while our economy and our security crumble.


Financial Times

Issues are ignored in this American image war

By Clive Crook

Published: July 27 2008 18:14 | Last updated: July 27 2008 18:14

Barack Obama’s trip to Europe and the Middle East did what it was supposed to. It untapped a stream of presidential images: the candidate addressing 200,000 delighted Berliners; the candidate mingling comfortably with American soldiers, riding in military helicopters like a commander-in-chief; the candidate dealing with foreign leaders as an equal. For most voters, it is the images that will stick – what else was there? – and they are priceless. John McCain’s chief line of attack against Mr Obama, that he lacks experience especially in foreign affairs, has been blunted if not neutralised.

Poor Mr McCain had the worst week of his campaign. Unable to lie low and let Mr Obama have his European moment, the only wise course, he made matters worse. He ran a television spot that said “blame Obama for the high price of gas”, a patently ludicrous assertion. (Republicans were laughing at their own candidate.) Campaign officials said he might announce his vice-presidential choice – a sad and unsuccessful attempt to steal some of Mr Obama’s limelight. And having spent months goading Mr Obama for his lack of foreign affairs experience, Mr McCain portrayed his own schedule of dreary and sparsely attended small-town events as proof of his superior authenticity.

In this election, the image war is turning into a rout. As Mr Obama grows in self-assurance (not that he was lacking any to begin with), Mr McCain looks older and less sure-footed. The greater surprise, though, and the real let-down in this campaign, is that the image war is all there is. In a way, last week’s contrasts sum things up. And what a pity this is. This was supposed to be an election about substance, with candidates – each of them an outsider in his own way – capable of mutual respect, capable of challenging party loyalists and keen to engage with each other in a new kind of politics. Instead we have the old kind of politics, only more so.

This is partly – but only partly – the fault of the candidates and their staffs.

Both campaigns are organised around the brain-dead, instant-rebuttal paradigm of modern democratic politics. The quickest and easiest way to deal with a proposal or statement from the other side is to question the candidate’s good faith or (even better) catch him in an error, however meaningless, or seeming to contradict something he has said before. The gaffe and the flip-flop are the most valuable currency of the campaigns. There is rarely any need, and never any time, to think about the merits of what the other side is advocating. If you do that, you might have to yield ground, which is weak. Disdain your rival’s incompetence, inconsistency, and poor character, and move on.

Consider Iraq. To be sure, Mr Obama and Mr McCain differ on whether the war should have been fought in the first place – but that is no longer the question. Going forward, either would be far more constrained by factors beyond US control, and by the advice of people on the ground, than they care to admit. Both would want to disengage not totally but as far as possible and without leaving chaos behind. The question is how you do that and the options are somewhat limited. But neither cares to have that discussion.

Instead, Mr Obama says that Mr McCain wants to keep US forces there for 100 years (a calculated distortion of Mr McCain’s position), while Mr McCain last week accused Mr Obama of being willing to lose a war to win an election (a slur on Mr Obama’s character). Knowing what we know now, the war was a mistake. Mr McCain knows it too, but will not say so. Knowing what we know now, the surge was a success. Mr Obama knows it too, but will not say so.

Mind you, this intellectual paralysis over Iraq is a model of lively engagement compared with their discussion of other policy questions supposedly at stake in November – because most other issues are being ignored altogether. The most striking instance is healthcare reform. By any standards this is a question of momentous importance for the US, and not just in its own right. As I have argued before, the broken US healthcare system is deeply implicated in many of the country’s other pressing concerns. Anxiety over stagnant wages? Blame the rising cost of employer-provided health insurance. Fears about the deteriorating fiscal outlook? Healthcare costs again, because of Medicare and Medicaid.

Both candidates recognise this and have offered markedly different proposals – which is good. But are they discussing those proposals at all, preparing the public, acknowledging the trade-offs, seeing some merit as well as the drawbacks in each other’s plans? Are they doing what they promised to? They are not. An eerie silence has descended on the whole subject – except for the perfunctory exchange of accusations (Mr Obama is for socialised medicine; Mr McCain is for corporate profits).

As I say, the candidates are only partly to blame. My own profession is just as guilty. No less than the back-room campaign strategists, we are obsessed with polls, racing form, gaffes and flip-flops. The recent off-the-cuff comments by Phil Gramm, a McCain adviser – he said the US was becoming “a nation of whiners” and the economy was in a “mental recession” – and his subsequent departure from the campaign received, I would guess, more (and more careful) press and television coverage this month than the nuts and bolts of healthcare reform have received since the campaigns began last year.

Then again, whose fault is that? In a free country, you get the media and the politicians you deserve.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Ohio State University Breakthrough in Auto Efficiency

Great news from Ohio State University -- a breakthrough in efficiency for cars!

July 25, 2008

Material May Help Autos Turn Heat into Electricity

by Pam Frost Gorder, Ohio State University
Ohio, United States []

Researchers have invented a new material that could potentially make cars more efficient, by converting heat wasted through engine exhaust into electricity. The researchers say that the material has twice the efficiency of anything currently on the market.

"We'd been working for 10 years to engineer this kind of behavior using different kinds of nanostructured materials, but with limited success. Then I saw this paper, and I knew we could do the same thing we'd been trying to do with nanostructures, but with this bulk semiconductor instead."

-- Joseph Heremans, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Nanotechnology, Ohio State University.

The same technology could work in power generators and heat pumps, said project leader Joseph Heremans, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Nanotechnology at Ohio State University.

The materials are known as thermoelectric materials, and they rate the materials' efficiency based on how much heat they can convert into electricity at a given temperature.

Previously, the most efficient material used commercially in thermoelectric power generators was an alloy called sodium-doped lead telluride, which had a rating of 0.71. The new material, thallium-doped lead telluride, has a rating of 1.5 — more than twice that of the previous leader.

What's more important to Heremans is that the new material is most effective between 450 and 950° Fahrenheit — a typical temperature range for power systems such as automobile engines.

Some experts argue that only about 25 percent of the energy produced by a typical gasoline engine is used to move a car or power its accessories, and nearly 60 percent is lost through waste heat — much of which escapes in engine exhaust. A thermoelectric (TE) device can capture some of that waste heat, Heremans said. It would also make a practical addition to an automobile, because it has no moving parts to wear out or break down.

"The material does all the work. It produces electrical power just like conventional heat engines — steam engines, gas or diesel engines — that are coupled to electrical generators, but it uses electrons as the working fluids instead of water or gases, and makes electricity directly."

"Thermoelectrics are also very small," he added. "I like to say that TE converters compare to other heat engines like the transistor compares to the vacuum tube."

The engineers took a unique strategy to design this new material.

To maximize the amount of electricity produced by a TE material, engineers would normally try to limit the amount of heat that can pass through it without being captured and converted to electricity. So the typical strategy for making a good thermoelectric material is to lower its thermal conductivity.

In Heremans' lab, he used to work to lower the thermal conductivity by building nanometer-sized structures such as nanowires into materials. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

Those nanostructured materials are not very stable, are very difficult to make in large quantities and are difficult to connect with conventional electronic circuits and external heat sources.

For this new material, he and his colleagues took a different strategy: they left out the fancy nanostructures, and instead focused on how to convert the maximum amount of heat that was trapped in the material naturally. To do this, they took advantage of some new ideas in quantum mechanics.

Heremans pointed to a 2006 paper published by other researchers in the journal Physical Review Letters, which suggested that elements such as thallium and tellurium could interact on a quantum-mechanical level to create a resonance between the thallium electrons and those in the host lead telluride thermoelectric material, depending on the bonds between the atoms.

"It comes down to a peculiar behavior of an electron in a thallium atom when it has tellurium neighbors," he said. "We'd been working for 10 years to engineer this kind of behavior using different kinds of nanostructured materials, but with limited success. Then I saw this paper, and I knew we could do the same thing we'd been trying to do with nanostructures, but with this bulk semiconductor instead."

Heremans designed the new material with Vladimir Jovovic, who did this work for his doctoral thesis in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio State. Researchers at Osaka University — Ken Kurosaki, Anek Charoenphakdee, and Shinsuke Yamanaka — created samples of the material for testing. Then researchers at the California Institute of Technology — G. Jeffrey Snyder, Eric S. Toberer, and Ali Saramat — tested the material at high temperatures. Heremans and Jovovic tested it at low temperatures and provided experimental proof that the physical mechanism they postulated was indeed at work.

The team found that near 450° Fahrenheit, the material converted heat to electricity with an efficiency rating of about 0.75 — close to that of sodium-doped telluride. But as the temperature rose, so did the efficiency of the new material. It peaked at 950° Fahrenheit, with a rating of 1.5.

Heremans' team is continuing to work on this patent-pending technology.

"We hope to go much further. I think it should be quite possible to apply other lessons learned from thermoelectric nanotechnology to boost the rating by another factor of two — that's what we're shooting for now," he said.

This research was funded by the BSST Corporation; the State of Ohio Department of Development's Center for Photovoltaic Innovation and Commercialization at Ohio State University; the Beckman Institute; the Swedish Bengt Lundqvist Minne Foundation; and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Pam Frost Gorder is an assistant director of research communications at Ohio State University.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

GM, Ford Working Out Logistics on Plug-In Cars

Some encouraging news about American auto companies getting on board with the need to transform our transportation sector!

GM, Ford, power companies work out logistics of plug-in cars (07/24/2008)

Colin Sullivan, ClimateWire reporter

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Executives from U.S. auto manufacturers and major electric utilities convened here yesterday to announce and discuss a landmark deal meant to address how plug-in vehicles would connect to the power grid without overtaxing energy supplies.

General Motors Corp. signed an agreement yesterday with Los Angeles-based Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) and dozens of other utilities to work through the logistics for plug-in electrics (Greenwire, July 22). The idea is to collaborate on how power companies would cope with the potential emergence of hybrid and pure electric cars that are bound to drain the grid during peak demand periods.

Edward Kjaer, director of electric transportation at SCE, said utilities should view electric cars as the future of the U.S. market as companies like GM bank their development plans on smaller and more efficient models like the Chevrolet Volt and other plug-ins. Given that shifting marketplace, Kjaer thinks it's essential for utilities to plan now for an industry already adjusting rapidly to renewable energy in a carbon-constrained environment.

"How are we going to connect these cars to a changing grid?" he said. "This is not going to be an easy task at all because we're blazing totally new ground."

Chevy Volt
A computer-generated image of the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that GM hopes to get into showrooms by 2010. Photo courtesy of GM.

Kjaer told attendees at a plug-in conference that he expects "the sweet spot" for this new market to emerge in the 2010-12 time frame. He also anticipates just as much focus on the pure battery-electric car as on the plug-in hybrid as consumers tire of high gas prices, assuming oil prices don't bottom out in the years ahead.

"There's a whole bunch of vehicles in development," said Kjaer, citing not only GM's plans but new design efforts at Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., among others. "It says there's a lot of heat and a lot of light in this space."

'An appliance on wheels'

To prepare for the convergence of electricity and cars, SCE wants to start a $3 million residential pilot program under which consumers would experience the garage of the future, which could be powered by solar panels or wind energy and equipped to charge electric vehicles.

"What we're trying to do is take all this theory out of the theory and put it into the practical," Kjaer said.

The primary obstacles in the real world are changing "the passive relationship with the customer" and developing reliable storage systems, he added. Customers in California, for instance, would need better information about when to charge their cars to avoid draining peak summer supplies when air conditioners go full throttle.

Power customers are used to simply turning their lights on and getting a bill 30 days later. But Kjaer believes the future consumer will "have to be much more informed" about real-time energy management to pursue intelligent charging and more efficient control of resources.

SCE therefore envisions smart meters and identification numbers for vehicles that would allow drivers to refuel (or repower) their vehicles at remote charging stations. The typical driver in this scenario would register his or her car with the utility to manage and access the energy bank.

In other words, SCE views the future car as "an appliance on wheels" that could charge both at home and on the road, with a bill still waiting at the end of the month.

'Millions' of plug-in vehicles?

Dan Sperling, a board member at the California Air Resources Board, said it's a mistake to assume all drivers would charge their cars during off-peak times. If electricity is 1 or 2 cents a mile, or even 3 or 4 cents a mile, Sperling said, consumers could use that power "whenever they get a chance."

"We talk about peak rates and smart grids and all this, but what we really don't know is how the consumer is going to respond," he said. "It's hard to say."

The Tesla electric roadster, already being sold in California. Photo by Debra Kahn.

Even so, Sperling, who also directs the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California, Davis, predicts a bright future for electric utilities, given all the pressure on automakers to produce more-efficient cars. A regulation like California's low-carbon fuel standard, for one, could benefit power companies because the rule has been designed as a performance-based approach meant to prod carmakers toward biofuels and more fuel-efficiency.

In Sperling's view, a credit-trading environment under the low-carbon fuel standard would (in theory) push carmakers toward developing and selling more electric cars. This, combined with the state's stalled greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and a mandate for more zero-emissions models, could mean a boom for electrics, especially if the federal government funds research and development into new batteries, he said.

"If we do all this, I think we'll see millions of plug-in vehicles on the road in the near future," Sperling said.

Sperling also supports establishing a price floor for gasoline at $4.00 a gallon, but admitted the concept might not fly politically.

Battery capacity and supply remain problematic

Nancy Gioia, director of the hybrid vehicle program at Ford, said this is all well and good from a utility standpoint as power companies position themselves to potentially replace gasoline distributors. But from the auto manufacturing perspective, engineers are still coping with a fundamental concern: storage.

Gioia has overseen development of the Ford Escape Hybrid and other more efficient models -- including hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and the Mercury Milan -- and she believes in plug-in cars. Yet she also sees a technical problem yet to be resolved in terms of battery development.

"The biggest challenge remains the battery," she said.

Electric-battery technology, she points out, is still unproven and has limited range. Add to this concerns over the spiraling cost of steel, copper, aluminum and lithium carbonite, plus the likely dominance of battery manufacturing by China and Japan, and you've got some steep market challenges for U.S. companies.

Echoing this concern was Jonathan Lauckner, vice president of global program management at GM. Lauckner said U.S. corporations will have to decide whether they view battery manufacturing and R&D as priorities to bring down the cost of components at home. Otherwise, Japan and China will rule this side of the market.

"All of the battery capacity is located in Asia," he said. "It's not cheap shipping batteries all the way from Asia. There's a very sizable logistics cost."

Ford's Gioia also views the component market as a major issue and appeared to signal support for the emergence of U.S. suppliers.

"Without domestic or regional supply around the world, it just becomes another issue of ... potential instability," she said.

America's Huge Wind Potential

Below is a map of world wind resources -- with the organish color reflecting the most potential. Below that is a map of U.S. wind potential -- which is regarded as some of the best in the world.

If this were oil, would we be waiting to develop it???

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Become a PickensPlan Supporter!

I am now a HUGE fan of T Boone Pickens and his "PickensPlan" On the right you can play a brief video that gives a great overview of the energy INsecurity America faces and the plan to set it right.

PickensPlan is EXACTLY the kind of pragmatic approach that can be done and would mean amazing gains in the American economy, security and environment over the next 10 years.

I encourage you to look through the extremely impressive website they have up -- which allows for joining an amazing community of folks "the army" as Pickens calls them, who are all signing up to support and promote this important path forward for America The plan is basically this: replace the natural gas we use in electricity generation with massive investment in wind energy -- and then use the natural gas we would otherwise use on the electric sector -- as a transportation fuel for our cars.

Click here to see the full website which allows you to sign up for email updates, become a supporter and learn more about the plan.

Reading through the comments on the PickensPlan site made me feel amazing about the potential of Americans to really come together and push for something really important. When we put our ingenuity and creativity forward and don't divide ourselves over petty differences, Americans can do anything!!

T Boone Pickens Plan for Breaking America's Foreign Oil Addiction

Its great to have solid, successful investment gurus enter the energy security world -- and bring a real plan to the table! Below is an excerpt from T. Boone Pickens plan to turn America's energy policy around -- and STOP the insanity of supporting terrorism to fuel our mobility.
Click Here to check out PickensPlan

America is in a hole and it's getting deeper every day. We import 70% of our oil at a cost of $700 billion a year - four times the annual cost of the Iraq war.

I've been an oil man all my life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of. But if we create a new renewable energy network, we can break our addiction to foreign oil.

On January 20, 2009, a new President gets sworn in. If we're organized, we can convince Congress to make major changes towards cleaner, cheaper and domestic energy resources.

-- T. Boone Pickens website

Broad Support Emerges for Offsets

Here's some good news -- there is a broad coalition of agriculture groups, utilities, businesses and enviro groups that have all come together in support of strong and sound offsets policy within mandatory climate legislation.

Read more about the members of this coalition and the letter they have sent to Sen. Stabenow on my AgOffsets blog at

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oil Reserves from Saudi Arabia & Iran Could "Buy" the U.S.

The connection between our energy security and doing what's right for the environment has never been clearer. Just look at the massive wealth transfer the U.S. is engaged in with the Middle East. It's really crazy when you think about what we are doing -- BORROWING money from nations like China to pay nations like Saudi Arabia in order to pollute our planet and get where we need to go.

Now, I get that we need energy! It is the lifeblood of our economy and drives the modern world. But, when we realize just how unsustainable -- from a NATIONAL SECURITY point of view (let alone an environmental one) it is to keep this up, suddenly issues like whether we should be moving away from fossil fuels get really clear. Of course we should! We simply can not afford to subsidize the parts of the world that deplore personal liberty while we claim to be its biggest defender.

We secure our own freedom by funding those who oppose freedom. Its just that simple.

To further illustrate why we must make the turn away from hyper dependence on fossil fuels -- see the article below. This is an analysis that should open everyone's eyes -- and makes the point once again that we (Americans) have more in common with each other -- even with our deep political differences, than we often realize. And if we want our country to survive -- whether it is BECAUSE we don't want to fund terrorists or BECAUSE we want to preserve the environment -- the solution is the same -- and it DEMANDS cooperation rather than demonization.

MSN Money

How much oil it'd take to buy the US

At the recent price of $140 a barrel, it turns out to be a mere 400 billion barrels, or just about the combined reserves of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

By Scott Burns

Most of us view the world through dollar glasses. It's perfectly reasonable. Dollars, after all, are the currency we use in daily life. And those lenses, until recently, were distinctly rosy.

When we asked, "How much is that in dollars?," we usually liked the answer.

But it may be time to ask another question: "How much is that in barrels of oil?"

Trust me, others are doing exactly that.

That's when the world starts to look very different. It also looks more than a little scary to the U.S. Today, the net worth of the entire country is equivalent to a mere 400 billion barrels of oil. That's a smidgeon less than the proven reserves of two Middle Eastern countries: Saudi Arabia (264 billion barrels) and Iran (139 billion barrels).

At more than 40 times its 1970 price, oil has outstripped the value created by a full working generation of Americans in a period of dramatic technological change and innovation. During the same time, the value of American business shares, as measured by the S&P 500 Index ($INX), has risen only about 15 times above its 1970 level.

I find that hard to believe. After all, in 1970 the Internet was only an arcane toy for academics. Computer memory was desperately expensive. Intel had just been formed and was introducing the first dynamic random access memory chip. Bill Gates had yet to enter (or drop out of) Harvard and was five years from founding Microsoft. Steve Jobs was years away from creating the Apple II and was decades from launching the iPhone. AT&T was still a single national company, owning all of the regional Bell companies.

No one was yet thinking the U.S. post office was a quaint institution, soon to be treasured for its many buildings that could be converted to trendy condos. Phone calls were expensive. Sears, Roebuck was an important retail stock, not a real-estate play by a hedge fund manager. All surgery was invasive. And it was still believed that stomach ulcers were caused by stress. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had not yet been conceived, let alone applied to Stanford, where they would create Google.

Rising prices © Mark Weiss/Getty Images

All of that dynamism and creativity pale against the price of oil. Looking as far back as 1970, America has never been worth less in barrels of oil.

I learned this by measuring the net worth of all U.S. households and nonprofit organizations in barrels of oil. Every three months the Federal Reserve estimates the value of our collective tangible assets, financial assets and liabilities to arrive at our net worth. It's the whole enchilada -- all our cars, our houses, our durable "stuff," bank deposits, stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Everything. Then it subtracts all our mortgages, consumer credit and other debt to arrive at our net worth.

At the end of March, for instance, our collective net worth as a nation was $56 trillion, the second straight quarter it had dropped. Divide $56 trillion by the recent $140-a-barrel price of oil and you get 400 billion barrels of oil as the value of America, a fraction of our national value in 1998, 1995 or even 1990.

Either oil is too expensive or America is too cheap.

The value of the U.S., in barrels:

YearHousehold net worth* Price of oilBarrels to buy America


$3.4 trillion


1.1 trillion


$5.1 trillion


670.3 billion


$9.5 trillion


438.6 billion


$14.2 trillion


589.7 billion


$20.3 trillion


1.1 trillion


$27.7 trillion


1.9 trillion


$37.4 trillion


3.3 trillion


$48.1 trillion


1.1 trillion


$57.7 trillion


481 billion


$56 trillion**


400 billion

*Includes nonprofits. **Through March. Sources: Federal Reserve, Bloomberg.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Energy Problems Spur Bi-partisan Effort

Associated Press
July 15, 2008

Energy tsunami coming, ex-policymakers warn

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of 27 elder statesmen is sending an open letter to both presidential candidates and every member of Congress saying the country faces "a long-term energy crisis" that threatens the security and prosperity of future generations if swift action isn't taken.

The group includes Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and six other former secretaries of state or defense, former senators of both parties and a half dozen former senior White House advisers and other Cabinet officers for both Republican and Democratic presidents.

"We must re-examine outdated and entrenched positions," the group says in the letter to be sent Wednesday to the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and to his GOP rival John McCain, as well as members of Congress and all 50 governors.

"...Foremost we must rise above a partisan differences and be united in our efforts," they wrote.

A copy of the letter was provided Tuesday to The Associated Press.

The call to action comes amid widespread anger over high energy costs from $4-plus a gallon gasoline to the certainty of record heating costs next winter and the prospect that America's energy priorities will have to be revamped in coming decades to address global warming.

Despite volumes of rhetoric — often on largely meaningless proposals — partisan disagreements have stymied action on energy issues in Congress this year.

Republicans have hammered away at opening new areas for oil and gas drilling, while Democrats have largely been targeting large oil companies for new taxes. Neither side has signaled a willingness to compromise.

That has to change, the elder statesmen wrote, focusing on the next president and members of the next Congress that will take office in January.

The open letter was the idea of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a group affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has embraced largely Republican, pro-business approaches to dealing with energy problems. The Chamber, for example, has called for expanding domestic energy development, including opening offshore areas long off limits, and criticized new taxes on oil companies.

But retired Marine General James Jones, the institute's president, said the call to action reflects broad, bipartisan views and doesn't lean on one party or the other.

"There's an energy tsunami coming, and when you see it coming you better get on top of the wave, or you're going to get crushed by it," he said in an interview.

Jones, the 40-year military veteran who has had discussions about energy with both Obama and McCain, said he hoped the letter's sense of urgency will influence both campaigns. "Both candidates are still embryonic in their thinking about this," he said.

It's not only politicians who are faulted in the critique.

"We demand more energy and complain about high prices, but we restrict energy exploration and production. We embrace the promise of energy efficiency, but we are slow to make adjustments in our energy-intensive lifestyles," the letter says.

Production of electricity, for example, is taken "almost for granted." At the same time, people oppose new power plants and don't want to invest adequately in energy technology research, the writers say.

Thomas "Mack" McLarty, former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, said the letter emphasizes that "the next president is going to have to put energy right at the top of his agenda" and do it quickly.

"There will be a window there to build bipartisan consensus to move forward," McLarty said in an interview.

The letter includes 13 broad recommendations. They include aggressively promoting energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption, increased commitments to both nuclear energy and renewable energy sources, making coal more environmentally acceptable and moving transportation away from oil as a fuel.

Other senders of the letter include former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George Shultz, former Defense Secretaries Frank Carlucci, William Cohen, William Perry and James Schlesinger; former senior White House advisers Howard Baker, Robert "Bud" McFarlane, Kenneth Duberstein and Brent Scowcroft; former Energy Secretaries James Watkins and Spencer Abraham; former CIA Director James Woolsey; former Commerce Secretary Donald Evans; former Democratic Sens. J. Bennett Johnston, Sam Nunn and Charles Robb; and former Republican Sen. George Allen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Market for Efficiency

One of the amazing things about markets is that they find and drive the most efficient change. If you want someone to meet a goal, the worst thing you can do is to prescribe exactly how they must do it. Too often the environmental "purists" focus on punishing industry rather than accomplishing an environmental good. On the other side, those who claim to be conservative but practice the wanton waste of resources on a scale never before seen should realize the importance of a market force that rewards conservative behavior.

The article below talks about just how far energy efficiency can take us in both cutting dependence on foreign sources of energy AND cutting greenhouse gas emissions. We have become so inefficient because until now, energy has been considered cheap. With the developing economies beginning to take more of a proportional share of energy, that will no longer be the case.

The sooner we have a market (i.e. cap-trade system on ghg emissions) that rewards smart decisions, the sooner our overall costs for energy can stabilize.


ClimateWire - 7/15/08

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: The 'forgotten factor,' curbing energy use in homes and buildings
Christa Marshall, ClimateWire reporter

It accounts for as much as 40 percent of energy consumption in the United States and spews a chunk of greenhouse gas emissions, but gets little attention from many lawmakers.

The heating and cooling systems in homes, businesses and industries are gobbling up heating oil and natural gas at a time of surging demand, prompting some to call them the forgotten factor of climate policy.

"Adding more renewables to the heating and cooling mix is one of the most cost-effective things we can do to cut emissions," said Wilson Rickerson, an energy consultant who also spoke at a recent Boston event on the topic sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

His remarks came during an unusual year for the heating oil industry, which provides the winter lifeblood for much of New England. Typically, demand for the fuel falls in the summer, but it has remained constant this year because of high need in Latin America and elsewhere.

Because of population pressure and economic shifts, that trend could continue, and it illustrates the importance of a renewable heating policy, said Sander Cohan, an analyst with Energy Security Analysis Inc.

As much as 50 percent of global energy demand stems from the need to control temperature in the industrial, commercial and domestic sectors, according to a recent analysis by the International Energy Agency, which said renewable heating and cooling could have "considerable mitigation potential" for greenhouse gases, at relatively low cost.

Heating appears to be a bigger energy sapper than cooling, with roughly 90 percent of residential temperature control going toward increasing the temperature of water and spaces, according to federal government data.

Renewable heating and cooling encompass a variety of technologies, including geothermal heat pumps, biomass-fired stoves and solar-powered devices to control temperature in homes, companies and swimming pools.

Solar hot water
A woman stands on the rooftop of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen, Colo. She is smiling because her organization promotes energy efficiency, and the solar panels cut the nonprofit's water heating bills by half. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The ability of these mechanisms to cut greenhouse gas emissions varies. For example, biodiesel blends used in place of heating oil are of questionable benefit to carbon reduction and the environment, according to a recent report from the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Huge source of emissions lost below the climate policy radar

Renewable mechanisms do have one common advantage: little reliance on the electrical grid. Solar water heating systems -- which the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated could reduce dependence on natural gas -- can collect energy from the sun directly to heat water, sending it to a storage unit for use in faucets and showers.

The electrical independence is a benefit but also provides an explanation why heating and cooling largely have hovered underneath the policy radar.

"The focus in this country has been on transportation and electricity when it comes to renewables," said Charlie Niebling, general manager at New England Wood Pellet. "Federal and state policy have chosen two technologies and ignored the third."

For Niebling, the disadvantage means his company must compete for the same wood waste to make pellets for pellet stoves and other heating systems, without the benefit of tax incentives that would come if the biomass were used to produce electricity.

Major climate legislation that stalled in the Senate this summer contained measures that could have supported renewable heating and cooling, including grants to local governments and incentives for the construction of efficient buildings. The federal government also sets standards for appliances via its Energy Star program and provides tax incentives for some technologies, including solar water heating systems.

Additionally, many states have renewable electricity standards requiring utilities to produce a percentage of their energy from alternative sources. In areas where air conditioners and heaters run off electricity, their emissions could be cut through such measures.

But advocates argue that efficiency and electricity mandates can only do so much, particularly at a time when the number and average size of homes are expected to grow. They argue that heating and cooling should be viewed in the same policy light as cutting the emissions of cars -- which policymakers are examining in terms of both efficient design and new fuels in the gas tank.

Solar water heaters nearing competition in markets

In 2007, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported that the expiration of generous federal tax credits after 1985 had "virtually eliminated" the U.S. market for solar water heating. High energy prices and 2005 federal legislation have since prompted a second look at this, which is among the simplest and cheapest forms of solar energy use. Israel now uses solar water heating extensively. According to the International Energy Agency, "well-designed" supporting policies in some countries have allowed solar water heater installations to compete with conventional heating fuels even in regions with little sun.

Ft. Huachuca Solar
A new military barracks at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., deploys a ground-based array of solar water heaters for easier maintenance. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

A handful of states are tackling the topic, with at least 11 allowing heating and cooling to be eligible at some level for satisfying a renewable electricity standard.

In June, Hawaii became the first state to mandate installation of solar water heating systems in new single-family homes (Greenwire, June 30). In 2006, the Arizona Corporation Commission included technologies such as solar pool and biomass heating as eligible resources in its renewable energy standard.

Many obstacles remain, however. In addition to the challenges associated with alternative energy in general -- startup costs, the need for work force training and insufficient research and development funds -- renewable heating and cooling supporters point to a lack of an organized lobby, low public awareness and the fact that heat output is harder to measure and verify than renewable electricity production.

During the solar water heating boom of the 1970s, the quality of some units faltered because of rigid certification requirements, leaving a bad taste with some members of the public.

Additionally, about 45 percent of buildings in the commercial sector are leased, making installment of some systems difficult, according to NREL. Residentially, about 17 percent of water heating use occurs in apartment buildings.

And some in the heating and cooling industry are worried that any rapid change could force workers to bear the cost of installing new technology.

"We know that renewable heating and cooling is coming, and we support it," said Jessica Johnson Bennett, director of government relations at the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. "But lawmakers need to keep in mind that a huge number of contractors are small or family-owned businesses."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

U.S. Biofuels Mitigating Gas Prices, Reducing GHG emissions

Unfortunately, this information has not gotten NEARLY the attention it deserves. While every media outlet imaginable is trying to blame the "food crisis" on ethanol, they have neglected a very important part of the biofuels story . . . (see the DOE fact sheet below)

U.S. Department of Energy
For Immediate Release June 11, 2008

Fact Sheet: Gas Prices and Oil Consumption Would Increase Without Biofuels

Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman and Secretary of Agriculture Edward T. Schafer sent a
letter on June 11, 2008 to Senator Jeff Bingaman addressing a number of questions related to
biofuels, food, and gasoline and diesel prices. The letter is available at

Without Biofuels, Gas Prices Would Increase $.20 to $.35 per Gallon.
• The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that gasoline prices would be between 20
cents to 35 cents per gallon higher without ethanol1, a first-generation biofuel.
• For a typical household, that means saving about $150 to $300 per year.
• For the U.S. overall, this saves gas expenditures of $28 billion to $49 billion based on annual
gasoline consumption of roughly 140 billion gallons.
• Ethanol use has exceeded the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), established
in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, demonstrating that refiners and gasoline marketers have an
economic advantage to use more ethanol than is required by law.
Biofuels are Reducing America’s Dependence on Oil.
• Without biofuels, DOE estimates that the United States would have to use 7.2 billion more
gallons of gasoline in 2008 in order to maintain current levels of travel (a 5 percent increase).

This increased demand for gasoline would drive up the price Americans pay at the pump due to
basic supply and demand.
Gasoline Consumption Reduction
Attributed to Ethanol Use
Gasoline Displacement 2007 2008
Thousand Barrels / Day 357 472
Billion Gallons / Year 5.5 7.2

Biofuels are Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
DOE scientists found that corn ethanol from the U.S. reduced greenhouse gas emission 19 percent compared with gasoline, when the full “life cycle” of the fuel is considered – from growing it to producing the fuel and burning it.
• DOE scientists estimate that 13 million tons of greenhouse gases were avoided in 2007 due to biofuels production and use.
• The next generation of biofuels—cellulosic—made from switchgrass, corn stover, wood chips
and other non-food sources promises even more significant reductions in greenhouse gas
emissions than corn-based ethanol – reductions of more than 86 percent compared with gasoline.

1 This estimate relies on data on the current price difference between ethanol and gasoline and the elasticity of supply for petroleum. Consequently, a range is presented.

Today’s Biofuels Account for Only a Small Percentage of the Increase in Global Food Prices.
• Other factors are responsible for the majority of the increase in global food prices:
Higher oil and gas prices leading to increased costs of fertilizer, harvest, and transportation;
Increased demand as developing countries grow and people improve their diets;
Two years of bad weather and drought leading to poor harvests in parts of the world;
Export restrictions imposed by some countries.
Future Biofuels Will Alleviate Much of the Concern about Competition Between Food and
• Cellulosic biofuel feedstocks can be produced on land not suitable for crops or it can be collected
from forest residues.
• The Administration has announced more than $1 billion for the research, development, and
demonstration of new biofuels technology, with a special focus on cellulosic biofuels. Funding
Bioenergy Research Centers where scientists work together to make the conversion of plant
fiber to fuel more cost-effective and efficient.
Commercial-scale and small-scale biorefineries, to chart the course toward
commercialization of these technologies and test breakthroughs and novel processes.

Enviro Political $

Interesting story about environmentalist groups and how they have and are engaging in the U.S. Presidential campaign. It is striking to me how political many of the environmental non-profit groups are. How on Earth do they expect to get anything done by being so partisan and such a part of the Democratic party fund-raising arms?? And how are these groups to be taken seriously on legitimate critics of anti-environmental candidates when they are known fund-raisers and political contributers to the Democratic party almost exclusively??

Our congressional system - indeed our entire political system, is designed to be slow and deliberate and to REQUIRE compromise for passage of new policy. So if we know that about the U.S. system, then ask yourself, who is it that gains from hyper-partisan policy, politics and campaigning? Not the environment, that's for sure.

The good news of this story is that there seems to be less enviro political activity in the "issue ad"sector. Maybe we can hope that environmental partisanship overall will lose its market appeal as well!


Enviro groups turn away from 527s in strategy shift

Alex Kaplun, Greenwire reporter - July 1, 2008

Environmentalists have mostly jettisoned the tax-exempt fundraising organizations that helped them raise record sums of money in the last presidential campaign, potentially reducing the total amount that the organizations could have to spend on this year’s contest.

A changed political environment and a changed donor base have diminished the role of so-called 527 organizations that once raked in cash without federal fundraising limits and were often used to buy negative issue ads.

The 527s allowed environmentalists to raise more than $20 million for the 2004 campaign, largely on six-figure checks from small numbers of donors. The cash, which paid for organization-building activities, as well as advertising, allowed environmentalists to spend more on the presidential race than ever before.

The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, in particular, were able to reach out to those donors late in the campaign and raise roughly $7 million through the 527s in just the last couple of months before the election.

But 527s this year are pulling in a fraction of what they did four years ago. Part of the reason, some leaders of environmental groups say, is that donors who were driven by a desire to oust President Bush four years ago have not given the same large sums to interest groups this year.

"It was a very much an anti-Bush campaign," said Cathy DuVall, the Sierra Club's national political director. "The day after the 2002 election, people started to gear up to beat Bush in 2004. ... That's dramatically different than the political climate of this year."

Another factor is changed enforcement by the Federal Election Commission. In the wake of the 2004 election, FEC started cracking down on some 527s, fining them for coordinating with presidential campaigns. Environmentalists' 527 activity dipped in the 2006 congressional campaign, with total spending topping $7 million, though campaign spending drops across the board in non-presidential election years.

And finally, environmental groups say, 527s are no longer as useful now that energy is one of the most important issues in the current campaign.

New strategies

The decline of 527s is apparent in activities of the two most politically active environmental groups, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and the Sierra Club.

Four years ago, LCV spent more than $5 million through its 527, with the majority of that cash, $3.7 million, going toward advertising, according to records from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Much of the remaining cash went toward other campaign activities: polling, political consultants and various administrative expenses.

Since then, LCV has essentially shut down its federal 527 efforts, and though the organization still pulls in dollars that are technically under that umbrella, that money goes toward funding state-level initiatives.

And the Sierra Club -- which ran the largest environmental group 527 in the 2004 cycle, pulling in almost $9 million and spending more than $6 million on various campaign efforts -- has drawn virtually no donations this time around, the Center for Responsive Politics' data show. By this time in 2004, the Sierra Club's 527 had already raised about $2.5 million.

The group spent about $1 million from its 527 on a recent voter outreach campaign, but group officials say its campaign messages would be funded through its political action committee (PAC) and other, more conventional means.

Other environmental groups that used 527s in 2004 have also scaled down or eliminated their efforts.

Defenders of Wildlife, though still active in a number of congressional races, has raised $155,000 through their 527 and spent $5,000 so far this cycle. Environment 2004, an active 527 led by Clinton-era officials that spent roughly $2 million four years ago, no longer exists.

All told, environmentalists have raised about $2 million this cycle through 527s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, putting them substantially below the pace of four years ago.

Still, Massie Ritsch of the Center for Public Integrity points out that the 527 situation can change quickly, since it only takes one check to alter the picture. "527s can spring up overnight because they can take unlimited contributions from just about anybody," he said.

New message, new climate

One of the downsides of 527s, environmentalists say, is that they are not allowed to explicitly advocate for or against a candidate. They are technically allowed to advocate for issues.

That was more valuable four years ago, when environmentalists said voters were not paying attention to energy and natural resources. But with energy now topping virtually every poll about voter concerns, and with both presidential candidates spending a major amount of campaign time discussing the issue, environmentalists say their efforts are moving from outlining issues to promoting candidates.

Said the Sierra Club's DuVall, "The organizations felt in 2004 that we need to spend a fair amount of money just to put our issue on the agenda; we don't need to do that anymore."

To that end, environmentalists say their PACs are continuing to raise substantial sums, more than enough to get their message out to voters.

"We know we'll have good enough financial resources to get our message out on those issues," said Tony Massaro, LCV's political director.

But unlike 527s, PACs face caps on how much money individuals can give during a campaign cycle, with the amounts limited to several thousand dollars.

Changing attitude

To some extent, the lack of 527 activity from environmental groups is part of a larger trend, as many advocacy groups have jettisoned such efforts in a changing political climate.

While campaign finance records show that overall fundraising by 527s is slightly ahead of the pace of four years ago, fundraising by groups on the left -- some of which were the first heavy users of the 527 system in 2004 -- is lagging.

Most notably, -- one of the best-known liberal advocacy groups -- last month said that it would eliminate its 527 activities, in large part because the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, has been highly critical of such efforts. MoveOn raised more than $20 million through its 527 efforts in 2004, representing about 40 percent of all the money raised by the group that year.

Obama and the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have both signaled that "they don't want outside issue groups raising unlimited money and going on the attack," Ritsch said. "There's not much they can do to deter that kind of activity, but so far, maybe it's working."

Environmentalists say that they have not completely closed the door on using 527s, especially if faced with a barrage of such advertising from advocacy groups on the other side.

"If that happens," DuVall said, "then the dynamics of the math change."