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Aug 152012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

High Speed Rail presents so much promise: It’s the greenest way to travel on anything powered by an engine. It bolsters economic development and connects cities.  Its build-out creates thousands of jobs. And riding on it comes with WiFi and doesn’t require a body search. At least not yet.

So why aren’t we moving faster in the U.S. toward this 21st Century vision?

Money. Money. And money. High speed rail is a capital-intensive proposition. It takes lots of cash to obtain land, rights-of-way and bore a path into cities rife with potential obstacles, from competing modes of travel to layers of governmental bodies that may or may not embrace 220 mph rail lines. Station sites must be found, and built. Public hearings set. And so forth. Setting the stage for high speed rail can be grindingly slow, and the build-out figures frighteningly high. It’s tailor-made for paralysis.

The numbers tossed around are all in the billions, from $20 billion to link a couple cities (if all goes really well) to $150 billion for a true high speed rail network in the Northeast U.S. to say half of a trillion (how many zeroes is that?) for a national high speed rail network. (That last figure comes from the Association for Public Transportation, which admits it’s probably low.)

High speed rail plans in the U.S. call for a line through the Central Valley in California. The existing Washington to NYC route is considered "higher speed" rail. Other lines shown here are part of potential high speed regional networks. (Source: International Union of Railways.)

High speed rail is costly in the best of times, and these, of course, are not the best of times. Around the world, high-speed electric train travel is coming into its own — connecting dozens of cities in China and bursting onto the scene in India, Saudi Arabia and Africa.

In the U.S.? Not so much. The zenith of passenger rail remains in our rear view mirror and high speed rail is stuck on the drawing board, with a couple notable exceptions.

Most high speed rail lines, such as the famous, groundbreaking Shinkansen line built in 1964 in Japan, were built with public money (and in some cases private firms joined as rail operators). But public money is in short supply in the U.S., among other places. It’s committed to payments on deficit spending, entitlements and military costs.

At the 5th Annual Global High -Speed Rail Forum in Irving, Texas, yesterday, at least two speakers blurted out what must have been on many minds: “I hate to think of us (the U.S.) as being last.”

Last is not where the U.S. likes to be. But when it comes to high speed rail, the fact that we’re still debating the merits while other countries are connecting cities, doesn’t suggest we’ll be winning the ground race like we did the space race. (In fact, the maps below make it clear we’re already well behind Europe and Asia.)

Several of the speakers at the Irving conference outlined plans for how the U.S. could kick-start high speed rail. Some suggested a patchwork approach, allowing the most motivated cities and states to connect to each other, building a messy, intricate, but ultimately functioning system that would be paid for incrementally. Others said the way to go is to divide the nation into three mega-routes; one running the length of the East Coast, another cutting from Minneapolis to Dallas and Houston, and a third down the West Coast. Public-private partnerships would work together to realize these mega routes, with the government taking on the land issues and the private investors promised a rate of return and operations licenses.

Sounds good. Maybe.We’re hoping. It could benefit harried travelers, frustrated real estate developers, companies that could ship goods this way, billionaires in need of a plan, people who don’t like to fly and the big beneficiary who shall not be named — the climate. High speed rail is the greenest mass transit around, even if it runs on electricity generated by coal-fired plants, and could greatly reduce carbon emissions by getting people into trains and off planes and cars for regional travel.  Being electric, it also could be powered by renewable, clean energy as power plants transition that direction.

Will the U.S. find the money, the innovative funding and the political will to create a national high speed rail network? Will the airlines fight plans that keep bubbling up in places like Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, or join in and see opportunities as Sir Richard Branson has done in the United Kingdom with his Virgin rail cars?

Will the Tea Party continue to sour the deal in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, where Tea-ish governors returned federal money to develop high speed rail plans? Or will California, which recently approved public financing to begin building its HSR lines, set a model for the rest of the country? Will Texas fund a rail line from Houston to D/FW entirely with private money collected in 10-gallon hats?

Who knows? We’re on the edge of our seats, which aren’t moving at 220 mph. Not yet. (I made up the part about the hats.)

Meantime, here’s where the rest of the world is going with HSR, according to a 2012 report by the International Union of Railways. based in Paris:

China has connected Beijing with Shanghai and Ningbo with Xiamen and is moving inland with HSR destined for several cities. (Source: International Union of Railways.)

Europe's economic slowdown will affect rail development, but the head start it forged beginning in the 1990s gives it a rich framework it can build upon. (Source: International Union of Railways.)

India's high speed rail plans would span outward from major population centers like Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. (Source: International Union of Railways.)

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

May 252010

From Green Right Now Reports

Whatever the state of the political debate about climate change, the issue increasingly looks settled in the board room. Despite challenging economic conditions and regulatory uncertainty, global executives believe that the climate change agenda will significantly impact business performance and strategy over the next few years according to a new survey by Ernst & Young.

The survey, “Action amid uncertainty: the business response to climate change,” found that corporate executives expect to make significant investments to deliver both cost savings and revenue generation opportunities relating to climate change. Seventy percent plan to increase spending on climate change initiatives between 2010 and 2012. Nearly half plan to spend between 0.5 percent to more than 5 percent of their revenue on climate change initiatives. For a U.S. $1 billion company, this represents an anticipated spend of $5 million to $50 million annually.

Three hundred global corporate executives from 16 countries with at least $1 billion in annual revenue participated in the survey conducted during spring 2010.

“Corporate leaders are not letting the lack of global standards and regulations slow their climate change investments,” Steve Starbuck, Americas Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader at Ernst & Young LLP, said in a statement. “Other market drivers, such as equity analysts’ growing interest in climate change performance, are prompting a further need to act and be more transparent,”

Consumers and equity analysts are two of the factors driving this investment trend, Ernst & Young says. Corporate climate change activities are being driven by evolving customer demands according to 89 percent of survey respondents. Some sectors, including automotive, consumer products, and technology, unanimously agree that changing customer preferences have created significant drivers for action and innovation. Meanwhile, equity analysts are increasingly linking the business response to climate change and company valuations. Over 40 percent of the senior executives surveyed believe that equity analysts currently include climate change-related factors in company valuations.

Energy efficiency is at the top of the list as 82 percent of respondents plan to invest in this space over the next 12 months. About half of the respondents confirm new ventures, such as spin-offs or start-up businesses, as an area for focus. Additionally, 65 percent of executives intend to focus investments on new products and services.

Ninety four percent of respondents see national policies as important or very important in shaping their climate change strategies, although 81 percent recognize the importance of global or international policies.

“Keeping abreast of national climate change legislation and business incentives across jurisdictions will prove challenging, but necessary for many businesses, even those that do not traditionally regard themselves as multi-national due to the connectivity of supply chains and markets,” Dr. Lorraine Stephenson, Ernst & Young Partner and Oceania Climate Change Leader, said in a statement. “Businesses will need to prioritize investments to capture opportunities and mitigate risks in response to the growing number of climate change policies, in developing and developed countries, since the December Copenhagen meeting.”

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • In the developing economies of China and India, executives rank product development as the top challenge to achieving their goals, 97 percent and 72percent respectively. Respondents in Australia, Canada, U.S., Japan, Germany and France indicate that regulatory and compliance issues present primary challenges in the next two years.
  • Approximately 66 percent of respondents are discussing climate change programs with their suppliers and 36 percent of respondents are already working directly with these stakeholders to decrease the carbon in their supply chains.
  • Transparent reporting is gaining momentum, as 64 percent of respondents report greenhouse gas data in an annual corporate social responsibility or sustainability report. Of the organizations that say they report, 62 percent verify their data through an independent, third-party.

The Ernst & Young study was performed by Verdantix, an independent analyst research organization focused on sustainable business. Respondents were drawn from across 16 countries and 18 industry sectors.

May 082009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Global wind power installations grew by 29 percent in 2008, exceeding past performance and bringing the world’s commercial wind power capacity to 120,798 megawatts.

Wind now produces 1.5 percent of the world’s electricity with 80 countries using commercial wind power, according to an analysis by the Worldwatch Institute released this week.

The U.S. claimed much of that growth, with more than 42 percent of the power capacity added in 2008. The U.S. was the leader in new installations (passing Germany), and also became the world leader in cumulative wind power capacity with 25,170 megawatts of capacity at the end of 2008, according to Worldwatch.

Natural gas still added capacity faster than wind; despite wind’s surging growth trajectory.

Elsewhere in the world, wind strengthened its position in several key population centers, according to Worldwatch:

  • Wind became Europe’s leading source of new electric capacity with 8,877 megawatts added, outpacing new natural gas and coal facilities. Wind power now accounts for 8 percent of the European Union’s power capacity. Europe ended the year with 65,946 megawatts of capacity.
  • Germany leads the region in new installations, and despite a slowdown in production in 2008, still expects to generate 31 percent of the nation’s power from wind by 2030. It ranks second in the world in total wind capacity with 23,903 megawatts, just behind the U.S.
  • Spain was fourth worldwide in new installations in 2008, and ranks third after the United States and Germany for cumulative wind power capacity with 16,740 megawatts.
  • Asia accounted for nearly one-third of the global wind capacity added in 2008, with China passing its 2010 wind power target of 10,000 megawatts and ending 2008 with 12,200 megawatts in place. China ranks 4th in the world for total capacity.
  • India ranked third in wind capacity additions for 2008 with 1,800 megawatts of new wind added and now ranks 5th for total capacity worldwide.
  • Nearly 400,000 people are employed in the wind industry across the world, a number that could temporarily decline because of the economic downturn, according to Worldwatch, which also predicts that lower construction costs could lead to a long-term boom in wind.

“We’ve seen rapid and consistent global growth in the wind sector over the past decade, with an increasing number of countries turning to wind as a source of power,” said the report’s author, senior researcher Janet Sawin. “If these trends continue as expected, wind energy will play an integral role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media