Thursday, May 31, 2007

Minnesotta Governor Signs Energy and Climate Bill

Governor Pawlenty Signs the 'Next Generation Energy Act' establishing greenhouse gas and energy use reduction goals

[From a Governor's office press release:]

Following through on the sweeping energy initiatives he outlined last December, Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 [on May 25th].

The Governor's energy plan puts Minnesota squarely at the front of states leading the way toward our nation's energy future. The legislation signed today will increase energy efficiency, expand community based energy development, and establish a statewide goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supplements the aggressive 25 x '25 renewable energy standard proposed by the Governor and signed earlier this year.

“The best time to have taken action on energy issues would've been 30 years ago. The second best time is right now," Governor Pawlenty said. "The nation has been asleep at the switch, but here in Minnesota we are kick-starting the future by increasing our nation-leading per capita renewable fuel use, boosting cost saving measures and tackling greenhouse gas emissions."

Governor Pawlenty first introduced his Next Generation Energy Initiative in December 2006 to provide more renewable energy, more energy conservation, and less carbon emissions for Minnesota.

Following the framework developed early in the legislative session with the passage of the nation’s most aggressive Renewable Energy Standard, the Next Generation Energy Act establishes nation-leading requirements on Minnesota’s electric utilities while ensuring reliability and protecting the cost-competitiveness of Minnesota’s electric system.

The legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support and was co-authored by Rep. Bill Hilty and Senator Yvonne Prettner Solon.

The Next Generation Energy Act includes:

  • Energy Savings Goals: The Demand Efficiency Initiative builds on Minnesota’s existing conservation program, consistently ranked in the top five programs in the country. It will effectively double the amount of energy saved by Minnesota’s utilities by transitioning Minnesota from energy efficiency spending goals to energy efficiency savings goals. The bill also sets a goal of 1,000 Energy Star Buildings in Minnesota by 2010 and provides adequate funding to achieve the goal.

  • Community Based Energy Development: The Next Generation Energy Act expands and strengthens Minnesota’s commitment to the development of locally-owned renewable energy projects. Previous legislation also increases funding for community energy outreach through Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS) throughout the state.

  • Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Reduction: According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the Next Generation Energy Act propels Minnesota into the top two states (with California) leading the way towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The bill establishes statewide GHG reduction goals of 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. The bill also endorses the Governor’s Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group as the entity to develop a comprehensive greenhouse gas emission reduction plan to meet those goals.

  • Earlier this year, the Governor signed legislation containing the first components of his Next Generation Energy Initiative:

  • 25x’25 Renewable Electricity Requirements The nation’s most aggressive Renewable Energy Standard requires Minnesota’s electric utilities to provide 25% renewable electricity by 2025.
  • Next Generation BioEnergy and BioFuels Governor Pawlenty signed legislation to appropriate over $35 million for energy projects and research including:

    o $15 million for bioenergy, biomass electricity, biofuels, plug-in hybrid technologies, renewable hydrogen and solar technology projects.
    o $17 million for energy research, including funding for the U of M Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.
    o $3 million to double the number of E85 stations in Minnesota from the nation-leading 300 stations to 600 stations.

    In addition, the NextGen Energy Board is established and will begin meeting next month to develop bioenergy and biofuels policies and recommendations.

    “The Next Generation Energy Initiative is providing the pathway to a better energy future,” Governor Pawlenty said. “Minnesota is the leader in energy policy that benefits the environment, rural economies, national security and consumers.”

    Well done Minnesota! If you're interested in the development and debates surrounding these bills, head over to and poke through their archives for lots of detailed posts discussing the renewable energy standard and the Next Generation Energy Initiative.
  • Senators Cantwell, Kerry and Smith Introduce Clean Energy Package

    Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced a new energy bill to Congress last week that would provide long term extensions of several key clean energy tax credits, including the Federal Production Tax Credit. The bill, the "Clean Energy Investment Assurance Act of 2007" (S.6020) has been co-sponsored by Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and John Kerry (D-MA).

    According to a summary of the bill from Senator Cantwell's office [word doc] the purpose of the bill is three fold:

  • Provide a sufficient duration to the incentives for investment in and wide-scale deployment of renewable energy technologies.
  • Provide incentives for improved efficiency to reduce energy consumption and enhanced management of energy demand.
  • Set an overall goal for the tax incentives—production of energy resulting in zero carbon emissions—and enable all technologies to become cost competitive within the defined timeframe of the incentives.

  • The bill would do the following:

    Expands and Extends the Federal Production Tax Credit:

  • Extends the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewable energy generation through Dec 31st, 2013.
  • Expands the PTC to include thermal energy production technologies utilizing renewable energy to produce useful heating or cooling (i.e. solar hot water heating, biomass for heating, etc.).
  • Specifies that the PTC applies to any zero-carbon emission generating technologies utilizing renewable fuels, even if not explicitly enumerated in the bill (i.e. provides the Treasury Department the authority to grant eligibility for emerging zero-emissions technologies like wave, tidal, etc. to qualify without having to go through full Congressional amendment of bill).
  • Amends PTC to extend full value of credit to all technologies (currently gives half credit to hydro, irrigation hydro, open-loop biomass, landfill gas and waste combustion). [The National Hydropower Association was really excited about this part]

  • Expands and Extends the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds:

  • Extends the Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREBs) incentive for investment in renewable energy by consumer-owned utilities (COUs) and other tax-exempt entities through Dec 31st, 2013.
  • Increases funding cap for CREBs to $5 billion/year (currently, $5 billion cumulatively in loans can be granted at any given time, seriously hampering ability of CREBs to incentivize renewable energy development by public utilities)

  • Expands and Extends Residential and Business Renewable Credits:

  • Extends to 2017 residential and business tax credits for solar hot water, PV, fuel cells, etc. Makes credit based on system power, not percentage of system cost (as currently). $3k per KW for PV, $1k per KW for fuel cells.
  • Expands credit to cover "qualified energy storage air conditioning" technologies [I assume this means things like ice-storage AC units that can use off-peak electricity to store cold (in ice blocks) for later use during peak periods.]

  • Extends Energy Efficiency Credits:

  • Extends credits to end of 2012 for energy efficient home construction, and for non-business and commercial energy efficiency retrofits.

  • Promotes Smart Meter Technology:

  • Allows utilities to recover costs of "smart meters" on a 5-year cost recovery schedule, instead of current 20-year schedule.

  • This is a good package of expanded credits and incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. I'm particularly happy to see my senator, Gordon Smith, co-sponsoring this bill.

    The long-term extensions of these important credits will provide the long-term planning and financial certainty the renewable energy industry needs to make investments, both in renewable energy projects, but also in manufacturing facilities in the U.S. The boom-and-bust cycle of the PTC in the past has severely hampered the pace of renewable energy development in the US and has also discouraged significant investment in manufacturing capacity. Without long-term certainty that a strong North American market for wind and other renewable energy technologies exists, manufacturers are reluctant to make major long-term investments in factories in the U.S. This has led to a shortage of wind turbines and other crucial components and meant that many turbines used in US wind farms have to be imported from overseas, increasing costs (especially considering the weakening of the dollar versus the euro and other currencies).

    I hope that this bill is incorporated into the package of energy legislation Congress plans to consider and pass in June and July. These incentives are crucial to the accelerated deployment of clean, homegrown, renewable energy technologies and increased energy efficiency. They will help level the playing field between highly subsidized fossil and nuclear energy industries and emerging renewable energy industries and the long-term certainty this bill provides will incentivize both quicken the pace of renewable energy development as well as increased US-based manufacturing of clean energy technologies - a win-win for the U.S. economy.

    Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    GE to Double Cleantech Investments

    Venture capital investments to reach $50M a year by 2008
    GE plans to double its clean technology venture capital investments from $25 million this year to $50 million a year by 2008.
    GE plans to make investments across the cleantech sector including solar, biofuels and batteries. In January GE led a $40 million investment round in A123Systems, a company developing lithium ion batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles (See: Battery Maker Receives $40M Jolt). Previous investments also include Scottish wave power company Ocean Power Delivery (See: GE Backs Wave Power).
    "Our goal is to invest as much as we can, provided that we can find opportunities at the right price," said Kevin Walsh, Managing Director and leader of the renewable energy group at GE Energy Financial Services.
    Despite bubble warnings, venture capitalists still have an appetite for cleantech deals. During the first quarter this year, $237 million was invested in alternative energy deals in the U.S., according to Dow Jones VentureOne. One year ago that number was $53.8 million. Cleantech investments last year totaled $537.6 million in the U.S.
    An advantage for GE, according to Mr. Walsh, is access to GE’s global research centers where researchers can help to look at new companies.
    GE’s increased venture funding is part of a bigger plan announced today by GE Energy Financial Services to double the overall investments in renewable energy to $4 billion by 2010.
    "First and foremost, it’s good business and it also happens to fit well with our ecomagination plan," Mr. Walsh said, referring to GE’s green initiative launched in 2005.
    Several financial institutions have also jumped on the green train. Citigroup two weeks ago said it would spend $ 50 billion over the next 10 years to address global climate change. In March, Bank of America launched a ten year $20 billion green plan.
    "I think that it’s great that other organizations are also interested in this space. The market is growing and there is room for plenty of other players," Mr. Walsh said.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2007

    Oregon House Passes Renewable Energy Standard With Broad, Bipartisan Support

    The Oregon House of Representatives passed the Oregon Renewable Energy Act today on a strong, bipartisan show of support, 41-18. The bill now heads back to the Senate, which previously passed the bill, for concurrence.

    [Please see full disclosure at end of post]

    The Oregon House of Representatives today passed Senate Bill 838, the Oregon Renewable Energy Act with strong, bipartisan support (41-18). The landmark legislation enacts a Renewable Energy Standard requiring Oregon’s largest utilities to obtain 25% of their electricity from clean, homegrown renewable energy sources by 2025. The bill previously passed the Oregon Senate 20-10 on April 10th.

    “I think history will remember the Oregon Renewable Energy Act as a landmark piece of legislation, on par with Oregon’s Bottle Bill,” said Rachel Shimshak, Executive Director of the Renewable Northwest Project. “The bill will expand the use of Oregon’s generous endowment of solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and wave resources and help the state make the transition from fossil fuel dependence to energy independence.”

    The bill received widespread public support from constituents across the state during public testimony in the Senate and House. Supporters touted the bill’s potential to increase Oregon’s energy independence, create new jobs, keep more money in Oregon communities, help fight global warming, and protect ratepayers from the rising costs of fossil fuels. The bill received strong support from both rural and urban constituencies.

    Rural landowners, and county and city officials from Eastern Oregon were particularly excited about the economic development the bill will bring to their communities. “Renewable energy development will bring a new infusion of revenue to rural Oregon counties that will be crucial to the continuation of critical services,” said former Union County Commissioner, John Lamoreau. “It is estimated that Union county will receive $10 million over the next twenty years from just one wind project, and it’s construction and operation will bring hundreds of jobs to the area.”

    “I’ve never seen Oregonians from all four corners of the state come together to support a proposal like this,” said Troy Gagliano, Senior Policy Associate for the Renewable Northwest Project. “The Oregon Renewable Energy Act is that rare piece of legislation that can unite Oregon.”

    Led by Governor Ted Kulongoski, the bill received overwhelming support from cities, counties, farmers, labor, businesses, environmentalists, consumer advocates, tribes, students, investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities, and the Public Utility Commission. A list of public supporters of the Oregon Renewable Energy Act can be found here

    More information about the Oregon Renewable Energy Act can be found at

  • PDF copy of Renewable Northwest Project news release for distribution
  • Text of Senate Bill 838 (pdf, C-engrossed version, as passed on the floor today)
  • Brief Summary of SB 838 (pdf)
  • Detailed Section-by-Section summary of SB 838 (pdf)
  • Previous post on passage of SB 838 by Oregon Senate - April 11th
  • Powering Oregon's Future website - news and resources on SB 838
  • "Clean-energy Bill Sails Through Oregon House" - The Oregonian's coverage of passage of SB 838, May 24th, 2007

  • [Full disclosure: I work for Renewable Northwest Project, key advocates of the proposed Renewable Energy Standard. I wrote the above news release and I am responsible for maintaining the Powering Oregon's Future website and am responsible for most of it's content. I should be no means be considered an 'unbiased party' but have done my best to report in a factual and balanced manner the events that have transpired during the debate on SB 838.]

    Tuesday, May 22, 2007

    SolarCity's Collective Power Program Secures 934 KW

    Collective Power Programs Secure 934kW of Community-Generated Energy to Date Mountain View and Woodside Draw 557kW, 138 Homes

    Foster City, CA, May 21, 2007 -- SolarCity, a community-wide installer of solar systems, has successfully completed two additional cooperative solar power programs to enable and accelerate the migration to renewable energy sources.

    In the communities of Mountain View and Woodside, California, residents together subscribed to 557kW of renewable, neighborhood-produced energy during the six-week program, which completed on April 30. SolarCity will complete installation on all the homes this summer.

    The Collective Power Program is an innovative solar purchasing program that encourages community residents to join purchases together in order to receive special pricing incentives on solar installations.

    In Mountain View, community solar advocate Bruce Karney helped rally 118 homeowners to together install systems producing 355 kW of power. “There were only 85 residential solar PV installations in Mountain View before the start of this program,” Karney said. “The power of collective pricing made a strong argument for going solar, more than doubling the number of solarized homes in the city.”

    Mountain View’s mayor, Laura Macias, also came out in support of the successful community initiative. “Mountain View residents made a powerful environmental and economic statement by adopting clean, renewable energy,” she said. “The city can take pride in this step to answer its own power needs.”

    In the town of Woodside, SolarCity subscribed 202kW of solar power, averaging 7kW of power generation per household. With the help of community advocate and town resident Sally Hartman, the company helped usher in solar programs both by hosting the Collective Power Program and by working with Woodside officials to revise their solar permitting process. In response to an expected increase in the number of such permits and to address concerns with installation standards, the city collaborated with SolarCity and CSG Consultants, a third party engineering and inspection company, to create new town standards that ease permit demands, reduce consumer cost and speed installations.

    “These successful programs in Mountain View and Woodside demonstrate just how much can be accomplished when communities take a stake in their energy future,” said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s CEO. “Their collective efforts allow us to not only provide industry-leading pricing, but also help encourage the changes necessary to boost solar adoption in the community,” he said. “The result is lower energy bills and clean energy from the sun. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

    The Collective Power Program has already become a proven model for increasing residential and commercial solar power, attracting a total of 934kW worth of solar installations to date. A previous program in Portola Valley, CA drew 77 households to subscribe 377 kilowatts-worth of renewable power, eliminating 11 million pounds of carbon emissions.

    SolarCity is currently working on additional Collective Power Programs with communities in San Jose, Castro Valley, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Berkeley, San Carlos, and Santa Monica. The company will continue to bring innovative programs like the Community Power Program to other communities throughout the state, as it expands to new markets in the Los Angeles and Fresno areas.

    Civic leaders and advocates interested in bringing the collective power program to their community should contact SolarCity for further program details at 888-SOL-CITY (888-765-2489).

    Federal Loans Finance New Coal Plants

    An antiquated, Depression-era, federal loan program is using billions of tax-payer dollars to finance low-interest loans for new coal plants

    In a perfect example of conflicting agendas, as Congress considers new legislation to battle global warming, a Depression-era program to help electrify rural areas is still providing low-interest loans to rural electric cooperatives to build new coal-fired power plants.

    This government program, often the only source of financing for rural coops with less than perfect credit ratings, is a major force behind the rush to build dozens of new coal plants in the U.S. These new conventional, or pulverized coal plants spew carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas and contributor to global warming.

    According to the Seattle Times, the beneficiaries of the government's largesse — the nation's rural electric cooperatives — plan to spend $35 billion to build conventional coal plants over the next 10 years, enough to offset all state and federal efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions over that time.

    The funding comes from the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service, a program set up by the Rural Electrification Administration created in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt to bring electricity to farms in an era when established utilities were unwilling to bring power to rural areas. More than 70 years later, the goal of providing electricity to rural areas has clearly been accomplished, but the federal program is still in place and the government continues to use tax-payer dollars to make subsidized loans to rural cooperatives. Those cooperatives are now interested in using that money to construct new coal plants.

    According to the Times, in a rare moment of agreement, both environmentalists and the White House's Office of Management and Budget want to end loans for new power plants and limit loans for transmission projects in the most remote rural areas.

    However, the powerful National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is fighting to keep the program intact and recently deployed 3,000 members on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress in support of the program. The Cooperative Association argues that the loans for new coal plants are needed to keep electricity cheap and reliable in rural areas.

    Environmentalists counter that the subsidized loans and artificially cheap power removes any pressure for the rural co-ops to promote energy efficiency or aggressively tap renewable resources. They also point out that rural coops already rely on coal for 80 percent of their electricity, compared with 50 percent for the national average, and electricity demand at rural co-ops is growing at twice the national rate.

    Although technically private business (unlike their public utility district brethren), rural-utility cooperatives are non-profit and owned by their customers. There are more than 800 co-ops that distribute electricity in the United States and more than 50 that own power plants.

    James Newby, assistant administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, estimates that federal loan rates are 2 to 2.25 percentage points lower than the rates for commercial loans. Some budget experts say the favorable federal loans have reduced the cost of new power generation by 15 percent, the Times reports.

    In a clear sign that the original purpose of rural electrification has long-sense been perverted into a simple subsidy, many of the utility co-ops that are considered "rural" now provide electricity to expanding suburbs, such as the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, the Atlanta area and parts of northern Virginia.

    "Rather than declare the mission accomplished and disband the expensive subsidy program, Congress continued it and allowed it to become even more generous," a 2004 Heritage Foundation report said.

    Ronald Utt, co-author of the report and a former official at the OMB, calls the program a "remnant of the New Deal." "Poverty is no longer a characteristic of the agricultural community as it was during the Depression ... and as areas have grown, the basic clientele are well-to-do people who have nothing to do with agriculture," Utt told the Times.

    Glenn English, chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said rural areas still need help to meet growing power demands at reasonable costs and that burning coal makes sense. He said per capita income of co-op members and consumers is 15 percent below the national average.

    English acknowledged that global warming has shifted the debate. But, he said, any climate-change legislation should show leniency toward the rural co-ops. "Rural electric generating cooperatives ... are in economic situations that make it very hard for them to invest in cutting-edge technologies," he wrote in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

    The key to the longevity of the Agriculture Department's programs for rural utilities has been powerful political voice of the rural coops lobbyists. More than 30,000 members gave an average of $41 last year to the coop association for political contributions. Given their geographic scope, the coops can mobilize letter-writing campaigns across a vast number of states and congressional districts.

    English recently rallied the association's members to fight proposed laws on climate change that he alleges would hurt the rural coops. Such proposals would potentially mean higher electricity rates, he said, and that would anger voters.

    "So are we supposed to tell members of Congress that you've got to be willing to sacrifice your seat for the sake of energy efficiency?" he said. "I don't think the political community wants to take out the knife and commit hara-kiri."

    According to the Times, the list of utilities asking for federal loans includes:

  • The Seminole Electric Cooperative in Tampa, Fla., is planning a $1.8 billion, 750-megawatt coal plant that would boost the utility's generating capacity by 60 percent. The co-op applied for a $1.4 billion loan. If approved, the interest rate for the heavily indebted co-op, which Standard & Poor's says has less than a month's worth of cash, would be as low as the rates for the most rock-solid corporate bonds.

  • A group of rural cooperatives plans to build two, 700-megawatt plants in western Kansas.

  • The East Kentucky Power Cooperative, which is fighting the Justice Department over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, has received approval for Rural Utilities Service loans to pay for new coal-fired capacity.

  • This program clearly has to die! There is simply no reasonable argument at this point in history that supports federal subsidies for the construction of new carbon-belching pulverized coal plants. The government should be seriously considering banning all new coal plants that do not sequester their greenhouse gas emissions, and certainly should not be subsidizing their construction.

    Rural electricity cooperatives and their public power brethren have been face down in the public subsidy trough since their genesis during the New Deal era. At that point, the subsidies were clearly necessary to help bring electricity to America's rural poor. But while most everything else has changed since the 1930s, the coops' reliance on federal subsidies has not.

    The National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association has been one of the major opponents of renewable energy standards at both state and federal levels as well as any climate change legislation or practically anything else that might add regulation to this almost entirely unregulated electricity sector.

    It's time for things to change.

    Global warming is a threat that far outweighs any concerns about stepping on the toes of rural coops and their tradition of local control and subsidy. Rural cooperatives, like all utilities and indeed all sectors of the economy that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, are going to have to get used to the idea of increased regulation. We can't afford to simply leave coops out of climate change legislation, nor can we afford to continue to subsidize their construction of coal-fired power plants.

    If rural coops want to continue receiving subsidies, they should be redirected towards construction of renewable energy projects and the deployment of energy efficiency technologies. $35 billion can buy a lot of wind turbines and can help weatherize a lot of rural homes, saving rural coop customers money.

    It's time to end federal subsidies for power plants that contribute to global warming and redirect these subsidies to clean, sustainable, domestic energy sources.

    Clean and Intelligent Power Solutions Perform on Nasdaq with EnerNOC

    Shares of EnerNoc Inc. rose $5.13, or 19.73%, to close at $31.13 per share in their Nasdaq debut Friday, May 18...
    A very clear sign that financial markets' appetite for clean power is increasing. EnerNOC ranges amongst the top Demand Response Providers in the US, together with Comverge (also a successfull IPO few weeks ago), ConsumerPowerline, and Energy Curtailment Specialists. Those companies remotely manage and reduce electricity consumption across a network of customer sites, to make demand response capacity and energy available to grid operators and utilities on demand. This allows namely to replace very expensive and very dirty peak power plants.
    The Demand Response Provider business model has not extended outside North America yet, and is expected to grow worldwide in the coming years. Please indicate noteworthy initiatives in this field!

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    Gas Prices Hit All Time High - Worse than Oil Shock of 1981

    Gas prices in the United States are now higher than any point in history, even when adjusted for inflation.


    Gasoline prices soared to levels never seen before as even the inflation-adjusted price for a gallon of unleaded topped the 1981 record spike in price that had stood for 26 years.

    And higher prices could be on the way as Americans get ready to hit the road for the Memorial Day holiday and the start of the summer driving season.

    The Lundberg Survey, a bi-weekly gas price tracking service, put the price of a gallon of unleaded at $3.18 in its latest reading released late Sunday, up more than 11 cents from its reading of two weeks ago.

    While gasoline had already been in record territory in current dollars, Trilby Lundberg, publisher of the survey, said this is the first time that her survey topped her 1981 record high when adjusted for inflation. The price of $1.35 in 1981 works out to $3.15 in current dollars, she said. The Iran-Iraq war, which started the year before, choked off oil supplies to the global market, causing that spike in prices.

    The motorist group AAA does a daily survey of up to 85,000 gas stations, but that reading does not go back to the 1981 spike. It's survey has been showing a series of record high prices in current dollars since May 13, and Monday the average price for a gallon of self-serve unleaded hit $3.196, the ninth straight record high and up from Sunday's record of $3.178.

    The AAA survey now shows prices up 4 percent over the course of the last week, along with an increase of 11.8 percent over the last month.

    AAA warned in congressional testimony last week it believes that more record prices could be on the way. It is forecasting prices will approach $3.25 a gallon over the next 60 days.

    Still AAA is predicting a record number of Americans will be hitting the road holiday weekend, with 38.3 million expected to be traveling 100 miles or more over the Memorial Day holiday, up 1.7 percent from a year ago. And most of those - 32.1 million - will be driving on their trip, according to the motorist group.

    Topping post-Katrina records

    Before this recent run of record-high gas prices, the highest price ever recorded in current dollars was $3.057 in the AAA survey, which was set Sept. 4 and Sept. 5, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That storm disrupted refinery operations and pipelines and caused a temporary spike, sending prices above the $3 mark for eight days.

    The only other time that the AAA national average has topped the $3 mark was in August 2006, after Israel invaded Lebanon and oil futures shot higher. Gas prices then reached as high as $3.036 during that 19-day spike.

    The current price increases are due to problems in gasoline supplies and refinery output. The average gas price went above $3 a gallon on May 4, and has been climbing since. Unless prices fall suddenly, Wednesday will mark the longest stretch of $3 gas on the AAA survey's history.

    Few states have an average gas price below $3. California had the highest average price, with a gallon of self-serve unleaded costing $3.457, up slightly from the $3.453 reading Sunday after several days of prices slipping slightly there.

    New Jersey retained the lead in the race to have the cheapest average gas price, but it is quickly approaching the $3 a gallon threshold itself. The average price there came in at $2.938 a gallon in the Monday reading, up from $2.93 Sunday.

    New Jersey is one of only three states with an average price below the $3 mark. The other two - South Carolina and New Hampshire - are both within a penny or less of that mark, after both rose in the latest reading.

    Four more states - Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia - became the latest states to cross that $3 a gallon benchmark in the Sunday survey.

    While crude oil prices have fallen over the last few weeks and oil supplies are high in the United States, problems at several refineries have crimped gasoline output ahead of the summer driving season.

    The refinery problems include fires, power outages, and longer-than-usual maintenance periods.

    The run-up in prices is a big concern for store chains, according to the retailers' trade group. Its survey released early Friday found the average consumer believes that the price of gas will reach $3.32 per gallon by Father's Day.

    As a result, 40.2 percent of consumers are taking fewer shopping trips, while 37.9 percent told the survey they plan to shop closer to home. In addition, 30.7 percent said they are shopping for sales more often and 23.5 percent are using more coupons.

    Perhaps of greatest concern to the retailers, 24.1 percent said they are spending less on clothing, while only one in five have delayed major purchases, such as a car, television or furniture, and 31.1 percent are dining out less.

    "Consumers are entering the summer season with a cautious view of increasing gas prices," NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin said. "To offset the effects of higher prices, more consumers are giving their wallets a little extra cushion by cutting back on discretionary spending or choosing to frequent retailers closer to home."

    Interestingly enough, the retailers' survey also found that 32.6 percent have decreased their vacation travel plans this year, despite the AAA survey that projected a record number of Americans on the highways this weekend.

    Major retailers were reporting weak April sales even before the recent spike in gasoline prices started earlier this month. Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, had its worst sales comparison on record in April as it forecast essentially flat sales at stores open at least a year in May, a closely watched measure of retail strength known as same-store sales.

    Overall same-store sales in April were among the weakest on record as other major retailers including Target, Gap, Federated Department Stores and J.C. Penney all reported declines in that key sales measure.

    Big Oil went on the defensive Wednesday, getting grilled before a House panel and denying accusations that mismanagement and a lack of competition are the reasons behind this spring's record gasoline prices.

    Here comes $4.00 gas!

    Yahoo Green promotes Cleaner Energy !

    Be more environmentally responsible, says new web campaign.

    Yahoo is urging you to go green with a new online climate campaign that asks users to take their environmental responsibility more seriously. The Yahoo Green campaign aims to encourage millions of people to take basic steps to help the environment.

    Yahoo Green is an online education programme. It gives you the latest environmental news, consumer tips and suggests ways to become personally and socially active in combating global warming.

    The Yahoo Green website lets you choose from a menu of actions to reduce your personal carbon emissions. And it shows you the collective impact of everyone who participates. It asks users to change light bulbs, take public transport, reuse shopping bags, properly inflate tires, recycle and more.

    The campaign launched in the US yesterday. But it'll be expanded to Europe and other international markets throughout the year, Yahoo said.

    Last month Yahoo said it would become 'carbon neutral' by the end of this year. The company uses renewable power, hydroelectric energy and passive cooling to reduce energy use in its huge data centres, which host some 100,000 server computers.

    It has already replaced incandescent light bulbs on Yahoo marketing billboards with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights.

    "What is the biggest way for us to have an impact? The biggest way by far is to get this message out to half a billion people," Yahoo co-founder David Filo said.

    "We want to make it easy for consumers to do something as well as help them build enduring habits that can truly make a difference. We believe many small individual actions can add up to significant change," Filo added.

    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    Warnings From A Warming World: New Study Says Oceans May Have Had Enough CO2

    The ability of the world's oceans to absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, may be in decline - a full forty years ahead of schedule.

    The Southern Ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide has decreased by 15% since 1981 and climate change is likely to blame, according to a new study published in Science.

    The Southern Ocean surrounds the continent of Antarctica and extends up to 60 degrees south latitude. An international team of researchers documented the decline in the Southern Ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide after four years of study.

    “The researchers found that the Southern Ocean is becoming less efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide due to an increase in wind strength over the Ocean, resulting from human-induced climate change,” said Dr Paul Fraser, who leads research into atmospheric greenhouse gases at Australia's CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Division.

    Ocean's are an important natural absorber and reservoir, or "sink," for carbon dioxide emissions. Such a weakening in the ocean's ability to absorb and sequester carbon dioxide would mean higher atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which in turn would accelerate global warming.

    This potential feedback effect - where warming temperatures weaken natural carbon sinks, which in turn increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, driving further global warming - are taken into account by many new climate models. However, most models do not predict a weakening in oceanic carbon sinks for another forty years.

    [Image: The natural carbon cycle. Oceans are one of two major natural carbon sinks, the other being terrestrial 'biospheres.']

    While man-made greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are only a small part of the total transfer of carbon dioxide in the carbon cycle, these man-made sources overwhelm a balanced natural system and lead to an increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. This in turn causes global warming, which may weaken the ability of natural carbon sinks to absorb carbon, further accelerating climate change.

    Churning Seas

    Carbon dioxide is naturally exchanged between the atmosphere and the upper layers of oceans. However, as ocean waters circulate, some carbon dioxide is driven to deeper layers of the ocean where it is stored in the world's largest natural reservoir of carbon dioxide.

    The new study's researchers found that increased wind speeds over the Southern Ocean have influenced the process of mixing and upwelling in the ocean, which has resulted in an increased release of carbon dioxide from the oceans into the atmosphere. This decreases the net absorption of carbon carbon dioxide into the ocean and leaves more of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

    Humans Likely To Blame

    The researchers also found that the increase in wind strength is due to a combination of higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and long-term ozone depletion in the stratosphere, both driven by human activities.

    The report's lead author, Dr Corinne Le Quéré, of UEA and BAS said:
    “This is the first time that we’ve been able to say that climate change itself is responsible for the saturation of the Southern Ocean sink. This is serious. All climate models predict that this kind of ‘feedback’ will continue and intensify during this century. The Earth’s carbon sinks – of which the Southern Ocean accounts for 15 per cent – absorb about half of all human carbon emissions. With the Southern Ocean reaching its saturation point more CO2 will stay in our atmosphere.”
    This new research suggests that stabilization of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level that will prevent dangerous climate change is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought.

    Additionally, the report's authors warn that acidification in the Southern Ocean is likely to reach dangerous levels earlier than the projected date of 2050. As oceans absorb carbon dioxide, it alters the pH of the ocean waters, making them more acidic. This will have adverse impacts on ocean species, including corals and some kinds of plankton.

    Professor Chris Rapley, Director of British Antarctic Survey said:
    “Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the world’s oceans have absorbed about a quarter of the 500 gigatons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by humans. The possibility that in a warmer world the Southern Ocean – the strongest ocean sink - is weakening is a cause for concern.”
    The international research team collected atmospheric CO2 data from 11 stations in the Southern Ocean and 40 stations across the globe. Measurements of atmospheric CO2 allowed them to infer how much carbon dioxide was taken up by sinks. The team was then able to see how efficient they were in comparison to one another at absorbing CO2.

    The international team comprised researchers from CSIRO in Australia, the Max-Planck Institute in Germany, the University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey in England, the Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory in the US, NIWA in New Zealand, the South African Weather Service, LSCE/IPSL and CNRS in France, and the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies in Japan.

    This is really scary news!

    The world’s oceans are one of two main carbon ’sinks’ - absorbers of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, that in the natural carbon cycle help keep greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere in check. As we destabilize the natural carbon cycle with man-made greenhouse gas emissions, we cause global warming which in turn is expected to weaken the ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide, leading to a further buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, driving further warming. This is just one of many powerful feedback mechanisms that could push climate change beyond our ability to halt.

    Climate models and the IPCC reports take this feedback into account, but generally do not assume it will kick in until mid-century. If the ability of the world’s oceans to absorb carbon dioxide is already beginning to decrease, we will need to recalculate the speed and severity at which the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to stabilize the climate and avoid disastrous climate change.

    It’s definitely time to get serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions as hard and as fast as possible. And the United States needs to lead the way. We need to begin a bold plan to cut emissions as quickly as possible by the end of the next decade, perhaps by 30-60 percent, levels even greater than the supposedly ‘gold standard’ Sanders-Boxer Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act proposes (it calls for about a 15% cut by 2020).

    When we read news like this, it’s clear that time is definitely running out!

    [Image source: BBC News. A hat tip to Green Car Congress.]

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    PG&E Adds More Geothermal to Renewable Energy Mix

    SAN FRANCISCO - Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced it has entered into a contract with Western GeoPower, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Western GeoPower Corp., to purchase renewable geothermal energy from The Geysers Geothermal Field in Northern California. The project will deliver 25.5 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy for PG&E's customers throughout Northern and Central California starting in 2010.

    "With this agreement we're taking a major step forward in meeting our renewable energy goals," said Fong Wan, vice president of Energy Procurement. "This project is yet another example of our company's commitment to the environment by delivering reliable, climate-friendly energy to our customers."

    The Geysers Geothermal Field, located 75 miles north of San Francisco, California, is the largest producer of geothermal electricity in the world. Commercial geothermal power has been generated continuously at The Geysers Field since 1960.

    "The timing of our project could not be better as it responds directly to California's legislated Renewable Portfolio Standard Program (RPS) requiring State utilities, including PG&E, to purchase at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2010," said Kenneth MacLeod, President and Chief Executive Officer of Western GeoPower.

    Geothermal energy accounts for four percent of PG&E's overall energy mix. PG&E currently supplies 13 percent of its energy from qualifying renewable sources under California's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) -- one of the highest volumes of any utility in the United States. Renewable sources in PG&E's portfolio include solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and small hydroelectric. In addition, more than 50 percent of the electricity that PG&E delivers to its customers comes from generating resources that emit no or low carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to global warming.

    The Western GeoPower contract is the first contract originating from PG&E's 2006 RPS solicitation. PG&E is currently in discussions with additional market participants that submitted offers in the 2006 solicitation. PG&E anticipates submitting a first batch of contracts, including the one with Western GeoPower, to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for approval by the end of the month.

    In addition to the ongoing 2006 solicitation, PG&E is also in the early stages of its 2007 RPS solicitation. The company is seeking to procure an additional 1-2 percent of its customers' electricity needs through the 2007 renewable energy solicitation process. Schedule and bidding instructions can be found at The 2007 RPS solicitation is PG&E's fifth competitive solicitation for renewable energy since 2002. Since then, it has entered into contracts for approximately 1100 MW of renewable power from wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydro resources.

    California's RPS Program requires each utility to increase its procurement of eligible renewable generating resources by one percent of load per year to achieve a 20 percent renewables goal by 2010. The contract with Western GeoPower represents approximately 0.3 percent of load. The RPS Program was passed by the Legislature and is managed by California's Public Utilities Commission and Energy Commission.

    For more information about Pacific Gas and Electric Company, please visit the company's web site at

    Clean technology bigger than Internet, says Bill Joy

    FRANKFURT, Germany — A global response to climate change will spur a business revolution bigger than the internet, said co-founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy.

    "This is a much larger opportunity," he told Reuters, pointing to the scale of the problem and the profits to be made from simple steps like a more careful use of energy.

    "It's profitable to be more efficient, it has a negative cost and a competitive disadvantage if you don't do it."

    "You can sensibly adopt old technology, not drive a truck, or insulate your house," he aid, speaking on the fringes of the Cleantech investor conference in Frankfurt.

    Joy made his name creating and developing computer operating systems and microprocessors, for example helping to design the Java programming language.

    Most scientists agree that climate change is being caused by mankind's emissions of greenhouse gases, especially the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

    Using the example of the car industry, Joy saw the response in three parts: first using old technologies like smaller, more efficient cars; second adopting emerging technologies like "hybrid", part-electric cars; and third researching breakthroughs such as transport fuels derived from farm waste.

    Climate change would spur innovation and California's Silicon Valley, which originally served the semiconductor industry, was well placed to benefit, he said.

    "Solar cells are semiconductors, heat to electricity is semiconductors, software to manage systems comes out of Silicon Valley," said Joy, who is now a partner at venture capital investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).

    A global race is on to be first to commercialise breakthrough technologies which could make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Research into safer, rechargeable lithium batteries is taking place mainly in the United States and Canada, but innovation in small electric cars is centred in Asia and Europe, he said.

    "Smart people are everywhere."

    Future breakthroughs will include more efficient solar cells that convert waste heat to electricity, and manipulation of catalysts at the ultra-tiny, or nano, scale to cut costs.

    Climate change will create business losers, too: for example among U.S. car manufacturers which have resisted fuel efficiency standards, Joy reckoned.

    PowerLight Completes 2.2 Megawatt Solar Power Plant in Korea

    SEOUL, South Korea, May 15, 2007 -- SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWR), a Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of high-efficiency, commercially available solar cells, solar panels, and solar systems, today announced that its subsidiary, PowerLight Corp., has completed construction of Mungyeong SP Solar Mountain, a 2.2-megawatt solar electric power plant in Mungyeong, Korea. The plant is comprised of 10,500 panels and covers an area of approximately 43,000 square meters.

    PowerLight worked as a subcontractor to LG CNS Co., Ltd, by supplying solar technology and providing design and installation services. SunPower panels, using high efficiency solar cells, are mounted on the proprietary PowerTracker® solar tracking system, which tilts the solar panels toward the sun as it moves across the sky, significantly increasing daily energy production compared with fixed-tilt systems.

    SP Energy, Korea's largest private solar plant operator, owns the plant and is selling the electricity it generates to the Korea Power Exchange. SP Energy receives the wholesale market rate for the electricity from Korea Electric Power Corp. as well as a per-kilowatt-hour subsidy payment from the Korea Energy Management Corp. The project was financed by a fund raised from institutional investors and managed by Good & Rich Asset Management. The City of Mungyeong also offered its support throughout all stages of project development.

    "The combination of an optimal solar location in Mungyeong and the PowerTracker system with SunPower's high-efficiency modules will produce excellent financial returns for our investors," said Song Woo Keun, president and chief executive officer of SP Energy.

    "LG CNS expects the solar industry in Korea to exhibit strong growth. We believe that the main success factor of this project is that we chose PowerLight as the subcontractor," said Kim Yang Ho, director of the Construction Division at LG CNS Co. Ltd.

    "Korea is committed to becoming a world leader in solar-electric power generation," said Zachary Struyk, PowerLight's general manager in Korea. "We are pleased to help the country achieve its goals with the development of utility-scale power plants that serve Korea's power needs with reliable, clean and affordable solar energy."

    The Mungyeong SP Solar Mountain is the second major solar power plant designed and deployed by PowerLight in Korea in recent months. In November 2006, a one-megawatt project in Gwangju, Korea, was officially dedicated.

    Source: Press release

    Next-Gen Energy Conference: Moore's Law for solar?

    Is it time for the solar power industry to focus less on tech R&D and more on delivering affordable solar energy to the masses? That's a question posed by Alexander Bernstein, managing director of Merriman Curhan Ford & Co., to industry leaders at the investment bank's Next-Generation Energy Conference Tuesday. Bernstein and his fellow panelists agreed that lowering the cost of solar power for consumers is essential to mass adoption, but they offered differing views on the role technology will play.

    Randall MacEwen, CEO of solar roofing maker Solar Integrated Technologies Inc., argued that technology will provide "incremental improvements in deployment and scaling."

    "It's not about the technology," added Earl Fuller, general manager of Emcore Corp., which makes gallium-arsenide solar cells and panels. "It's about getting closer to the customer. We need more than one way to get cost out, including economies of scale and increased efficiency."

    Fuller argued against a solar industry equivalent of Moore's Law, which predicts that transistor density on microchips will double roughly every 18 months.

    Tom Werner, CEO of solar cell and panel maker SunPower Corp., disagreed, insisting that the Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore's famous dictum applies to the increase in solar tech efficiency.

    "We're where semiconductors were 20 or 30 years ago," he said.

    The panelists did agree that the industry will continue to consolidate. The opportunities are ripe for companies that can offer integrated technologies and services. SunPower, for example, acquired solar system integrator PowerLight Corp. for $332.5 million last year.

    "Solar's on the verge of going mainstream and will become a much bigger industry," Werner said. "There's going to be a land grab like the Wild Wild West." - thanks to Mary Kathleen Flynn, The Deal Blogs

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Indian Telcos try alternative energy to ease costs

    Telecom companies like Bharti, Reliance and BSNL are looking at alternative sources of energy to cut their expenditure on development of infrastructure sites.

    Telecom companies spend 30-40 per cent of their operating expenditure on running the towers on power. Solar energy, wind energy and bio-diesel are expected to be the new sources of power.

    “We have successfully conducted a pilot testing in Orissa using a hybrid of wind and solar energy to generate power,” said Senior Vice-President of Bharti Infratel VS Rawat.

    Infrastructure sites need a round-the-clock power supply. Due to shortage of power in rural areas, operators have to be dependent on generators that run on diesel. This increases operational cost. Major part of the energy is consumed by air conditioners required at cell sites. Operators in some areas have resorted to “heat exchanger” and other passive cooling devices, to work as an alternative to air conditioners.

    Relliance Communications has also resorted to other non-conventional sources of energy. “Alternative sources of energy cannot fully replace the existing sources of power. We have tried non-conventional sources of power at many rural sites, bio-fuel being one of them,” a company source said.

    Bharti Airtel aims at installing 30,000 more towers this year, taking the total number of towers in its possession to 70,000.

    “We spend around Rs 15,000 on power in a month at every site,” added Rawat.

    BSNL has already used alternative modes of power. “We have used solar energy in places where efficient power is inaccessible,” said AK Gupta, Senior Deputy Director General (Civil).

    Friday, May 11, 2007

    Bill Increasing Fuel Economy Clears Senate Committee

    A bill to raise CAFE standards to 35 mpg by 2020 is heading to the Senate floor

    [From the LA Times:]

    In a sign of congressional concern over near record-high gasoline prices and global warming, a Senate committee Tuesday approved legislation calling for the most significant increase in vehicle fuel efficiency in decades.

    The measure would boost the fleetwide average fuel economy standards to 35 mpg by 2020, up from 25. It now goes to the Senate, where a similar measure was defeated two years ago after heavy lobbying by automakers.

    This time, however, the bill was being backed by a number of lawmakers who previously opposed tougher standards. And it comes when congressional Democratic leaders have pledged to pass legislation to address climate change.

    Cars and light trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickups and vans, account for about one-fifth of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

    "This marks a pretty significant change in the Congress," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who has voted against tougher fuel-economy rules but is now sponsoring legislation to raise the standards.

    The bill's approval by the Senate Commerce Committee marked only the opening round, with lawmakers from vehicle-manufacturing states vowing to fight a measure they believe could hurt the struggling U.S. auto industry. Environmental groups also assailed the bill, contending that it contained loopholes that could lead to lower increases than promised.

    The bill represents the first major revision of the fuel-economy program established during the oil price shocks of the 1970s. It would require the nationwide fleet of cars and light trucks sold in the country to average 35 mpg by 2020. A 4% annual increase in fuel economy would be required for vehicles made from 2021 to 2030.

    The legislation, however, would give the Transportation Department latitude to permit a lower standard if it determined that the costs of imposing stricter rules outweighed the benefits.

    Currently, each automaker's car fleet must average 27.5 mpg, a requirement that has not changed for about 18 years, and light trucks must average 22.2 mpg, which will go to 24 by 2011.

    The action came as gas prices moved back to center stage on Capitol Hill, with Democrats and Republicans sparring over each other's record in seeking to bring down energy costs.

    Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, announced that his panel would examine the causes behind fluctuations in fuel prices.

    During Tuesday's Senate Commerce Committee meeting, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recalled driving past a filling station in San Francisco last weekend.

    "We couldn't believe our eyes — $4.25 a gallon!" she said.

    Desperate to do something to respond to the high prices, the committee attached to the fuel-economy bill a measure that would establish new federal penalties for gas price-gouging.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), among the leading advocates for stricter fuel economy rules, cheered the committee vote.

    "Legislation to improve fuel economy has been bottled up for more than two decades," she said. "Now we have a realistic chance at a strong bill that increases fuel economy by 10 mpg over 10 years — and 4% a year beyond that."

    Environmentalists were less enthusiastic.

    "On the one hand, it's a start," said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program. "On the other hand, it's a pretty weak start. It doesn't actually require the administration to act, so there is no guarantee that fuel economy goes up."

    Joan Claybrook, a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who is now president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, called the bill "a political compromise that now compromises the very purpose of the fuel economy program."

    They pledged to work to strengthen the measure as it moves through Congress, though that could set up a veto showdown with President Bush. Bush has called for tougher fuel economy rules, but opposes Congress mandating a standard.

    Feinstein, however, said the only way that the full benefits of the bill would not be achieved was "if the government shows that the costs to the country as a whole would be greater than the benefits." And she added: "I believe this would be highly unlikely given the spike in gasoline prices, the national security and environmental costs of our oil dependency, and the huge fuel savings that would be achieved as a result of this bill."

    Auto industry officials called the tougher standards "unattainable" and contended that they would deny consumers the SUVs they cherish.

    "If higher standards make vehicles less attractive to consumers, vehicle sales will drop, negatively impacting auto dealers, suppliers, automakers and the U.S. economy," the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group, said in a letter to lawmakers.

    The United Auto Workers also opposed the measure.

    Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the committee's top Republican, said the bill was "not perfect, but it is a constructive step toward addressing the nation's energy crisis and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."

    30 States and Two Provinces Join California In Climate Registry

    31 states form a registry to measure and track greenhouse gas emissions by industry

    [From the LA Times:]

    Led by California, 31 states representing more than 70% of the U.S. population announced Tuesday that they would measure and jointly track greenhouse gas emissions by major industries [click the thumbnail at right to see a map of states involved in the registry].

    The newly formed Climate Registry is the latest example of states going further than the federal government in taking steps to combat global warming. State officials, along with some industrial groups and environmentalists, say the registry is a crucial precursor to both mandatory and market-based regulation of industrial gases that contribute to warming.

    All agree that the most important part of the new registry is subjecting emissions statistics to third-party verification — unlike a Bush administration program that does not require verification.

    "You have to be able to count carbon pollution in order to cut carbon pollution," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    "The registry gives business and policymakers an essential accounting tool for tracking the success of the many emerging global warming emission reduction initiatives that are blossoming across the country."

    The registry participants range from states that are moving aggressively to impose mandatory greenhouse gas reduction policies to others that are just beginning to examine whether to take even voluntary steps.

    "This includes a lot of deeply conservative states who have signed on that we weren't expecting," said Nancy Whalen, spokeswoman for the California Climate Action Registry, the only current statewide emissions tracking system, which helped develop the multistate program.

    "We're all going to be measuring in the same way, so there's not going to be a patchwork of different programs out there."

    California registry officials worked closely with New England states to develop the system.

    The new registry will be based in Washington, D.C., and will have regional offices. It will begin tracking data in January.

    Bob Malone, chairman and president of energy giant BP America, said: "We believe a credible reporting system of greenhouse gas emissions is the first step in developing government policy and corporate programs."

    BP produces and sells fuel to power plants, cars and trucks, the main contributors to greenhouse gases. The company is among several that applauded the creation of the registry, believing that in time they can profit from accurate reporting and reduction of their emissions.

    Joining the registry is easy. A governor just needs to sign off on its principles, which include agreeing to "provide an accurate, complete, consistent, transparent and verified set of greenhouse gas emissions data … supported by a robust accounting and verification infrastructure."

    The registry will be funded by industry fees, foundation donations and public money.

    Some Democrats criticized the Bush administration for not doing more, leaving states to act.

    "The Climate Registry is another example of how states are taking the lead in the absence of federal action to address greenhouse gas emissions in this country," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, whose state is a charter member.

    White House Council on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer responded:

    "Apparently the critics are not paying attention to what has been happening in Washington. In 2002 President Bush called for the creation of a national reporting registry, and the federal government followed that call by creating state-of-the-art reporting protocols where businesses and institutions submit comprehensive reports on their greenhouse gas emissions, sequestration and reductions."

    Hellmer added, "We welcome this action by the states as it is supplementing the extensive work already done at the federal level."

    But industry, environmental and state officials said that although the U.S. Department. of Energy has a registry, it did not require independent verification of data, among other key differences.

    Energy Department spokeswoman Megan Barnett said the department in April 2006 strengthened its reporting guidelines by recommending, but not requiring, that they be third-party verified.

    Kerry E. Kelly, a lobbyist for Waste Management, a national trash hauling firm that owns landfills that emit methane, another greenhouse gas, said that although there was nothing wrong with the federal program, the multistate approach would work better because of its uniform reporting standards.

    "I would think that it would become a model for the federal government to look at," said Kelly.

    Dale Bryk , an attorney for the NRDC, criticized the DOE registry for allowing participants to "cherry-pick and just report emissions data from facilities that are reducing pollution, without disclosing the emissions data from other facilities that are increasing pollution."

    Some said the registry was an improvement over the federal effort, but imperfect because it was still voluntary.

    "A mandatory registry would be better," said V. John White, head of a Sacramento-based energy and environment group.

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said of the new registry: "I'm proud that [it] was modeled after California's Climate Action Registry and trust that the rest of the nation will join our fight to protect the environment and secure a sound economy."

    In addition to the 31 states, the Campo Kumeyaay Nation of Native Americans in Campo, Calif., near the Mexican border, has joined.

    Two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Manitoba, also have signed on.

    More information is available at

    Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    Wal-Mart announces large solar power projects

    Today Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT), announced a major purchase of solar power from three solar power providers, BP Solar, SunEdison LLC, and PowerLight, a subsidiary of SunPower Corporation, for 22 combined Wal-Mart stores, Sam’s Clubs and a distribution center in Hawaii and California. As part of a pilot project to determine solar power viability for Wal-Mart, the total solar power production from the 22 sites is estimated to be as much as 20 million kWh (kilowatt-hours) per year. When fully implemented, the aggregate purchase could be one of the U.S., if not the world’s, top-10 largest ever solar power initiatives.

    “We are taking aggressive steps towards our goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy,” said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy for Wal-Mart. “The pilot project is yet another example of Wal-Mart’s commitment to making decisions that are good for business and the environment.”

    “We applaud Wal-Mart’s drive to increase its use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and look forward to the long-term positive impact their efforts will have on our environment,” said Ron Judkoff, director of the Buildings and Thermal Systems Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “Wal-Mart’s decision to take advantage of the economic and environmental benefits of solar power and energy efficiency technologies is a great step in the right direction.”

    The solar power pilot project is a major step toward Wal-Mart’s goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy. Each solar power generating system installed can provide up to 30 percent of the power for the store on which it is installed. By Wal-Mart’s estimates, installing the solar power systems will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6,500-10,000 metric tons per year. “Pilot project stores are expected to achieve savings over their current utility rates immediately—as soon as the first day of operation,” said David Ozment, director of energy for Wal-Mart.

    “As a global business leader, Wal-Mart has chosen to generate clean, renewable solar power at its facilities because it makes good business sense and supports the company’s environmental initiatives,” said Tom Werner, chief executive officer of SunPower. “SunPower and our PowerLight subsidiary are committed to making solar an affordable, simple choice for businesses. We are very pleased to partner with Wal-Mart on this initiative.”

    “Wal-Mart has demonstrated a true commitment to energy conservation, reduction of energy costs, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jigar Shah, chief executive officer of SunEdison. “We look forward to moving ahead with the project and working with Wal-Mart to determine how to best reach their renewable energy goals. These simplified solar-powered energy services will enable Wal-Mart to realize that environmental conservation can be enjoyed in accordance with the benefits of reduced as well as predictable long term energy pricing.”

    SunEdison will provide the four solar power systems in Hawaii and four in California, while PowerLight and BP Solar will each supply seven systems in California. The systems installations are subject to receiving the appropriate permits and approvals in their respective states. Wal-Mart will use the power generated by the solar panels onsite at each store and will also keep the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) the units produce, which is unique among most solar power purchases. Enabling Wal-Mart to maintain ownership of the RECs and its stores’ environmental benefits is another important factor in allowing Wal-Mart to reach its goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.

    BP Solar agrees Wal-Mart’s pilot project is a move in the right direction for business and environment. “We’re delighted Wal-Mart has decided to move forward with these solar power installations and believe the company will soon see significant reductions in its electric bills and help lower greenhouse gas emissions,” said Lee Edwards, chief executive officer of BP Solar. “By working together, companies like BP and Wal-Mart help make solar more affordable for everyone.”

    Wal-Mart is currently testing renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar power generation, in its experimental stores in McKinney, Texas and Aurora, Colorado. Along with the learnings from these stores, the company will use the results of the pilot project and its solar power purchase to explore additional ways to achieve its renewable energy goals and determine how to move forward with solar power generation at additional Wal-Mart stores, Sam’s Clubs, and distribution centers.

    About Wal-Mart
    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. operates Wal-Mart discount stores, Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and Sam’s Club locations in the United States. The Company operates in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom. The Company’s securities are listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol WMT. More information about Wal-Mart can be found by visiting Online merchandise sales are available at

    About BP Solar
    BP Solar is a key business within BP Alternative Energy and a global company with over 2200 employees focused on harnessing the sun’s energy to produce solar electricity. This includes the design, manufacture and marketing of quality solar electric systems for a wide range of applications in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. With over 30 years of experience and installations in over 160 countries, BP Solar is one of the world’s largest solar companies and has manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Spain, India and Australia. BP Solar is part of BP, one of the world’s leading energy companies. To learn more, visit

    About SunEdison
    Sun Edison, LLC, is North America’s leading solar energy services provider. SunEdison provides solar-generated energy at or below current retail utility rates to a broad and diverse client base of commercial, municipal and utility customers. For more information about SunEdison, please visit The company headquarters is located in Beltsville, Md.

    About SunPower
    SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR) designs, manufactures and markets high-performance solar electric technology worldwide. SunPower’s high-efficiency solar cells and panels generate up to 50 percent more power per unit area than conventional solar technologies and have a uniquely attractive, all-black appearance. SunPower’s PowerLight subsidiary is a leading global provider of large-scale solar power systems, with over 100 megawatts installed. For more information on SunPower please visit the SunPower website at SunPower is a majority-owned subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor Corp. (NYSE: CY)

    Endesa, Faconauto sign solar energy joint venture, to invest up to 20 mln eur

    MADRID (Thomson Financial) - Endesa SA and the Spanish Federation for Automobile Concessionaries (Faconauto) have signed an agreement to install solar panels at the Federation's plants through an investment of up to 20 mln eur.

    In a statement, Endesa said the panels will cover an area of around 500,000 square metres and generate some 50.5 gigawatt/hour a year.

    The move will reduce carbon dioxide emissions at the plants by 17,092 tons a year.

    LED Lighting Fixtures Receives First Patent

    Patent Covers Innovative Technology for Creating White Light.
    LED Lighting Fixtures, Inc. (LLF) today announced that the U.S. Patent Office has issued LLF's first patent # 7,213,940. The '940 patent titled Lighting Device and Lighting Method, covers a unique approach for LEDs to create white light. The LED industry typically produces white light by either coating true blue LEDs with a YAG phosphor or combining red, green and blue LEDs. LLF uses a new and distinctive approach described in the '940 patent to deliver the high efficacy and excellent color quality found in all of LLF's products.
    Tony van de Ven, an LLF founder and co-inventor, said, "The '940 patent covers our core technology and we are thrilled that our unique methods are now protected in the United States. Our approach to white light is very elegant and allows us to use any LED chip source or package available in the industry.
    LLF's technology will deliver the first high volume, energy efficient lighting products to the market and our fixtures should outperform all conventional sources, including compact fluorescent bulbs."
    LLF is demonstrating its LR6 products and a new four-inch downlight product called LR4 at the 2007 Lightfair International Trade Show held at the Javits Convention Center in New York City beginning today through May 10, 2007 in booth number 2921. LLF is also displaying two new commercial prototype lights at Lightfair 2007.

    LED Lighting Fixtures, Inc. (LLF) is a privately held company headquartered near Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Its mission is to accelerate the adoption and evolution of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) into high volume general lighting applications so that consumers can realize lower energy and maintenance costs. LED lighting is significant as it is expected to provide decades of lifetime under normal operation, and it uses a fraction of the power required for traditional lighting solutions. For more information about LED Lighting Fixtures, Inc., please visit our website at

    Monday, May 07, 2007

    Storing Energy: Perspectives

    California's Solar Initiative is expected to drive an increase in photovoltaic installations across the state. As a result, Southern California Edison wants to improve the value of that electricity by shifting solar output so that it more accurately matches peak load.

    The key: energy storage. Each day, solar panels on customers' roofs would generate power that would be stored in batteries. At certain points, the utility would discharge that electricity on to the grid so that it can meet peak demand elsewhere in its service territory. The whole transaction is enabled through sophisticated software that communicates with the installed battery devices. The ultimate goal -- as set by the California Energy Commission that is helping to fund the project -- is to displace natural gas-fired generation.

    Energy storage gives utilities, power marketers and large commercial or industrial customers the flexibility to respond to power shortages, price spikes or brownouts. Utilities, for instance, must precisely measure their load generation with the demands of their end users -- a difficult task given that energy usage fluctuates, particularly at industrial sites that routinely implement new processes. Without adequate generation capacity, all wholesale buyers of electricity would be subject to the whims of the market.

    "Storage systems are real," says Matt Johnson, director of business development for Gaia Power in New York City, which is working with Southern California Edison (SCE) on its pilot project. "The batteries store base-load output and release that energy when they have trouble meeting peak demand. We have seen interest from other utilities. SCE should roll out its project this summer. There are not many utility installations to date. But battery technologies are improving in terms of cost and functionality. As prices come down, there will be greater calls for energy storage."

    Utilities sometimes have excess generation and distribution services that serve to back-up the system in case of a failure, or during periods of peak demand. The reality is that those assets are often underutilized because they may only run at capacity for a fraction of the day -- or year. A storage device could enhance the performance, for example, by putting less strain on the system. In other words, users can power-up with the "battery" instead of directly from the grid that might have its resources tapped at a given time.

    The market potential, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, is $3 billion to $5 billion a year. Besides utilities, businesses might also benefit. They could hook up the batteries at night and use them during the day when demand on utilities is highest. Or, conversely, residential users may find such systems worthy, says Gaia Power. That's because the storage systems charge off the grid and discharge when there is an outage, producing less noise and fewer emissions than individual generators.

    Game Changer

    To be sure, the technologies to allow for energy storage are in their infancies. And, even if they can be shown to work, there are still downsides to using them. At this point, it is difficult to gauge just how efficient such devices are as well as the potential environmental effects. It's a technology, for example, that gets its energy supply from a generation source and must therefore be used in combination with either central or distributed generation resources. At the same time, batteries are now relatively expensive and have a limited life expectancy.

    According to the Energy Department, the technology has a lot of market potential and environmental benefits. It can help utilities avoid downtime and thereby save billions in repairs and lost opportunities while also allowing such companies to sell blocks of peak power at premium prices. Environmentally, it will facilitate the development of more wind and solar power that is not always available but which -- through storage devices -- can be bottled and then subsequently discharged when needed.

    "The prognosis is that several utility companies are beginning to find that energy storage can be cost effective in certain applications and certain locations," says John Boyes, manager of energy storage at distributed energy resources at Sandia National Laboratories, in a phone interview. "It is coming and it will change the way utilities and electric consumers do business."

    Besides those projects being facilitated by the California Energy Commission, Boyes points to those being developed by American Electric Power and the Long Island Power Authority. The former is doing so to defer an upgrade. AEP, meantime, is discussing how to expand the concept and will likely do so in the next three years, adds Boyes.

    For its part, the California Energy Commission has called new energy storage a "high priority." It says that the technology will play a pivotal role in the state's pursuit to become a leading provider of renewable energy sources.

    According to Ed Kjaer, director of electric transportation at SCE that is part of the energy commission's initiative, the utility expects there to be 5 million advanced meters in its service territory by 2012. That technology will work in conjunction with "battery packs" that recharge at night via the grid and then release that power during the day to help it meet peak energy demand.

    "Energy storage is a game changer," says Kjaer, in a talk with this writer. "As the batteries mature, the utility industry will be able to use energy storage for several applications." That includes powering anything from cars to homes and businesses.

    Meeting peak demand has always been an expensive proposition. Historically, it's been less costly to build new infrastructure or to just buy on the spot market than to consider energy storage. Through public-private partnerships, however, researchers say that battery-powered storage devices will gain traction in the not too distant future.

    Source: EnergyBiz Insider

    Saturday, May 05, 2007

    Ice Energy Wins Red Herring 100 Award

    Ice Energy, the leading provider of permanent load shifting Ice Storage Air Conditioning (ISAC) systems, today announced that the company is a recipient of Red Herring 100 Spring, an award given by Red Herring to the top 100 private technology companies based in North America.

    On any given day, air conditioning (AC) accounts for one-third of the total electricity demand on the nation's strained power grid, and on hot days causes blackouts and puts less efficient, more polluting power generation into use. Ice Energy directly addresses that problem with its Ice Bear unit, a turnkey module that uses off-peak electricity to make and store ice at night when electricity is cleaner and less expensive. During the day, the system uses the stored ice rather than mid-day electrical power to chill the AC refrigerant. Efficiently shifting over 90 percent of AC electricity consumption, the system is able to provide immediate and efficient cooling for commercial and municipal buildings through the hottest hours of the day.

    "This honor from Red Herring is testament to the innovative and consequential nature of Ice Energy's technology," said Frank Ramirez, CEO of Ice Energy. "With summer strain already compromising our nation's grid and demand continuing to grow three to five times base load, there is no question that the peak demand problem is pervasive. We look forward to making good on Red Herring's commendation as Ice Energy continues to work with utilities, customers and partners across the country to combat peak electricity demand, reduce carbon dioxide and other polluting emissions, and maintain the cool comfort of our buildings."

    About Ice Energy, Inc.

    Ice Energy(R) is an energy technology company focused on energy storage and advanced cooling and refrigeration products and technologies. The company manufactures and markets a new Ice Storage Air Conditioner (ISAC) product line for residential and commercial applications that addresses the increasing demand for electricity. Ice Energy's products shift the largest component of residential and commercial peak demand -- air conditioning -- from expensive "on-peak" times of the day to "off-peak" periods, when energy is less expensive and less polluting. Recently approved as an optional compliance measure for California's Title 24 building energy efficiency standards, the Ice Bear(R) system provides superior cooling comfort while significantly reducing the cost of energy. For more information visit or call 877-5-ICEBEAR.

    Record plastic solar cell efficiency set

    U.S. scientists reported breaking the record for plastic solar cell efficiency, pushing it to more than 6 percent.

    The Wake Forest University scientists achieved the record efficiency for organic or flexible, plastic solar cells by creating "nano-filaments" within light absorbing plastic, similar to the veins in tree leaves. That allows for the use of thicker absorbing layers in the devices, which capture more of the sun's light.

    Traditional solar panels are heavy and bulky and convert about 12 percent of the light that hits them to useful electrical power.

    Three percent was the highest efficiency ever achieved for plastic solar cells until 2005 when David Carroll, director of the Wake Forest nanotechnology center, announced his group had come close to reaching 5 percent efficiency. Now Carroll said his group has surpassed the 6 percent mark.

    "Within only two years we have more than doubled the 3 percent mark," Carroll said. "I fully expect to see higher numbers within the next two years, which may make plastic devices the photovoltaic of choice."

    The achievement is to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters.
    Source: Press release

    Wednesday, May 02, 2007

    2007 Outlook on Renewable Energy in America

    Just published by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), this landmark document presents a shared statement by the renewable energy community putting forth a scenario by which renewable energy could provide over 600 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity by 2025 – a substantial contribution and potentially more than the nation's need for new capacity.

    In addition, the report says that renewable fuels can serve a large portion of U.S. oil consumption needs. Recent studies suggest that biofuels could supply 30% to 40% of U.S. petroleum products by 2030.

    This includes:

    Wind power 248 GW
    Solar energy and power 164 GW
    Water power 23 GW
    Geothermal energy and power 100 GW
    Biomass energy, power, and fuels 100 GW

    The report dispels the commonly held notion that renewable energy cannot supply the energy needs of a growing American economy. The report is not a forecast – it is a scenario of what is achievable if the country wants it and is willing to embrace the public policies to make it happen.

    In addition, there is outlook reference material from the U.S. Department of Energy, Electric Power Research Institute, Energy Information Administration, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Western Governors’ Association.

    Download report