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Sep 302013

North America’s first floating wind turbine, launched in May, is being hailed as a prototype for a future US offshore energy industry. While the small ”pilot phase” unit, sitting off the Maine coast, produces only enough electricity to power four homes, it represents the first stage of a far more ambitious project. Tara Cleary reports for Reuters.

Sep 202013

From Green Right Now Reports

The US EPA today released its proposal to restrict carbon emissions from new power plants, a major step toward curbing the greenhouse gases forcing climate change.

Environmentalists, including Al Gore, speaking as founder of the Climate Reality Project, praised the move:

This is a critical achievement for President Barack Obama and his administration. In the face of an intransigent and inactive Congress, the President has made halting the climate crisis a priority. The policies announced today, combined with the rest of the President’s Climate Action Plan, will put us on the path toward solving the climate crisis, but Congress must also soon face the reality of the situation.

Three years ago, Congress failed to put a price on carbon and, in doing so, allowed global warming pollution to continue unabated. We have seen the disturbing consequences that the climate crisis has to offer — from a drought that covered 60% of our nation to Superstorm Sandy which wreaked havoc and cost the taxpayers billions, from wildfires spreading across large areas of the American West to severe flooding in cities all across our country — we have seen what happens when we fail to act. We need a price on carbon. We need it now.

Gore wants a price on carbon pollution, others have called for a carbon tax. Both approaches aim to reduce carbon emissions faster, and both are controversial.

Today’s move by the EPA simply exercises the agency’s regulatory authority to set carbon pollution thresholds, just as it sets limits for other forms of pollution, such as mercury and arsenic emissions. The EPA has not previously set limits on carbon, but the U.S. Supreme Court settled a lawsuit over the issue, confirming that regulating greenhouse gas emissions is within the EPA’s authority.

With the new carbon rule, the EPA takes aims at the biggest single emitter of greenhouse gases, the electricity sector. Power plants running on fossil fuels account for about 33 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide.

GreenHouse Gases graphic EPA

GreenHouse Gas Emissions (Image: EPA)

The carbon limits released today would apply only to new power plants burning coal or natural gas. Still, they are expected to slow emissions by pushing  power producers to install carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants, switch to cleaner-burning natural gas or build more non-polluting renewal energy into their plans.

The new standards will “spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Under the new rules — subject to a 60-day public comment period — new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

Currently, coal-fired plants in the U.S. emit about double that amount of emissions, on average, according to EPA documents, which report that coal-fired generation plants emit about 2,249 lbs/MWh.

In tandem with today’s release,  officials also launched a “broad-based outreach” campaign to help states, non-profits, governments and labor work together to set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

Here’s more information for those who want to file a public comment about this proposal.



Sep 062013

Bloomberg’s “Planet Forward” host Frank Sesno examines how Air Fuel Synthesis, a British company, has synthesized gas using carbon in the air and hydrogen in water to fuel cars.

AFS says it is developing relationships with renewable technology partners and financiers to scale up its operations and accelerate the pace at which commercial, renewable and sustainable plants are established. The company says this will deliver commercially viable, carbon-neutral and sustainable fuel using renewable energy sources, rather than fossil fuels sooner – with early benefits in energy security, carbon footprint and first-mover advantages for early adopters of the technology.

Sep 052013
Solar panels on Walmart in Calif.

Solar panels on a Walmart in Calif.

Green Right Now Reports

A study of China’s solar markets has produced findings that should hearten those who hope to see the solar industry take off in the U.S.

The findings — that production scale, not labor costs — have produced China’s price and volume advantage in the PV market, suggest that solar prices could improve in the U.S. with indirect government subsidies enabling the industry to access capital.

In other words, China hasn’t produced cheaper PV solar panels by underpaying workers and lavishing the industry with direct government hand outs, as is widely believed, but by scaling up the industry, according to the report by MIT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

This means it could be easier to achieve the same in the U.S., according to Assessing the Drivers of Regional Trends in Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing.  The report, funded by the Department of Energy and  peer-reviewed, is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

According to a DOE statement on the study:

 The authors also found that technology innovation and global supply-chain development could enable increased manufacturing scale around the world, resulting in broader, subsidy-free PV deployment and the potential for manufacturing price parity in most regions. Their analysis indicates that further innovations in crystalline silicon solar cell technology may spur new investment, significantly enhancing access to capital for manufacturers in most regions and enabling scale-up, thus equalizing PV prices from manufacturers in the United States and China.

To put that in English: U.S.-made PV panels could become more affordable and competitive on the world market — and in the U.S. — with available financing for solar parts and technological development. Cheap labor doesn’t have to be in the equation.

DOE reports that the study concluded:

Excluding shipping costs, the team estimated that China-based manufacturers have a 23% MSP advantage over U.S.-based manufacturers today, taking into account differences in the manufacturing costs of modules, wafers, and cells within each country. Scale and supply-chain advantages account for the majority of a Chinese factory’s MSP advantage. These advantages, which are not unique to China, could be replicated by U.S.-based manufacturers if comparable scale can be achieved.

Sep 032013

Green Right Now Reports

The total tab for cleaning up Enbridge Oil’s Kalamazoo River spill is expected to be a whopping $1 billion, counting the costs of clean up and penalties for violating regulations.

All that and the cleanup isn’t even complete.

Enbridge pipe break at Kalamazoo, NTSB

The pipe break that leaked into surface water and the Kalamazoo River.

There’s still an estimated 180,000 gallons of oil believed to be oozing along the river’s bottom, with additional contaminated mud in lakes fed by the river. Enbridge expects to be dredging in those lakes until December.

Meanwhile, the pipeline operator continues to install new lines to carry Canadian crude to various points in the U.S. Midwest. An Enbridge line that will cross a swath of Indiana has worried some residents, who are asking  whether the company will provide all the safety measures necessary.

Compared with the record-shattering Deepwater Horizon/BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 workers and released around 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the Michigan spill a few months later in July 2010 was relatively small.

The Kalamazoo spill, emanating from a burst pipeline under a tributary of the river, gushed 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the stream and river before the pipeline was shut down, according to the EPA.

Here’s a summary of what happened from the National Transportation Safety Board, reporting two years later, in July 2012:

The oil saturated the surrounding wetlands and flowed into the Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Local residents self-evacuated from their houses, and the environment was negatively affected. Cleanup efforts continue as of the adoption date of this report, with continuing costs exceeding $767 million. About 320 people reported symptoms consistent with crude oil exposure. No fatalities were reported.

The NTSB cited the Enbridge for having an inadequate program to detect and respond to and repair leaks quickly; exposing a variety of shortcomings in its emergency systems.

But the incident also demonstrated that this type of spill, of diluted thick tar sands oil called bitumen, can be disproportionately damaging to the environment and difficult to clean up.


The Keystone XL pipeline route in green, orange and blue.

The heavy oil carried by the Enbridge line across Southwest Michigan didn’t float handily on the water’s surface where it could be skimmed or cordoned off, complicating and slowing the clean up effort.

The Enbridge mess just kept getting stickier and trickier as responding crews discovered that much of the heavy bitumen was submerged, drifting along the bottom.

Critics of tapping into Canadian tar sands say this elevated damage from spills is one reason they oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, set to bring Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas refineries in a 1,700-mile pipeline that will bisect the U.S.

Keystone XL so far lacks the presidential approval it needs (because it crosses an international border). Still, operator TransCanada received a permit to construct the Southern leg, laying pipeline across Oklahoma and East Texas.

So a portion of Keystone is already in place, despite fierce opposition from activists, coordinated by the Tar Sands Blockade, who clashed with construction crews and local law enforcement in several protest actions throughout 2012 and 2013.

The Keystone pipeline, like the Enbridge line, crosses numerous rivers and traverses land that rests over vast aquifers beneath Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. A leak of any significance could contaminate drinking water for millions, say opponents.

TransCanada has said its pipeline will be safe and presents little risk to the public.


Aug 162013

From Green Right Now Reports

President Obama’s making good on a promise this week to restore solar panels to the White House roof.

The installation of an unknown number of “American made” solar panels began this week, and will help demonstration that “historic buildings can incorporate solar energy,” according a source quoted by The Washington Post.

President Carter with Solar Panels, the WhiteHouse Library

President Carter with solar panels at the White House. (Photo: The White House Library)

The Administration pledged to go solar in 2010 after environmentalists met with White House staff to explain that solar panels would put the country’s first residence on the green energy path and send an important signal about renewables.

Those pushing the issue, which included environmentalist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben and several college students, reminded President Obama and staff that President Jimmy Carter had already taken the leap, 40 years before. But the photovoltaics that Carter had installed were removed by President Ronald Reagan.

McKibben said he was happy to hear the news, but his response on Twitter reflected the hesitancy of many environmentalists to unconditionally praise the Obama Administration, which they worry could negate its green energy gains by approving the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline this fall.

“Hearing reports solar may actually be coming to the White House roof–2nd term shaping up better than 1st? We’ll know with Keystone,” McKibben tweeted on Thursday.

The Keystone pipeline would enable the extraction and sale of billions of gallons of tar sands oil, which require large water inputs to extract. Environmentalists worry that the higher carbon footprint of tar sands oil will deluge the atmosphere with carbon dioxide pollution, which is the main contributor to the greenhouse effect warming the planet.

The White House solar project will include other energy retrofits, according to the Post, and will pay for itself over the next eight years.




Aug 012013

From Green Right Now Reports

Tired of dead zones, calving ice sheets, warming permafrost and coal pollution?

Yeah, we are too.

So we’re starting a periodic feature: And now for the good news! Here are a few recent hopeful pieces of flotsam pulled from the pileup of warnings, storm debris and disasters floating on the news stream.


Palo Alto, Wikimedia.org Smaller PROMO

Palo Alto, already renewable.

Palo Alto, Calif., will go all-renewable with its electricity starting . . . yesterday.

Yes, it’s true the Silicon Valley city, home to Stanford University, Internet bazillionaires like Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a handful of regular people is already all-green when it comes to the energy sources it uses.

Come to find out the dream capital of the Valley is fully powered by hydroelectric, wind and solar power. It made its carbon-free practice official policy starting this past Monday.

Read more at Renewable Economy.


The U.S. has got it, and we’re getting ready to use it.

offshore_wind_turbine small promo

Offshore wind projects can produce more power per turbine than land installations.

The state of Virginia, a heavily fossil fuel-dependent state, stands to be among the first to enjoy a burst of renewable power from offshore wind. In a news blip that many might have missed, the Obama Administration announced last week that it will be releasing 113,000 acres for lease about 24 nautical miles (27.6 regular miles) off the coast of Virginia Beach. The area will be bid at auction on Sept. 4 for a private company to develop.

A maximized project on this lease could bring 2,000 Megawatts of clean power to the grid, according to the government.

“We applaud the Department of Interior and its Virginia Stakeholder group for moving forward with the lease sale of the Virginia Offshore Wind Energy Area,” said David Carr, General Counsel at Southern Environmental Law Center in a statement. “We have urged the Department to structure the lease to ensure rapid assessment and development of this clean energy source, so that we can begin to replace our reliance on dirty coal-fired power plants.”

Key words: Replace dirty coal-fired power plants.

The U.S. has already put out leases in other locations off the East Coast, and just today approved a bid from Deepwater Wind New England for two offshore wind leases off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The area, about 10 miles off the coast, has the potential for generating about 3,300 Megawatts of power, the U.S. Department of the Interior reported.


Panthera, a conservation group devoted to saving Earth’s wild cats, has discovered that the endangered Sumatran Tigers are bouncing back in at least one small corner of their natural habitat.

Tiger, Andy Rouse, Panthera.org

Tigers are losing out to poachers. (Photo: Andy Rouse, Panthera.org)

The area, part of the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation in Southern Sumatra, Indonesia, has been a center for tiger conservation since 1996. A recent survey of the TWNC found an unexpectedly high concentration of six tigers per 100 square kilometers of territory.

Tiger expert and Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz praised the founder of the Tambling project, Indonesian businessman Tomy Winata for protecting the tigers from poaching and securing protected area for them, which has allowed the wild animals to breed.

“Tambling is a model tiger conservation site that is giving the Sumatran subspecies a real chance not just to recover…but to thrive,” Dr. Rabinowitz said in a statement this week.

In tandem with the tiger program, in which patrols maintain the habitat, Winata has helped villagers by supporting the community school, health clinic and jobs.

To see more about the project, watch for the BBC documentary Tiger Island.

The Tambling project is located within the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP).

Estimates show that only about 400-500 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild; and only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild worldwide (compared with an estimated 100,000 a century ago) . Tigers have lost more than 90 percent of their historic range over the last 100 years, pushed back by poaching, according to the IUCN.

Jul 162013

Billionaire Tom Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management LLC, talks about today’s release of a report by the non-profit organization Consumer Watchdog that says completion of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline will raise gas prices in the U.S. Steyer speaks with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop”:

Jul 102013

From Green Right Now Reports

Offshore-Wind-Farm-wind-energy in UK PROMOA 630 megawatt wind farm has opened off the coast of Essex and Kent in the United Kingdom, kicking off the UK’s big wind ambitions.

The 175 turbine project known as the London Array is capable of powering about 500,000 homes. It’s being lauded as putting Great Britain on the green energy map, much as Germany has been viewed for leaping ahead with solar power. Both countries could now be on track to meet climate change-related renewable energy targets.

The UK aims to get 30 percent of its power from renewables — wind, solar, waves etc. — by 2020; and its western exposures are perfect for harnessing the wind.

But there are clouds on the windy horizon. A new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, coming out just after the wind farm opening, predicts that Great Britain could end up with an expensive, but inadequate renewable energy program if it doesn’t commit more cash and effort to green energy.

“The current policy trajectory could achieve a worst of all worlds outcome – low volume [of energy generated], low jobs and high costs,” Will Straw, an associate director at the IPPR told The Guardian. “This would fail our climate challenge, our jobs challenge and our rebalancing [of the economy] challenge. Unless Britain pumps up the volume, there is little prospect of bringing down the costs of offshore wind or creating domestic jobs.”

British leaders also are talking about tapping shale oil reserves, which could also dampen enthusiasm for green energy, according to this Bloomberg report on the new wind farm.

Jul 092013

Gasland-Part-II By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

One of the talking points that has convinced Americans to look politely away from the muck and dirty water while the oil and gas industry fracks tens of thousands of gas wells in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wyoming, Colorado and beyond is the promise that the U.S. is “The Saudia Arabia of Natural Gas.”

Leaving aside the irony of the world’s richest democracy aspiring to be like a desert kingdom (albeit a wealthy one) dependent on a single finite natural resource, the spin goes something like this: Just hold on for the ride, and soon the America will be rolling in a vast supply of clean-burning, security-assuring natural gas, the fuel of the…ah, if not exactly the future, the vital “bridge fuel” that moves us away from dirty, polluting coal. Oh the jobs we’ll create! The manufacturing we’ll support!

The wells and watersheds we’ll contaminate!

That last sentence is not part of the script obviously.

But it is part of the reality. No longer can the defenders of gas drilling honestly say that they’ve never heard of a water well that’s been soiled by nearby drilling (unless they live in purposeful ignorance). A second documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox, Gasland: Part II, which premiered Monday on HBO, gives us a detailed, frightening look inside that reality, peeling back the oil and gas talking points to show us what’s really happening on the ground in the states “lucky” enough to be sitting atop shale oil formations being tapped for natural gas.

Fox, you’ll recall, sounded the early alarm about the side effects of fracking in his ground-breaking Gasland, 2010, which alerted Americans to the dangerous chemicals and methods involved in a newfangled way of drilling for natural gas called “fracking.”

Shale_gas US plays 400 pxl

There’s no doubt the U.S. has a rich resource of shale gas “plays”, shown here in pink. But critics say it’s environmentally risky to access this gas.

Gasland II follows up by agaain taking us on a wild tour of mostly rural America, meeting the angry, lovable, crazy everyday folks affected by the now full-fledged onslaught of fracking that’s sweeping the nation.

In Fox’s alternate-universe version of “America the Beautiful,”  we feast our eyes on cloudy glasses of contaminated water;  flaming hoses from water wells infected by methane; houses rendered valueless by next door gas wells; a smiling lady punching violent holes in a paper plate to demonstrate what’s happening beneath Arkansas and family albums of people with rashes and bloody noses that started after the air wafted in from nearby gas operations.

It’s a wheeze-worthy panoply of dire outcomes, leavened with appearances by celebrities like Yoko Ono and Pete Seeger and crusty characters like the cussing-mad Vietnam Purple Heart winner whom Fox jestingly blames for sabotaging the film’s G-rating.

Gasland Part II -- Steve Lipsky of Texas

Steve Lipsky, a North Texas homeowner, says his well became flammable after natural gas wells were drilled nearby. The gas company has accused Lipsky of rigging this demonstration.

But Fox doesn’t just leave us feeling bad for the unlucky IMBYs (look it up) who failed to get out of the way of the frackers. He moves into territory that’s even more fertile for exploration, asking, why is it that natural gas gets a pass?

Natural gas fracking, which injects a watery solution of dozens of corrosive, even carcinogenic chemicals thousands of feet into the earth, has been exempted from the Clean Water Act under the infamous 2005 “Halliburton Loophole.” It makes no sense,  knowing that over time a percentage of the well’s concrete casings will breakdown, enabling fluids to migrate outside the well. ( A phenomenon that Fox shows even the industry acknowledges in internal documents.)

Another potential powder keg of problems is that fracking wells and storage facilities leak tons of climate-damaging methane, making it not so clear that natural gas is “better than coal.”And yet the industry is hailed as producing a clean-burning, climate-saving product, and politicians at every tier, but particularly at the federal level, mimic the PR points instead of asking hard questions.

In Gasland II, Mr. Fox goes to Washington, where he interviews the handful of elected officials who agree to meet with him. Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) hits the nail on the head. The U.S. has no energy policy, but simply lurches from idea to idea, he says.

Gasland Part II PROMO

Filmmaker Josh Fox, director of Gasland: Part II.

The policy void creates the perfect platform for the oil and gas industry, wealthier by orders of magnitude than any nonprofit espousing emerging green energy, to fill in the blanks. Lobbyists blanket officials with contributions — thanks Citizens United — and presto, the U.S. national policy is to build a Saudia Arabia of Natural Gas.

But wait. It gets worse. The U.S. doesn’t even really need all the gas it’s extracting, because it has adequate wind, solar, wave and hydroelectric power to fulfill its needs (for powering buildings anyway), should it choose to move in that direction; though Fox only presents one primary expert on this point (many more would concur).

And so the plot thickens. Natural gas, it turns out, is destined for markets overseas, a plan that’s well underway and which Fox demonstrates by showing maps of all the pipelines and export depots in the works. This Plan B, which is really Plan A, is obviously not much discussed in public forums because it conflicts with the “energy security for America” message that the gas and oil companies have used to persuade the public to offer up the commons.

It does explain, however, why companies are rapidly punching holes in the ground, despite the fact that pricing for natural gas has not been that robust in the U.S..

Exporting will be lucrative for U.S. gas companies, as Fort Worth financial consultant Deborah Rogers tells Josh Fox. And once the gas is on the global market, where demand and prices already are higher, the overall price of natural gas will shoot up.

Then, we’ll be trapped, she predicts, saddled with a natural gas infrastructure that depends upon a finite fossil fuel prone to rising prices. It’s monopoly building.

It’s just like, oh yeah, the oil industry. So we really are going to become Saudia Arabia.

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