Sunday, December 28, 2008

Energy Secretary

This Times article paints a pretty positive view of DoE nominee Chu and the Joint BioEnergy Institute.

In Choice to Lead NOAA, a Wide Range of Credentials

Obama picked a marine ecologist to head NOAA.

Winter Cold Puts a Chill on Green Energy

There are obviously some important issues to think about in this story. Also some overemphasis...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama naming Nobel Prize winner from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as energy secretary

Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be Barack Obama's energy secretary, according to several media reports.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist and former chair of Stanford University's physics department, is a major supporter of developing alternative fuels and solar research and backs government mandated steps to control greenhouse gas emissions.

His selection signals that Obama plans to move ahead with his agenda of promoting environmentally friendly energy sources. And by putting a university scientist at the helm of the energy department, instead of an industry leader or political leader with no science background as had been speculated, it indicates that Obama plans to commit to a government industry partnership to develop green energy initiatives.

"It is wonderful to see another distinguished Californian be mentioned for a Cabinet level position,'' Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement. "Dr. Chu would bring extraordinary scientific accomplishments to the job of Energy Secretary at a time when science is telling us we must act to avert the ravages of global warming."

Chu, 60, of Oakland, has led the Berkeley national lab since 2004 and is a member of the board of the Hewlett Foundation.

The Associated Press, citing Democratic officials, said Obama has also selected Lisa Jackson for environmental protection agency administrator and Carol Browner as his energy "czar."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wave power put to the test in Monterey Bay

Kurtis Alexander - Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted: 12/09/2008 01:30:56 AM PST

The 60-foot Velocity motored out of Santa Cruz harbor Monday afternoon under mostly sunny skies. On deck was an apprehensive crew -- scientists with research group SRI International of Menlo Park, observers from the Department of Energy and financiers with the Tokyo-based Hyper Drive Corp.

As the boat began to bob up and down after clearing the breakwater, and the stomachs of those with weaker constitutions began to churn, the day's mission became all the more clear: to see the wave motion go to work making electricity.

The 62-year-old SRI International, which counts the invention of the computer mouse among its discoveries, was at sea to test its new wave-powered generator, a floating device that awaited the Velocity about a mile offshore and holds the promise, its inventors said, of bringing energy to land.

"There's only so much you can do in the lab. At some point, you have to put it out in the water," said Philip Von Guggenberg, the group's business director.

The ocean has become the latest frontier for a power industry hungry for alternatives.

Waves, say energy experts, have many advantages. They're constant and reliable, close to the highly populated coasts where power needs are greatest, and, unlike other sources of electricity such as solar, can be harnessed with very basic technology.

Two countries, Portugal and Scotland, have begun to commercialize wave power and several others are working
to catch up, including the United States, where several projects are in the pipeline.

"It's still a very open market," said Carolyn Elefant with the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, the young industry's even younger trade group. "Even companies that are on the leading edge now and currently feeding power to the grid, we don't know in 10 or 15 years if they're going to be the winners in this race."

For researchers at SRI International, the strategy in a marketplace with no defined standard is to go simple.

The group's wave generator is designed to let waves move a bendable slab of rubber-like material and, by doing so, act much like a turbine and produce electricity. Today, it might just be a few watts, tomorrow, a small city.

"We like to say we can make electricity with something as simple as a rubber band," said Roy Kornbluh, principal research engineer for SRI International. The technology, he adds, avoids the more costly and error-prone wave systems that rely on pumps to push air, water or oil to generate power.

And so, amid light winds on the Monterey Bay and relatively calm surf, the Velocity pulled up to the much anticipated wave machine. Kornbluh and others aboard set their sights seaward.

On a roughly 10-foot-tall buoy, two levers moved with the rise and fall of the ocean, pushing accordian-looking rubbery material up and down through plastic columns.

"It's responding to the choppy waves and the longer waves," Kornbluh said.

In other words, success. At least for now.

Mikio Waki, chief technology officer of Hyper Drive, says the technology, which produced a relatively scant 20 joules per second -- enough to power a small lightbulb -- during its four-day debut, is at least five years away from being scaled up and commercially viable. And how the power will be transmitted, either sending electricity through underground cables or producing hydrogen from the generator that would run through a pipe, is yet to be determined.

But in an industry that energy experts say could supply 6.5 percent of the nation's total energy needs, there is still time to figure things out.

"The best way to extract the resource is still unclear," said Alejandro Moreno, a manager of water programs for the Department of Energy, who joined the crew of the Velocity to preview the nascent system. "But any technology that can minimize moving parts and components that might break will be at an advantage."
Contact Kurtis Alexander at 706-3267 or

Michael Pollan for Secretary of Agriculture

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gulf Oil CEO says gas could hit $1 next year

By Julie Onufrak
The Patriot Ledger

Posted Dec 04, 2008 @ 06:00 AM
Last update Dec 04, 2008 @ 08:42 AM
RANDOLPH — Gulf Oil CEO Joe Petrowski said on Wednesday that the price of oil could sink to $20 per barrel, and there is a chance gasoline prices could drop as low as $1 per gallon by early next year.

Speaking at a South Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Lombardo’s in Randolph, the Brockton native said that after speculators drove oil prices up, there is a chance that the market will overshoot on the way back down, resulting in much lower prices at the pump.

Check out the latest prices locally
in our weekly CHEAPGAS survey.

Gas prices have already sunk fairly rapidly this fall, reaching a statewide average of $1.85 for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline this week, following a plunge in crude oil prices.

Gulf Oil, which is based in Newton, is not an oil producer. Gulf stopped producing oil in 1986 and stopped refining oil in 1992, according to Petrowski. He said the company is a “fuel agnostic” wholesaler, and will sell whichever fuels customers and distributors demand.

Though he said the company benefits from lower energy prices, he said he believes the price of oil should range from $40 to $60 per barrel, depending on economic activity, in order to keep pace with inflation.

Petrowski said that policymakers should make low-cost energy a goal by investing in alternative energy sources, increasing domestic oil reserves, and diversifying the foreign origins of oil so as to be less dependent on unfriendly countries.

While he said he believes global warming is a danger, Petrowski is not sure there is as much of a correlation between carbon and global warming as some environmentalists claim.

“Carbon is our greatest threat – there’s another myth,” he said. “I do think economic devastation and reliance on foreign supplies of oil (are).”

Since gas prices peaked in July, Petrowski said some people have resumed driving habits that they avoided when gasoline was $4 a gallon in the summer. But he said he hopes that the motivation to create alternative energy sources will not be lost.

Gulf opened its first E85 ethanol fueling station at Logan Airport in October – just as gasoline prices sank and the demand for ethanol decreased. “Ethanol’s not a great business right now, but it will be,” Petrowski said.

He said that cellulosic ethanol will eventually replace corn-based ethanol, and that he thinks the U.S. should eventually get rid of the import tax on ethanol from places like Brazil.

Petrowski said that New England’s energy future is bright, with research and development going on at local universities as well as access to gasoline from refineries in Canada, the mid-Atlantic region, the Caribbean and Europe. “We’re no longer at the end of the pipe,” he said.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Solar thermal in Lancaster CA

From the Los Angeles Times,0,4265592.storyOUT THERE

Solar plant could be savior to struggling Lancaster: The city and surrounding Antelope Valley have been hard hit by poverty, unemployment and foreclosures. The nearly complete eSolar facility could create jobs and restore a sense of pride.
By Scott Gold

December 5, 2008

They lined up for meatball sandwiches the other night outside the Lancaster Community Shelter, in the cold of the high desert. There was a man in a fedora who'd lost his house to the bank. A college student whose loans fell through. An older woman with curlers in her bag, who planned to do her hair after dinner.

Everyone had a story to tell, a cigarette to borrow, a friend to greet. But soon, the crowd hushed as a young mother and her boyfriend walked toward the door carrying 3-week-old twins. They had no money, nowhere to stay, they said. Between them, they'd applied for a dozen jobs -- she got all gussied up for her interview at Denny's, even borrowed a pair of heels -- but they'd had a run of rotten luck, she said.

The buzz in the Antelope Valley these days is about a company called eSolar, which is putting the finishing touches on a thermal solar energy facility here -- 24,000 mirrors that glitter like diamonds when you approach on Avenue G. There are plans for several more facilities in the area, all larger, the company says.

Local officials are atwitter at the possibilities. Visitors and investors are expected from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. A slew of jobs would be created; there were 225 people working last week on the Avenue G facility alone, most of them locals. Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said the solar plants could be the catalyst to restoring the sort of "intellectual excitement" that existed when aerospace, still a vital industry here, was the only game in town -- when "if it went up, it came out of here," he said.

"Now, we're going to go a long way toward saving this world," the mayor said. "Right here in Lancaster."

It's heady talk, and people are listening. Lancaster and the surrounding valley are suffering, even by the standards of a community that long ago acclimated to a boom-and-bust cycle. Many here are living on the edge, and some beyond, with tens of thousands more expected to arrive in coming years.

There is a sense that development cannot come fast enough, not with shops closing, one in five people living in poverty, high unemployment and the highest mortality rate in Los Angeles County. Not with so many houses falling into foreclosure that the city of Lancaster has gone into real estate -- buying and renovating empty homes to slow the decline of neighborhoods.

"It's bad," said William Turner, 21, who got a job installing eSolar mirrors through a temp agency. He is among those vying for one of the full-time positions the company will offer soon; competition will be fierce and many of those hired will be overqualified for their jobs, officials said.

"People around here are really hurting," Turner said. "We need a change."

ESolar operations and maintenance manager Bob Holsinger was the fourth of five siblings who grew up on an Illinois soybean farm, and he still looks the part, with broad, rounded shoulders and aircraft-carrier-sized boots.

When Holsinger was young, his father dispensed one piece of advice to the kids: "Last one out, turn out the lights." It was meant, of course, to cut down on the power bill. But Holsinger always suspected it meant something else -- that whoever controlled the flow of electricity would be the last one standing, even if everything else went south. Today, after a 35-year career in energy, it turns out he might have been right.

California is the epicenter of U.S. solar technology; there are dozens of energy projects in the works. Few have generated as much anticipation as this one, if only because with 1,000 mirrors being installed each day, it is growing in stark contrast to the boarded-up storefronts and the brown, brittle lawns in front of abandoned houses.

The company uses the mirrors to focus the sun's rays on an elevated target, which produces superheated steam that turns turbines to create power. The whole thing can be assembled easily, like an Erector Set for grown-ups. Workers can put it together using four wrenches.

The mirrors can be adjusted remotely from the company's headquarters in Pasadena to ensure that they are capturing the sun. The mirrors can be fine-tuned; workers at a test site recently used the reflection to spell out the words "HAPPY BIRTHDAY BILL" for a colleague.

"It's pretty slick," Holsinger said.

When eSolar flips the switch, five megawatts of electricity will be sent into the grid, enough to power roughly 5,000 homes. A second facility, far larger, is expected north of Lancaster, and there are plans for several more in the area, enough to produce 500 megawatts, perhaps, in the next decade, the company says.

"We are not going to have a carbon footprint in 10 years. We just won't have one," said the mayor, a successful lawyer given to hyperbole, and to infectious passion.

It is an unlikely development in the Antelope Valley, which remains, despite its growth and increasing diversity, a strait-laced, conservative area. "Culturally, it is somewhat new," said Barry S. Munz, vice president at Antelope Valley Engineering Inc., a contractor at the eSolar site.

But how important is it?

"We will turn flips for them," Parris said. "And, quite frankly, I don't turn flips for anybody."

Back at the homeless shelter, it's easy to see why.

Resident case manager Bobby Hampton said the shelter now serves up to 120 dinners each night, half again as many as when he started six years ago. Demand has been rising; this summer, he said, "business started booming."

A striking number of clients lost their homes to the bank; others unwittingly rented rooms in abandoned houses taken over by unscrupulous squatters, only to get kicked out when they were discovered. The shelter is now full every night.

Waiting in line for a cot, Jerry Frazier, 50, a recovering heroin addict, said he received $199 for the month through the county-funded General Relief program. He spent $175 on a month's supply of medication at a methadone clinic, leaving him $24 for the rest of the month. He's been unable to find a job, he said; a former professional musician, he just pawned the last of his 32 guitars.

"This is a working country," he said. "But there are no jobs. Not here."

Once inside, those accepted for a bed were required to bathe, then routed into a line for dinner that snaked through the hall. A volunteer began to pray. "Hats off!" a security guard shouted.

In one corner, Jennifer Schmidt, 19, and her boyfriend, Treavon Henry, 20, ate their food in silence, their twin newborns, Kory and Kody, resting in car seats on the table.

Schmidt and Henry began dating in high school and could not have imagined what has happened since. Schmidt was on the pill but got pregnant anyway. Both lost their jobs. They don't have enough money to get a market-rate apartment and have been on a waiting list for indigent housing since April.

They were living with her mother but were told to leave after Schmidt asked her not to smoke in front of the babies, Schmidt said. Then they moved in with his mother; she kicked them out, too, after Schmidt asked her not to cuss in front of the babies.

Exhausted, they slumped in Hampton's cluttered office as he filled out a voucher for a room at a motel for one night. Then they carried the twins into the chilly night.

With no car -- they sold their Acura a few months back for $500 -- they would have to walk. Each carried a twin, until Schmidt's arms couldn't take any more. Henry picked up both twins and, holding them out to his side, struggled down the street toward the motel, past auto body shops and bail bonds offices.

"It feels like we've been walking forever," Schmidt said.

Finally, they got to the motel. The marquee outside said: "KARAOKE, Sun-Wed." By the time they walked into their room, Kody was crying. He was hungry, Schmidt said, and they were out of formula.

Gold is a Times staff writer.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dingell ousted

Dingell is part of the reason for Detriot's demise. He cried about CAFE standards and how they would hurt the industry for 30 years. He did eventually update CAFE, but he also put in a loophole that allows car companies to get credit for alternative fuel use in car, even if they don't use them (the so called ethanol loophole).

November 20, 2008
Longtime Head of House Energy Panel Is Ousted

Filed at 11:01 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Rep. Henry Waxman unseated fellow veteran Democratic lawmaker John Dingell on Thursday to become chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

The 255-House Democratic conference voted 137 to 122 to accept the recommendation of its steering committee and agreed to replace Dingell, 82, a long-time friend of the U.S. auto industry, with Waxman, a 69-year-old Californian anxious to ease global warming, a top concern of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.

Friday, November 7, 2008

U.S. Expands Utah Oil and Gas Leasing

See the story here.
The Bush Administration still uses the tactic of flooding out these things while the media is full of other junk. These new maps were released on election day. Another reason to make election day a national holliday.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Maryland climate action activists is "suspected terrorist"

posted on Revkin's blog...

greenspan finally sullied

posted by Dustin

I have never had any faith in the competence of Alan Greenspan, ever since I saw his responses to Bernie Sanders in a banking committee meeting about the repeal of Glass-Steagall. He looked oblivious to the line of questioning. He apparently was.

Watch his video testimony here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Momentum Slows for Alternative Energy

October 21, 2008

HOUSTON — For all the support that the presidential candidates are expressing for renewable energy, alternative energies like wind and solar are facing big new challenges because of the credit freeze and the plunge in oil and natural gas prices.

Shares of alternative energy companies have fallen even more sharply than the rest of the stock market in recent months. The struggles of financial institutions are raising fears that investment capital for big renewable energy projects is likely to get tighter.

Advocates are concerned that if the prices for oil and gas keep falling, the incentive for utilities and consumers to buy expensive renewable energy will shrink. That is what happened in the 1980s when a decade of advances for alternative energy collapsed amid falling prices for conventional fuels.

“Everyone is in shock about what the new world is going to be,” said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology, a California advocacy group. “Surely, renewable energy projects and new technologies are at risk because of their capital intensity.”

Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain both promise ambitious programs to develop various kinds of alternative energy to combat global warming and achieve energy independence.

Mr. Obama talks of creating five million new jobs in renewable energy and nearly tripling the percentage of the nation’s electricity supplied by renewables by 2025. Mr. McCain has run television advertisements showing wind turbines and has pledged to make the United States the “leader in a new international green economy.”

But after years of rapid growth, the sudden headwinds facing renewables point to slowing momentum and greater dependence on government subsidies, mandates and research financing, at a time when Washington is overloaded with economic problems.

John Woolard, chief executive officer of BrightSource Energy, a solar company, said he believed the long-term future for renewables remained promising, though “right now we are looking at tumultuous and unpredictable capital markets.”

Venture capital financing for some advanced solar projects and for experimental biofuels, like ethanol made from plant wastes, is drying up, according to analysts who track investment flows.

At least two wind energy companies have had to delay projects in recent days because of trouble raising capital. Several corn ethanol projects have been delayed for lack of financing in Iowa and Oklahoma since last month, and one plant operator in Ohio filed for bankruptcy protection last week.

Tesla Motors, the maker of battery-powered cars, recently announced it had been forced to delay production of its all-electric Model S sedan, close two offices and lay off workers.

Investment analysts say initial and secondary stock offerings by clean energy companies across global markets have slowed to a crawl since the spring, and for the full year could total less than half of the record $25.4 billion for 2007.

Worldwide project financings for new construction of wind, solar, biofuels and other alternative energy projects this year fell to $17.8 billion in the third quarter, from $23.2 billion in the second quarter, according to New Energy Finance, a research firm in London. The slide is expected to be sharper in the fourth quarter and next year.

In the United States, financing for new projects and venture capital and private equity investments in renewable energy this year might still top last year’s results because so much money was in the pipeline at the beginning of the year, but the pace has slowed sharply in the last month.

The next presidential administration, to make good on campaign rhetoric and continue supporting renewables, will have to choose alternative energy over other programs at a time of ballooning deficits. Analysts say that is no sure thing.

“Government funding for renewables is now going to have to compete with levels of government funding in other areas that were unimaginable six months ago,” Mark Flannery, an energy analyst for Credit Suisse, said.

The central questions facing renewables now, experts say, are how long credit will be tight and how low oil and natural gas prices will fall. Oil and gas are still relatively expensive by historical standards, but the prices have fallen by half since July. Some economists expect further declines as the economy weakens.

Wall Street analysts say most utilities and other builders can profitably choose big wind projects over gas-fired plants only when gas prices are $8 per thousand cubic feet or higher. Natural gas settled Monday at about $6.79 per thousand cubic feet, down from about $13.58 on July 3.

“Natural gas at $6 makes wind look like a questionable idea and solar power unfathomably expensive,” said Kevin Book, a senior vice president at FBR Capital Markets.

Government mandates already on the books, including state rules requiring renewable power generation and federal requirements for production of ethanol, ensure that to some degree, alternative energy markets will continue to exist no matter how low oil and gas prices go. But the credit crisis means some companies that would like to build facilities to meet that demand are going to have problems. “If you can’t borrow money, you can’t develop renewables,” Mr. Book said.

Renewable energy now meets 7 percent of the nation’s energy needs, and public subsidies have promoted a leap for several alternative energy sources in recent years.

Ethanol is sold nationwide as a gasoline additive, and federal legislation aims to replace a major share of the oil now imported into the United States with domestically produced biofuels in the next 15 years. Enough new wind power was installed in the United States to serve the equivalent of 4.5 million households in 2007, the third year in a row the country led all nations in new wind power.

Renewable energy has become a big business worldwide, with total investment increasing to $148.4 billion last year, from $33.4 billion in 2004, according to Ethan Zindler, head of North American research at New Energy Finance. Mr. Zindler said the upward momentum had halted, and that total investment this year was likely to be lower than last.

In the 1970s, just as in recent years, high prices for fossil fuels led to rising interest in renewables. But when oil prices collapsed in the 1980s, the nascent market for renewable energy fell apart, too. Congress eliminated tax credits for solar energy, ethanol could not compete with cheap gasoline and a wind farm boomlet in California failed to catch on in the rest of the country.

The epicenter of investment and development moved to Europe, with its strong government support for renewables, and began shifting back only when heating oil and natural gas prices shot up again in recent years.

There are some differences this time. Coal, another major competitor of renewables, remains expensive and is facing increasing scrutiny over environmental concerns.

Most important, renewable energy entrepreneurs and experts say, is the growing government and public backing for renewable energy in the United States.

“What is driving the market this time is that we’re at war and this is a security issue,” said Arnold R. Klann, chief executive of BlueFire Ethanol, a California company that is planning to make ethanol out of garbage with the help of $40 million in financing from the Energy Department.

In its recent financial rescue package, Congress provided $17 billion in tax credits to promote various forms of clean power, for everything from plug-in electric vehicles to projects that will capture and store carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants. Production and investment tax credits were extended for wind energy for one year, geothermal energy for two years and for solar energy for a full eight years.

Meanwhile more than 30 states have enacted standards demanding that utilities generate a minimum proportion — typically 10 to 20 percent — of their power from renewable sources in the next 5 to 10 years.

But some analysts say the government supports may not be enough to propel continued growth for renewables, noting that several states have already relaxed their goals.

“When they can’t meet their targets,” Mr. Book said, “they change them.”

Exelon’s $6.2 Billion Bid for NRG Would Create Largest Power Utility in U.S.

October 21, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Exelon Corporation’s unsolicited bid to buy NRG Energy, a power generator based in Princeton, N.J., would create the largest power company in the country, in terms of assets, market capitalization and generation capacity, and would benefit shareholders of both companies, Exelon said on Monday.

“There is simply no doubt that scale is important in turbulent times, and it’s important as the costs of growth continue to rise,” Exelon’s chairman, John W. Rowe, told analysts in a conference call, in which he cited the current credit crisis.

But the deal would raise credit challenges; Exelon is assuming that because of bond covenants, sale of NRG would require Exelon to refinance $8 billion in debt and that interest rates would run into double digits. Executives held out some hope, though, that they might be able to renegotiate with the current bondholders, rather than refinance.

The transaction would depress Exelon’s credit rating but it would remain investment grade, company executives said, and would return within two or three years to its current level.

NRG, with 44 generating stations spread across Southern California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Connecticut, had no immediate comment except to say that it was evaluating the offer with its advisers.


Green Policies in California Generated Jobs, Study Finds

October 20, 2008 By FELICITY BARRINGER

OAKLAND, Calif. — California’s energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007, while eliminating fewer than 25,000, according to a study to be released Monday.

The study, conducted by David Roland-Holst, an economist at the
Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the
University of California, Berkeley, found that while the state’s
policies lowered employee compensation in the electric power industry
by an estimated $1.6 billion over that period, it improved compensation
in the state over all by $44.6 billion.

Built into that figure were increases of $1.2 billion in the light
industrial sector, $11.2 billion in wholesale and retail trade, $7.3
billion in the financial and insurance sectors and $17.8 billion in the
service sector.

“Consumers were able to reduce energy spending,” the study said, adding that “these savings were diverted to other demand.”

“When consumers shift one dollar of demand from electricity to
groceries,” the report said, they create jobs among retailers,
wholesalers, food processors and other businesses.

The study, which examined household spending, comes as state and
regional initiatives on climate-change policies have been gathering
momentum. At the same time, arguments have sharpened over how much it
will cost the economy to cut the emission of greenhouse gases like
carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, which are linked to climate change.

Roughly half the country’s electric power is generated by burning
coal, the fuel that produces among the highest greenhouse-gas emissions
of any in widespread use.

Some economists focus their studies on the cost of converting the
power grid to run on low-carbon technologies, like wind energy, or the
cost of developing technologies to separate the carbon dioxide from
coal-plant emissions and bury it underground. Others focus on the job
creating potential of new energy industries.

The Berkeley study is different in that it focuses as much on
historical data as on modeling the future. California’s
energy-efficiency policies were adopted in 1978, long before the
widespread push for greenhouse-gas reductions, but the data they
provide is highly relevant to the current economic debate.

Professor Roland-Holst said that he based his calculations on
residential spending on electricity over the last 30 years, factoring
in both the decrease in per-capita demand for electricity — now 40
percent below the national average — and the increase in California’s
electrical rates, which were about 40 percent above the national
average in June, the latest month for which data is available.
Household spending represents more than 70 percent of the gross state

Historically, Professor Roland-Holst said, the decrease in
per-capita demand for electricity outstripped the increase in rates.
Much of the economic growth, the study said, was driven by both
efficiency standards for large appliances like refrigerators and for
residential and commercial buildings.

In an interview, Professor Roland-Holst said, “What I wanted to do
to support the forward-looking vision is go back and look at the
evidence we have in front of us.”

In two months, California is set to adopt broad policies to enforce
a new cap on greenhouse gas emissions signed into law two years ago.
More detailed regulations will then be developed; that process is
likely to be contentious, as it divides the overall costs of the new
program among competing sectors of the state’s economy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

sanders on the bailout

Sanders Op-Ed: Why I voted against the bailout -- 10/04/2008

By Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The Bush administration and Wall Street bankers got what they wanted -- a $700 billion bailout with all the risk.

To me, it is grossly unfair that the middle class, whose standard of living is declining, is forced to pick up the tab for Wall Street's greed and irresponsibility, and not the top 1 percent who have benefited from Bush's reckless policies. While the middle class has declined under President Bush's failed economic policies, there has been a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the very rich. Incredibly, for the first seven years of Bush's tenure, the wealthiest 400 individuals in our country saw a $670 billion increase in their wealth. That is just 400 families.

That is why I proposed raising the tax rate on any individual earning $500,000 a year or more or any family earning $1 million a year or more by 10 percent. It would have raised $300 billion in the next five years, almost half the cost of the bailout. If what all the supporters of this legislation say is correct, that the government will get back some of its money when the market calms down and the government sells some of the assets it has purchased, then $300 billion would have been sufficient to make sure that 99.7 percent of taxpayers do not have to pay one nickel for this bailout.

Let me be clear: In the midst of the severe financial crisis facing our country, Congress had a duty to act, but this legislation does not accomplish what must be done.

This bill does not effectively address the issue of what the taxpayers of our country will actually own after they invest hundreds of billions of dollars in toxic assets.

This bill does not effectively address the issue of oversight because the oversight board members have all been hand-picked by the Bush administration.

This bill does not effectively deal with the crisis of foreclosures and addressing that very serious issue, which is impacting millions of low- and moderate-income Americans, in the aggressive way that we should be.

This bill does not effectively deal with the issue of executive compensation and golden parachutes. Under this bill, the CEOs and the Wall Street insiders will still, with a little bit of imagination, continue to make out like bandits.

This bill does not deal at all with how we got into this crisis in the first place and the need to undo the deregulatory fervor that created trillions of dollars in complicated and unregulated financial instruments such as credit default swaps and hedge funds.

This bill does not address the doctrine of "too big to fail." In fact, within the last several weeks we have sat idly by and watched gigantic financial institutions like the Bank of America swallow up other gigantic financial institutions like Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. Well, who is going to bail out the Bank of America if it begins to fail?

This bill does not deal with the absurdity of having the fox guarding the hen house. Maybe I'm the only person in America who thinks so, but I have a hard time understanding why we are giving $700 billion to the secretary of the Treasury, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, who along with other financial institutions, actually got us into this problem.

This bill does not address the major economic crisis we face: growing unemployment, low wages, and the need to create millions of decent-paying jobs rebuilding our infrastructure and moving us to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

Congress must act, but this bill was the wrong way to go.

This piece appeared in The Burlington Free Press.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Where were all the progressives?

The reaction by all political parties on the $700 billion was very disappointing. This failure of the left is the culmination of a 20 years siding with the Republicans on economic issues. The progressive movement's failure here is an embarrassment.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hearings on MSNBC: On Deregulation, Concentration, Where is the Media?

According to today's hearings, the Fed has no position on the $700 billion dollar bailout. It claims it had no position on bankruptcy reform in 2005.

Treasury Secretary Paulson says he did not see it coming as CEO of Goldman Sachs from 1999-2005 because he was dealing with all of the regulators.

Mr. Paulson.
The root cause is not the housing correction. Its the deregulation of financial derivatives! Where is the MEDIA!!

These circumstances are unprecedented because DEREGULATION caused the risk bubble to build. CONCENTRATION increased the speculative scale.

This is not a done deal yet. Stipulations could come on board. Maybe a levy on the industry? Why not just let people renegotiate at lower rates? Ah. Because the point is for both a bailout and a seizure of assets back by the militant bankruptcy reform laws.

Congress needs to stop this executive over-arching.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Freeze foreclosures, Make the Bailout Punative

Democracy Now! today had an excellent show on the financial crisis.

A few tidbits,,,

Turns out that Phil Gramm's wife was on the auditing board for Enron.

Phil Gramm is head of a foreign bank that is asking for part of the bailout.

Bernie Sanders talks about his time on the banking where he was critical of the banking changes in 1999. I remember watching that on cspan back in 99. Greenspan looked at Sanders as if he was crazy.

Barack Obama has a big opportunity here. Begin by cutting ties with Rubin.

We are all being fleeced here!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Billions for Bailouts! Who Pays?

Bernie has a plan. Has any of this discussion hit the mainstream?

"We must end the danger posed by companies that are "too big too fail," that is, companies whose failure would cause systemic harm to the U.S. economy."

Also, it turns out that the IMF will be evaluating the stability of the US economy. Signaling the true end of Pax Americana?

The Fiat Money System

An important point to keep in mind when sifting through the current news about the $700 billion bailout, according to Griffin, is that the purpose of the Federal Reserve system is to pass the losses of banks to tax payers.

The opportunity for reform is closing as we speak. The popular discourse on this topic has no understanding of how this sleight of hand is occurring.

FYI, I'm not at all convinced by the Ron Paul solution advocated by Griffin, and am unsatisfied by the one in the video. There is no discussion of Depression era solutions because they take the anti-government stance.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

McCain on financial crises: rhetoric versus reality

by Dustin

Despite McCain's calls for getting crooks out of the financial system, and "greater transparency and accountability," his economic policy promotes such systemic corruption and dead-end risk taking. His main influence on economic policy and recent cochair of his Presidential campaign is former Senator Phil Gramm.

Gramm was an author of legislation that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, originally enacted during the great depression to keep speculative banking (investment and insurance) separate from commercial banking (loans). The repeal of Glass-Steagall is a contributing cause of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and has led to the widespread use of many risky security instruments such as mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations, which have led to the recent meltdown of some of the biggest financial firms in the US.

This issue is not one of a few bad apples in the system as suggested by McCain. That he does not see this as a systemic problem, spawned from legislation he voted for, speaks volumes about his incompetence on the economy. Or it reveals his allegiance to a constituency, big banking companies who want capitalism for profits and socialism for losses. This system cannot become more transparent or accountable in its current form. But instead of meaningful banking reform, McCain is calling for an "investigative commission" and more deregulation of financial markets.

There are parts of the economy of that need regulatory oversight. The regulation of banks, investment houses, and insurance companies and their associated conflicts of interests are critical. The temptation to offer a loan, make money by packaging it to investors as a security, and then make more by offering to insure it against default–all under one roof–will always pose the potential for severe market failure.

What are the consequences? If you are a big banking investment house, this matters very little. The name will be sullied, and shares wiped out, but they are playing with house (taxpayer) money, and can take excessive salaries and dividends in the good times. But in the end it matters for tax payers and the economy more generally because it undermines investments–public and private–in infrastructure and other things in the tangible economy that foster job creation.

Just think, John McCain's plan to privatize social security would entrust these same banks with your future. Do you have faith in their capacity to manage your money?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

California Propositions 7 & 10 are flawed

...posted by Dustin

The flaw is being described as a drafting "error" that excludes the feed-in-tariff for solar generators under 30MW. It is not a drafting error if you are a big utility.

...from the Chronicle.

2 energy propositions flawed, critics say

In eco-conscious California, ballot measures that support alternative energy should be the political equivalent of apple pie - impossible to oppose. But two propositions on the November ballot that would radically change California's energy future have left a sour taste in the mouths of many environmentalists, consumer advocates and utility executives.

For example, part of Proposition 7 appears to say that only renewable projects that generate 30 megawatts or more of electricity will count toward the 50 percent goal, said Ralph Cavanagh, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy program. One megawatt is enough to power 750 homes, and many renewable projects fall below 30 megawatts.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Palin, politics, and energy

posted by Dustin

I think this comment below is an important one to read. It puts Palin's background in perspective and we should really try to understand her appeal in the popular imagination.

Thus we have to be very careful about how we talk about Palin among the politically uniformed, or those who cannot reason to their own interests in this election. Yet even then I'm not very confident in voters ability to discern fact from fiction and wonder if respect really is an effective strategy. It is certainly the moral highroad, and obviously the conscionable thing to do, but what slander has done for Rove et al. has led us to a bloody mess we can ill-afford to repeat any longer. Approach this issue with caution, people minds are going to close quickly. Start with reason, correct misconceptions, but be cautious.

Tuesday, September 2nd 2008

A couple of days ago I wrote that Sarah Palin didn’t bring much to the McCain ticket, and I’m frankly horrified that she got her first passport in July 2007 and has made one trip abroad (to Kuwait and Germany, to see Alaskan National Guard troops). But here is a more nuanced and informed view from a geographer in Alaska, Johanna Haas, who contributed this to a discussion of Palin on a geography list-serve. She agreed to let me republish it:

As a country-girl (from West Virginia), a geographer who studies rural
energy production (right now, the Mat-Su Valley of Alaska - where Palin is
from), and a non-Democrat (Green all the way) - I do feel the need to enter
this debate about Sarah Palin and the vice-presidential nomination.

Wasilla, AK is not that small of a town. About an hour north of Anchorage,
it serves as a goods-and-services hub for a fairly large area. It is
growing at an incredible pace and in the middle of rapid changes. Wasilla
sits in the developed band between Anchorage and Fairbanks that serves as
home to the vast majority of Alaskans. Wasilla has the distinction of being
the largest town between the two cities.

It’s not the prettiest place and has more than its fair share of strip malls
- but then most Alaskans love their strip malls and want development at all
costs. In office, Palin encouraged and pushed for this sprawl. In Wasilla,
Palin’s record is that of cutting the budgets of education and arts services
while growing the city’s budget overall. She did expand environmental and
recreational services. Managing this area is a little different task than
that of your average small-town mayor, equating more to the mayor of a
medium-sized city.

I believe that energy is the single most important issue facing Americans
this election. McCain has chosen, in Palin, someone who knows energy
extremely well. (I’m not saying I agree with her positions, just that she
is expert in this area.) Her position on the Alaska Oil and Gas
Conservation Commission was one that involved real work. This commission
oversees many aspects of the state’s only major industry. (Second is
working for the federal government, followed by fishing and tourism). The
Commission hosts a steady docket of hearings and produces a steady line of
reports and other public information.

Palin has a reputation of sticking up for the people of Alaska in matters of
energy development. Most Alaskans strongly believe that more development,
more drilling, etc. are always good. They believe they live in the last
frontier, and it is their duty to extract it, tame it, and bring
civilization (in the form of the fore-mentioned strip malls) to it. Palin
backs this position entirely. That said, she does not always back the oil
companies. She has backed pulling leases out of their hands when they have
failed to develop oilfields in a timely manner. She has increased taxation
on oil companies. And, her support of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline with $500K
of government grants, is opposition to the Denali Pipeline to be owned and
operated by the oil companies. (I sat in on pipeline hearings - there are
far bigger problems going on here, ones that Palin’s plan ignores.)

Alaskan politics rotate around two themes:
1) Development is good, and
2) The federal government is bad.

Let’s face it - any person who governs AK during times of high oil prices
will be popular. This translates into low taxes and large checks from the
permanent fund, both of which will make people kiss any politician. Palin
managed to make herself even more popular by sending all Alaskans a big
check to help them pay for high oil prices. (Poor, rural Alaskans - read:
Native Alaskans - paid nearly half of their incomes for home heating alone.)

Right now, Alaska is up to its neck in corruption investigations. This is
not new - and corruption in the area dates back to its days as a territory,
no - back to its days as a Russian territory. Palin was elected because she
turned her back on the Republican power structure and ran as a maverick.
She has, in the past, run campaigns against the state party and without
their funding or blessing. (If McCain can use this angle, it contains his
real chance of winning.)

Palin has a reputation for enhancing party divisions. In her local races,
she ran on issues such as abortion and gun rights that really had little
bearing on the local issues in the area. (Face it - gun control will never
fly in Alaska, no way, no how.) Where Palin’s politics are strongest and
most popular in AK are her anti-federalist positions. She, like many
Alaskans, believe in full state sovereignty. This is the most extreme of
the states’ rights positions, and is gaining traction outside of Alaska.

In summary -
I think some people (both in this discussion and out) are writing off Palin
far too quickly and far too easily. What has me so disheartened is the raw
refusal to take the woman seriously - for any number of reasons - many of
which hit home to me in a personal way. You may not like her (I know I
don’t), but you need to respect her. To do any less is to make a serious
strategic error.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Nuclear power and the physicst

Dr. Wilson was part of the core team of scientists at the "planetary emergencies" conference in Sicily last month. The interview was by Andrew Revkin from the dotearth blog at the nyt.

To date the World Federation of Scientists has established the following Permanent Monitoring Panels and Working Groups:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rich Countries Once Used Gunboats to Seize Food. Now They Use Trade Deals

The world's hungriest are the losers as an old colonialism returns to govern relations between wealthy and poor nations

by George Monbiot

In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis tells the story of the famines that sucked the guts out of India in the 1870s. The hunger began when a drought, caused by El NiƱo, killed the crops on the Deccan plateau. As starvation bit, the viceroy, Lord Lytton, oversaw the export to England of a record 6.4m hundredweight of wheat. While Lytton lived in imperial splendour and commissioned, among other extravagances, "the most colossal and expensive meal in world history", between 12 million and 29 million people died. Only Stalin manufactured a comparable hunger.

Now a new Lord Lytton is seeking to engineer another brutal food grab. As Tony Blair's favoured courtier, Peter Mandelson often created the impression that he would do anything to please his master. Today he is the European trade commissioner. From his sumptuous offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, he hopes to impose a treaty that will permit Europe to snatch food from the mouths of some of the world's poorest people.

Seventy per cent of the protein eaten by the people of Senegal comes from fish. Traditionally cheaper than other animal products, it sustains a population that ranks close to the bottom of the human development index. One in six of the working population is employed in the fishing industry; about two-thirds of these workers are women. Over the past three decades, their means of subsistence has started to collapse as other nations have plundered Senegal's stocks.

The EU has two big fish problems. One is that, partly as a result of its failure to manage them properly, its own fisheries can no longer meet European demand. The other is that its governments won't confront their fishing lobbies and decommission all the surplus boats. The EU has tried to solve both problems by sending its fishermen to west Africa. Since 1979 it has struck agreements with the government of Senegal, granting our fleets access to its waters. As a result, Senegal's marine ecosystem has started to go the same way as ours. Between 1994 and 2005, the weight of fish taken from the country's waters fell from 95,000 tonnes to 45,000 tonnes. Muscled out by European trawlers, the indigenous fishery is crumpling: the number of boats run by local people has fallen by 48% since 1997.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Importing Food Means Exporting Drought

Happy world water week folks...

Published on Wednesday, August 20, 2008 by The Guardian/UK

We need to change the way we eat if we are to tackle the looming catastrophe of water scarcity
by Tom MacMillan

If you want proof the world has a water problem you're better treading the damp summer pavements of the City than the parched bed of the Aral Sea.

Goldman Sachs says water is the next oil and has bullish investment trends to prove it. For the rest of us a water boom spells trouble: investors can smell scarcity a mile off and, however much money they pump into managing it, the last result they'll want is abundance.

It will be our plates, not our rates, that bear the brunt of water shortage. As today's report from WWF spells out, the amount we spew out of taps is piddling compared with what it takes to make stuff and, especially, to grow our food.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Can the UN clean up the trade in carbon offsets?

posted by Dustin
The credibility of the whole system of carbon trading that is promoted in every entry level environmental, economics, and policy studies course is at stake. The question is, does anything voluntary ever work? Or another question is, would these CDM proposals simply emerge as development/aid programs otherwise? It sounds like the UN is finally treating this whole carbon offsetting and trading debacle with a little more scrutiny. Some groups like carbon trade watch have been looking with skepticism for some time. See the carbon neutral myth...

Can the UN clean up the trade in carbon offsets?
Posted by James Kanter

These days you can readily buy carbon credits from websites to“offset” your greenhouse gas emissions at home or from a flight. This trade has grown quickly but it has attracted sharp criticism because the companies offering the credits are largely unregulated and sometimes poorly monitored.

continued at international herald tribune...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Two Large Solar Plants Planned in California

August 15, 2008

Companies will build two solar power plants in California that together will put out more than 12 times as much electricity as the largest such plant today, the latest indication that solar energy is starting to achieve significant scale.

continued at the NYT...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Colbert on Obama energy policy

I'm not sure how reputable this site is, but its an interesting teaching/educational widget.

Pin this badge on your site.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The oil war treadmill?

posted by Dustin

Russian jets today targeted the 3 year-old Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that takes oil form the Caspian to the Mediterranean. Reports are that they missed.

This "energy corridor" is a critical piece for securing future profits for multinational oil companies, since this oil is eventually directed toward the very rapidly evolving markets in China and India. There have already been announcements to link it the
Trans-Israel Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, connecting Ceyhan to Israeli ports, bypassing Syria and Lebanon.

It is going to very important to keep an eye on what is happening and wade deep through the media noise over the coming weeks.

Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells a Food Bonanza

posted by Dustin

An excellent article that to me implies that petrodollar recycling is having an impact on the development of agriculture, and consequently famine, in Sudan. Wheat to Saudi Arabia? Vine ripened tomatoes for the Jordanian Army? Time to rethink the food aid/export earnings paradigm.

from nyt...
August 10, 2008
The Food Chain

ED DAMER, Sudan — Even as it receives a billion pounds of free food from international donors, Sudan is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries, capitalizing on high global food prices at a time when millions of people in its war-riddled region of Darfur barely have enough to eat.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights

Important questions about scale...


ONE of the biggest brand names in food this summer doesn’t carry a trademark. It’s the word “local,” which has entered the language as a powerful symbol of high quality and goodness.

Supermarkets are beginning to catch on that stocking corn and tomatoes grown nearby is not enough for customers. Now they are competing with farm stands and farmers’ markets for a wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

It’s been a boon for local farmers. Ten years ago local produce was devalued at the wholesale Hunts Point market, said Lyle Wells, whose family has been farming on Long Island since 1660. “Now you can’t get enough of the stuff.”

Last month Wal-Mart announced that it plans to spend $400 million this year on locally grown produce, making it the largest player in that market.

full article in nyt...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization

posted by Dustin

This trend could be promising for every issue from domestic job creation to supply chain auditing.

August 3, 2008
Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization

When Tesla Motors, a pioneer in electric-powered cars, set out to make a luxury roadster for the American market, it had the global supply chain in mind. Tesla planned to manufacture 1,000-pound battery packs in Thailand, ship them to Britain for installation, then bring the mostly assembled cars back to the United States.

But when it began production this spring, the company decided to make the batteries and assemble the cars near its home base in California, cutting more than 5,000 miles from the shipping bill for each vehicle.

continued here...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Wind fall profits tax & the energy consumer rebate = redistributive bandaid

I eagerly read a story about the windfall profit tax announced by Obama yesterday on the heals of Exxon Mobil's announcement on record profits. Skirting into the tax discourse is a potentially dangerous area for politicians, so I can perhaps justify his focus on the redistributive consumer rebate that will be funded by such a tax. But in the big picture this policy is very weak on substance, much to my disappointment.

If this political economic opportunity to pass a windfall profits tax is lost, and fails to correct some of the fundamental distortions in the carbon energy economy, it would be a terrible missed opportunity that may not reemerge anytime soon. It will have repercussions far beyond high energy costs, and postpone attempts to foster a low-carbon energy system.

Obama Remarks on the Economy are here on the nyt

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rising Oil Prices Swell Profits at Exxon and Shell


HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, reported on Thursday its best quarterly profit in history, but investors sold off shares in morning trading after expecting even higher earnings because of soaring oil and natural gas prices.

Record earnings for the world’s largest publicly traded oil company have become almost as predictable as the surge of gasoline prices at the pump in recent years, and for the second quarter income rose 14 percent, to $11.68 billion.

It was the highest quarterly profit ever for any American company, as Exxon made nearly $90,000 a minute.

Such profits have made Exxon Mobil a target of politicians in recent years, propelling calls for windfall profits taxes to finance research and development for renewable fuels to replace oil.

continue to NYT

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nothing to Eat

Published: July 27, 2008
NYT book review

Paul Roberts’s prophetic and well-received 2004 book, “The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World,” anticipated the current energy crisis. Now he’s moved on to what we put in our mouths. Roberts’s new book, “The End of Food,” which takes into account a vertiginous pile of recent developments — including the so-called tortilla riots of 2007, during which thousands took to the Mexico City streets to protest the rapidly rising cost of maize — may prove no less prescient.

[go to article]

contributed by TimV

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Greening colleges

Here's an interesting article on shifting preferences for college education towards sustainable institutions

posted by Alex

Gassing up with garbage

July 24, 2008
The Energy Challenge, NYTIMES

Gassing Up With Garbage

After years of false starts, a new industry selling motor fuel made from waste is getting a big push in the United States, with the first commercial sales possible within months.

Many companies have announced plans to build plants that would take in material like wood chips, garbage or crop waste and turn out motor fuels. About 28 small plants are in advanced planning, under construction or, in a handful of cases, already up and running in test mode.

For decades scientists have known it was possible to convert waste to fuel, but in an era of cheap oil, it made little sense. With oil now trading around $125 a barrel and gasoline above $4 a gallon, the potential economics of a waste-to-fuel industry have shifted radically, setting off a frenzy to be first to market.

“I think American innovation is going to come up with the solution,” said Prabhakar Nair, research chief for UOP, a company working on the problem.

Success is far from assured, however. Some of the latest announcements come from small companies whose dreams may be bigger than their bank accounts. They are counting on billions in taxpayer subsidies. Big technological hurdles remain, and even if they can be solved, no one is sure what unintended consequences will emerge or what it will really cost to produce this type of fuel.

“We desperately need it, and I personally think it’s not there yet,” said Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. “You have to look at starts with a grain of salt, especially starts where they say, ‘It’s around the corner, and by the way, can you pay half the bill?’ ”

Still, the incentive to make fuel from something, anything, besides oil and food is greater than ever. Moreover, the federal government is offering grants to help plants get off the ground and subsidies for one type of fuel of $1.01 a gallon, twice the subsidy it historically offered to ethanol made from corn.

Potential controls on global warming gases would heighten the appeal of these fuels, since many of them would add little new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Tellingly, the type of companies placing bets on the field has started to expand. The earliest were small start-ups founded by people with more technological vision than business experience. Now some of the giants of global business, including Honeywell, Dupont, General Motors, Shell and BP, are taking stakes in the nascent industry.

The dream of making fuel from plants is almost as old as the internal combustion engine. Henry Ford himself was fascinated by the idea, and it re-emerges in periods of fuel scarcity and high prices. These days, advancing technology has made the notion more plausible.

Virtually any material containing hydrogen, carbon and oxygen could potentially be turned into motor fuel. That includes plastics, construction debris, forest and lawn trimmings, wood chips, wheat straw and many other types of agricultural waste.

The potential fuels include ethanol, which can be blended with gasoline, or other liquids that could displace gasoline or diesel entirely. Government studies suggest the country could potentially replace half its gasoline supply in this way — even more if cars became more efficient.

The government is pushing to get the industry off the ground. Legislation passed last year mandates the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year by 2022, less than half of it from corn ethanol. Almost all the rest is supposed to come from nonfood sources, though the requirement could be waived if the industry faltered.

“One has to say upfront that what Congress has done is remarkable in its bravery,” said David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a group in Minneapolis that advocates biofuels.

Much of the new money flowing into the field is coming from Silicon Valley, where the venture capitalists who gave the world the Internet revolution see an opportunity to do something similar with the fuel supply.

At Solazyme, a start-up in South San Francisco that hopes to commercialize a process for making fuel from algae, President Harrison F. Dillon said, “When we founded the company in 2003, we couldn’t find a venture capital firm that had heard of the concept of a biofuel.” Now he is backed by two such firms.

Venture capital investment in the first half of this year hit $612 million, up from $375 million in all of 2007, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. Every few days brings another announcement. PFC Energy, a Washington consulting firm, counts projects worth perhaps $1.5 billion that will total more than 300 million gallons of capacity by 2011, if they all get built.

That is small in the scheme of American fuel demand, but it would presumably set the stage for substantial growth if those first projects prove that the economics can work.

One of the first companies to bring a plant online is KL Process Design Group, in Wyoming. With experience making corn ethanol plants, it has built a small plant meant to use pine wastes from a nearby national forest. The company is still testing its production line but hopes to begin commercial sales of ethanol late this year.

“We’re still learning and tweaking, and hoping for a little bit of capital infusion,” said Tom Slunecka, a vice president of the company.

Range Fuels, of Denver, is building a commercial-scale plant in Soperton, Ga., with help from the Energy Department. That plant will take pine chips and turn them into ethanol, with commercial sales expected by late 2009 or 2010.

Some companies want to use garbage. On Friday, a company called Fulcrum BioEnergy said it would start construction later this year on a $120 million plant at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, in Storey County, Nev., to make 10.5 million gallons of ethanol a year from 90,000 tons of garbage. Operation would begin in early 2010.

In Montreal, another firm, Enerkem, plans to use arsenic-contaminated utility poles from the provincial electric company. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning
Commission approved a plan by BlueFire Ethanol to build a $30 million garbage-to-ethanol plant on 10 acres next to a landfill in Lancaster, Calif.; construction will start soon, the company said.

A handful of small companies has long made a diesel replacement from waste oil, or sold kits to individuals to do the same. One company in Carthage, Mo., even turns turkey guts into fuel. The goal of the emerging waste-to-fuel industry is more elaborate, however: to take bulky, solid feedstocks and transform them into high-grade motor fuel.

History provides plenty of warning that it will not be easy. A company called Verenium in Lafayette, La., has cut ribbons three times in one locale since 1998 on plants that would supposedly make fuel from sugar cane waste, and has yet to sell a drop because of problems converting laboratory success into smooth, commercial-scale operation.

A bigger operation, Iogen, has been running a demonstration plant in Ottawa since 2004 that can turn wheat straw into ethanol. It was expected to build a plant in Idaho but has suspended work to focus attention on a plant in Saskatchewan. “It would be our view that there are substantial challenges in scaling up a big new biochemical process,” said Brian Foody, the president.

The Energy Department early last year picked six projects as most likely to succeed, and offered each of them tens of millions of dollars. Iogen’s Idaho project was among them; so was a plant in Kansas proposed by a Florida company, Alico, that has also been abandoned. Still, increasing interest from big companies — ones with a track record of solving technical problems — suggests that a waste-to-fuel industry may not remain out of reach forever.

General Motors has invested an undisclosed sum in two companies, Coskata, of Warrenville, Ill., and Macoma, of Lebanon, N.H., that aim to turn crop wastes into ethanol.

DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, has joined forces with a company called Genencor, announcing plans to commercialize a process for making ethanol from the nonedible parts of corn and sugar cane. They plan to invest $140 million over three years.

In making their announcement, the companies estimated the worldwide market for fuels made by methods like theirs would eventually reach $75 billion, dwarfing the scale of today’s biofuels produced from food crops like corn and sugar cane.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Suburbs, subprime, and oil

First off- thank you D for sharing this space with me, it'll be fun!

There is an excellent article in The Atlantic this month that connects the housing slump with the future of cities, energy, and suburbs. Take a look here. I think that this scenario is not necessarily inevitable, but we do know (can't recall where I read the story on this research right now) that when inner city poor are moved willy nilly into the suburbs, without adequate help, the crime and social problems seem to follow.

posted by Alex

Don’t Drink the Nuclear Kool-Aid

Don’t Drink the Nuclear Kool-Aid

by Amy Goodman

While the presidential candidates trade barbs and accuse each other of flip-flopping, they
agree with President Bush on their enthusiastic support for nuclear power.

Sen. John McCain has called for 100 new nuclear power plants. Sen. Barack Obama, in a July 2007 Democratic candidate debate, answered a pro-nuclear power audience member, “I actually think that we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix.” Among Obama’s top contributors are executives of Exelon Corp., a leading nuclear power operator in the nation. Just this week, Exelon released a new plan, called “Exelon 2020: A Low-Carbon Roadmap.” The nuclear power industry sees global warming as a golden opportunity to sell its insanely expensive and dangerous power plants.

But nuclear power is not a solution to climate change — rather, it causes problems. Amory Lovins is the co-founder and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. He makes simple, powerful points against nuclear: “The nuclear revival that we often hear about is not actually happening. It is a very carefully fabricated illusion … there are no buyers. Wall Street is not putting a penny of private capital into the industry, despite 100-plus percent subsidies.” He adds:
“Basically, we can have as many nuclear plants as Congress can force the taxpayers to pay for. But you won’t get any in a market economy.”

Even if nuclear power were economically viable, Lovins continues, “the first issue to come up for me would be the spread of nuclear weapons, which it greatly facilitates. If you look at places like Iran and North Korea … how do you think they’re doing it? Iran claims to be making electricity vital to its development. … The technology, materials, equipment, skills are applicable to both. … The president is absolutely right in identifying the spread of nuclear weapons as the gravest threat to our security, so it’s really puzzling to me that he’s trying to accelerate that spread every way he can think of. … It’s just an awful idea unless you’re really interested in making bombs. He’s
really triggered a new Mideast arms race by trying to push nuclear power within the region.”

Along with proliferation, there are terrorist threats to existing nuclear reactors, like Entergy’s controversial Indian Point nuclear plant just 24 miles north of New York City. Lovins calls these “about as fat a terrorist target as you can imagine. It is not necessary to fly a plane into a nuclear plant or storm a plant and take over a control room in order to cause that material to be largely released. You can often do it from outside the site boundary with things the terrorists would have readily available.”

Then there is the waste: “It stays dangerous for a very long time. So you have to put it someplace that stays away from people and life and water for a very long time … millions of years, most likely. … So far, all the places we’ve looked turned out to be geologically unsuitable, including Yucca Mountain.” Testifying at a congressional hearing this week, Energy Department official Edward Sproat said the price of a nuclear dump in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain has climbed to $90 billion. Slated to go online a decade ago, its opening is now projected for the year 2020. And even that’s optimistic. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, wants to block nuclear waste from passing through Utah entirely, and most Nevadans oppose the Yucca waste plan.

The presidential candidates are wrong on nuclear power. Wind, solar and microgeneration (generating electricity and heat at the same time, in smaller plants), on the other hand, are taking off globally, gaining billions of dollars in private investments. Lovins summarizes: “One of the big reasons we have an oil problem and a climate problem today is we spent our money on the wrong stuff. If we had spent it on efficiency and renewables, those problems would’ve gone away, and we would’ve made trillions of dollars’ profit on the deal because it’s so much cheaper to save energy than to supply it.”

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. © 2008 Amy Goodman