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Thursday, November 30, 2006

GM Will Focus on Electric-Drive Vehicles - Expanded Hybrid Offerings, Plug-ins in 2009

[From Green Car Congress:]

Speaking at the Los Angeles Auto Show, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner outlined the automaker’s planned efforts to diversify the sources of energy that power vehicles in the years to come. First on the list for GM is optimizing the use of conventional gasoline and diesel through increasing engine efficiency and working on partial fuel substitutions such as alternatives, biofuels (including flex-fuel vehicles) and synthetics.

Second is the development of electrically-driven vehicles, “beyond what have already committed to with our fuel cell and hybrid programs.”

"I’m announcing today that GM is significantly expanding and accelerating our commitment to the development of electrically driven vehicles...

First, electricity offers outstanding benefits…beginning with the opportunity to diversify fuel sources upstream of the vehicle. In other words, the electricity that is used to drive the vehicle can be made from the best local fuel sources—natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, hydroelectric, and so on. So, before you even start your vehicle, you’re working toward energy diversity.

Second, electrically driven vehicles…when operated in an all-electric mode…are zero-emission vehicles. And when the electricity, itself, is made from a renewable source, the entire energy pathway is emissions free.

Third, electrically driven vehicles offer great performance…with extraordinary acceleration, instant torque, improved driving dynamics, and so on.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute—what about hybrids? What about fuel cells? Didn’t GM already commit to those technologies?” And the answer is, “Yes, we did.” They are both big parts of our broader commitment to electrically driven vehicles…so, rest assured, we remain committed to both."
As part of the expanded focus on providing a range of electrification options, of providing what Troy Clarke, the President of General Motors North America described in a subsequent speech as “offering [a range of] fuel savings fuel at varying price levels,” GM:

  • Officially introduced GM’s first hybrid car, the Saturn Aura Green Line, which is based on the GM Hybrid System used in the VUE Green Line—a belt-alternator starter hybrid technology [see graphic above]. GM has already announced plans to expand the Hybrid system to the Malibu as well.

  • Introduced the new 2008 Saturn Vue which will also have an updated version of the VUE Green Line Hybrid powertrain;

  • Announced that in 2008, the VUE will become the first front-wheel application of the GM two-mode hybrid system being applied in the larger format Tahoe/Yukon SUVs. (GM has already announced that in 2008, the 2-mode hybrid system will expand to the Cadillac Escalade full-size SUV and the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra crew cab full-size pickups.)

  • Announced that in 2009, the 2-mode hybrid system in the VUE Green Line will be configurable as a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

  • Wagoner said:
    "I’m pleased to announce today that GM has begun work on a Saturn VUE plug-in hybrid production vehicle. The VUE plug-in hybrid, GM’s first, will use an advanced battery, like Lithium-Ion.

    ...production timing will depend on battery technology development. But based on our work with EV1 and our different hybrid-electric vehicles, we at GM already have a lot of experience developing and integrating advanced battery technology into our vehicles…and we’re working today with a number of battery companies to develop the technology necessary to build a plug-in hybrid.

    The technological hurdles are real…but I can tell you that this is a top priority program for GM, given the huge potential it offers for fuel-economy improvement."
    GM expects that the Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid will offer electric-only propulsion for more than 10 miles. At higher speeds or when conditions demand it, such as brisk acceleration, a combination of engine and electric power or engine power only will propel the vehicle.

    In addition to plug-in capabilities and the modified 2-mode hybrid system, the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid SUV’s powertrain will feature lithium-ion battery technology, two interior permanent magnet motors and GM’s 3.6L V-6 gasoline engine with direct injection.

    When ready for production, the li-ion energy storage system will be replenished when the battery charge is depleted to a specified level by utilizing the 2-mode hybrid system’s electric motors and regenerative braking systems. When the vehicle is parked, the battery can be recharged using a common household exterior 110-volt plug-in outlet.

    The 2-mode hybrid system will be altered for use with plug-in technology. It maintains two driving modes—one for city driving, the other for highway driving—and four fixed mechanical gears to maximize efficiency while maintaining performance. In addition, special controls will be utilized to enable higher speeds during electric-only propulsion and maintain electric-only propulsion for longer periods of time.

    GM rates the VUE Green Line hybrid as delivering a 20% fuel economy improvement over the base model. The company said that it expects the front wheel drive, two-mode hybrid VUE to improve overall fuel economy by 45% over today’s base VUE. Saturn chief Jill Lajdziak during her announcement of the plug-in work that she expects the plug-in powertrain to double the fuel efficiency of any SUV on the road.

    "I should point out that GM’s commitment to improving fuel economy, reducing vehicle emissions, and developing electrically driven vehicles is not a short-term strategy," Wagoner said. "We’re in this game for the long term."

    GM said that it will provide additional announcements on the development of electrically driven vehicles during the coming auto show season, including the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

    Read more!

    EPA Employees File Mass Petition Urging Action on Global Warming

    More Than Half of EPA Workforce Represented

    [From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:]

    In an unprecedented action, representatives for more than 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are calling on Congress to take immediate action against global warming, according to a petition released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The petition also calls for an end to censorship of agency scientists and other specialists on topics of climate change and the effects of air pollution.

    The petition stresses that time is running out to prevent cataclysmic environmental changes induced by human-caused pollution and urges Congress to undertake prompt actions:

    “If we wait, we will be committing the next generation of Americans to approximately double the current global warming concentrations, with the associated adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”
    The filing of this petition coincides with today’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on a case (Massachusetts v. EPA, Case No. 05-1120) brought by states seeking to force the Bush administration to regulate greenhouse gases that fuel global warming under the Clean Air Act [see previous post].

    The petition signatories represent more than half of the total agency workforce. Addressed to the members of the Senate and House committees overseeing EPA, the petition argues that:

  • The Bush administration strategy of “using primarily voluntary and incentive-based programs” to reduce greenhouse gases is not working nor “has [this approach] been effectively carried out;”

  • EPA has abdicated its enforcement responsibilities by “failing to investigate coal-electric plants for technical options to control carbon;” and

  • “EPA’s scientists and engineers [must be able] to speak frankly and directly with Congress and the public regarding climate change, without fear of reprisal.”

  • “Professionals working for the Environmental Protection Agency are protesting being ordered to sit on the sidelines while we face the greatest environmental challenge of our generation,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the petition began among agency staff. “Under a new Congress, perhaps the scientists at EPA can begin to directly communicate with their true employers – the American public.”

    The letter is signed by presidents of 22 locals of five unions: the American Federation of Government Employees, the Engineers and Scientists of California, the National Association of Government Employees, the National Association of Independent Labor, and the National Treasury Employees Union. These unions represent more than 10,000 EPA scientists, engineers and other technical specialists.

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

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    Supreme Court Hears Global Warming Case

    [From the New York Times, "Justices' First Brush with Global Warming", by Linda Greenhouse, 11/29/06:]

    A Supreme Court argument Wednesday on the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate carbon dioxide in automobile emissions offered three intertwined plot lines to the audience that had come to watch the court’s first encounter with the issue of global climate change.

    On one level, the argument was about the meaning of the Clean Air Act, which the Environmental Protection Agency maintains does not treat carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases as air pollutants and thus does not give the agency the authority to regulate them.

    On another level, the argument was about whether the dozen states, three cities and many environmental groups that went to federal court to challenge the agency’s position had legal standing to pursue their lawsuit.

    And on still another level, the courtroom action was an episode in a policy debate that began well before this case arrived on the Supreme Court’s docket and that will continue, in the political sphere, no matter what the justices decide.

    By the end of the argument, that continuing debate appeared the only certain outcome.

    The justices seemed deeply divided on the question of standing. Any plaintiff in federal court must establish standing to sue, by proving there is an injury that can be traced to the defendant’s behavior and that will be relieved by the action the lawsuit requests.

    Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., along with Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr., expressed strong doubts that the plaintiffs, represented by Assistant Attorney General James R. Milkey of Massachusetts, could meet those interrelated conditions by showing that global climate change presented a sufficiently tangible and imminent danger that could be adequately addressed by regulating emissions from new cars and trucks.

    “You have to show the harm is imminent,” Justice Scalia instructed Mr. Milkey, asking, “I mean, when is the cataclysm?”

    Mr. Milkey replied, “It’s not so much a cataclysm as ongoing harm,” arguing that Massachusetts, New York, and other coastal states faced losing “sovereign territory” to rising sea levels. “So the harm is already occurring,” he said. “It is ongoing, and it will happen well into the future.”

    Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito both suggested that because motor vehicles account for only about 6 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, even aggressive federal regulation would not be great enough to make a difference, another requirement of the standing doctrine.

    When Mr. Milkey replied that over time, “even small reductions can be significant,” Chief Justice Roberts responded: “That assumes everything else is going to remain constant, though, right? It assumes there isn’t going to be a greater contribution of greenhouse gases from economic development in China and other places that’s going to displace whatever marginal benefit you get here.” At another point, the chief justice said the plaintiffs’ evidence “strikes me as sort of spitting out conjecture on conjecture.”

    On the other side, Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter appeared strongly inclined to find that the plaintiffs had met the standing test.

    Justice Souter engaged Deputy Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre, the lawyer who was defending the administration’s position, in a long debate. When Mr. Garre said the plaintiffs “haven’t shown specific facts which should provide any comfort to this court that regulation of less than 6 percent or fewer greenhouse emissions worldwide will have any effect on their alleged injuries,” Justice Souter demanded: “Why do they have to show a precise correlation?”

    “It is reasonable to suppose,” the justice continued, “that some reduction in the gases will result in some reduction in future loss.” It was “a question of more or less, not a question of either/or,” he said, adding: “They don’t have to stop global warming. Their point is that it will reduce the degree of global warming and likely reduce the degree of loss.”

    Mr. Garre replied that given the problem’s global nature, “I’m not aware of any studies available that would suggest that the regulation of that minuscule fraction of greenhouse gas emissions would have any effect whatsoever.”

    Then Justice Breyer took on the government lawyer. “Would you be up here saying the same thing if we’re trying to regulate child pornography, and it turns out that anyone with a computer can get pornography elsewhere?” Justice Breyer asked, adding, “I don’t think so.”

    By the end of the argument there appeared a strong likelihood that the court would divide 5 to 4 on the standing question, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy holding the deciding vote. His relatively few comments were ambiguous. Early in the argument he challenged the assertion by Mr. Milkey, the states’ lawyer, that the case “turns on ordinary principles of statutory interpretation and administrative law” and that there was no need for the court “to pass judgment on the science of climate change.”

    That was “reassuring,” Justice Kennedy said. But, he added, “Don’t we have to do that in order to decide the standing argument, because there’s no injury if there’s not global warming?”

    The justices eventually discussed the substance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s position. Mr. Garre said the agency had “responsibly and prudently” reached the conclusion that “Congress has not authorized it to embark on this regulatory endeavor.”

    But the government lawyer seemed defensive when challenged by Justice Scalia on the agency’s view that carbon dioxide was not an air pollutant within the meaning of the Clean Air Act. Mr. Garre referred several times to “the conclusion the agency reached,” an unusual locution that seemed something short of the full embrace that lawyers from the solicitor general’s office usually offer the agencies whose positions they defend.

    The Bush administration’s conclusion that the Clean Air Act does not authorize the E.P.A. to address climate change marked an about-face from the agency’s previous view of its legal authority.

    The agency’s current position is that even if it had authority, it would choose for various policy reasons not to exercise it. That position was upheld in a fractured ruling by the federal appeals court here, a decision that led to the Supreme Court appeal, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 05-1120.

    At this stage, even if the plaintiffs survive the challenge to their standing and the court finds that statutory authority exists, it is highly unlikely that the court would order the agency to undertake regulation. It would be a victory, Mr. Milkey agreed, if the justices went so far as to tell the E.P.A. to reconsider its position.

    [A hat tip to Jenny]

    Read more!

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    New Senate Energy Committee Chair Warns that US Will Miss Closing WIndow to Tackle Climate Change

    US Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has warned that the US will not be able to take sufficient action to curb its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the timeframe scientists say is necessary, according to an article from Environmental Finance Online News.

    In the recently published Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern called for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to be signed in 2007, not in 2010 or 2011 as is currently expected.

    Scientific and economic calls for more expeditious action on global warming are increasing. Earlier this week, NASA scientist James Hansen – who has said that White House officials were censoring climate change warnings from the space agency [see previous post] – said:

    "There is still a huge gap between what is understood about global warming by the scientific community, and what is known about global warming by those who need to know—the public and policymakers.

    We must close that gap and move our energy systems in a fundamentally different direction within about a decade, or we will have pushed the planet past a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid far-ranging undesirable consequences."
    Speaking at the London School of Economics on Tuesday, Senator Bingaman said: "I think that the reality is this issue is probably not going to ripen and mature and get solved in that window."

    Moreover, Bingaman indicated that the US could opt for a domestic solution for cutting emissions, rather than join the Kyoto Protocol after its current targets expire in 2012. He said: "I really don't think the Kyoto Protocol is something that anyone is debating in the US. The debate is now to the question of what are realistic goals that we could hope to agree and accomplish."

    But he added: "The ideal end result will be to get a cap-and-trade system that will be world-wide. The US has got to do something credible at the national level."

    Even if the newly Democrat-controlled Congress pushed through such a measure, it would be unlikely to be carried out while George Bush remains president, Bingaman said. "Realistically, it is going to be difficult to complete action on a cap-and-trade system in the US in these final two years of the Bush administration."

    Instead, those favouring mandatory controls on GHGs will have to wait until after the 2008 presidential election. "Many of the potential presidential candidates have stated their support for a system of mandatory controls," said Bingaman.

    Read more!

    Nissan to Release Li-ion Powered Electric Car by 2009

    Nissan Motor plans to put release a lightweight, subcompact electric car powered by lithium-ion batteries developed in-house by 2009, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun [via Green Car Congress].

    Nissan will also reportedly roll-out its gasoline-electric hybrids - possibly with plug-in capability - based on its own technology by 2010. The new 2007 Altima Hybrid is based on technology licensed from Toyota.

    Nissan is projecting a driving range for the electric vehicle of about 200 km (124 miles) on a single charge. Mitsubishi Motors and Fuji Heavy Industries are also developing electric cars for the mass market [see previous posts here and here].

    According to Green Car Congress, Nissan developed its first electric car in 1947. It developed a two-passenger small electric car - the Hypermini [pictured above] - in 2000, but the model could travel only just more than 100 km on a single charge and never made it to the mass market. It was tested in several US fleets.

    Nissan will also reportedly accelerate the expansion of its diesel lineup, and, with the help of Renault, also enhance its development of flex-fuel vehicles.

    Read more!

    Energy Companies Calling for Federal Climate Change Legislation

    [From the Washington Post: "Energy Firms Come to Terms with Climate Change", by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, 11/25/06:]

    While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.

    The Democratic takeover of Congress makes it more likely that the federal government will attempt to regulate emissions. The companies have been hiring new lobbyists who they hope can help fashion a national approach that would avert a patchwork of state plans now in the works. They are also working to change some company practices in anticipation of the regulation.

    "We have to deal with greenhouse gases," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. "From Shell's point of view, the debate is over. When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'Let's debate the science'?"

    Hofmeister and other top energy company leaders, such as Duke Energy Corp.'s chief executive, James E. Rogers, back a proposal that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow firms to trade their quotas.

    Paul M. Anderson, Duke Energy's chairman and a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, favors a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. His firm is the nation's third-largest burner of coal.

    Exxon Mobil Corp., the highest-profile corporate skeptic about global warming, said in September that it was considering ending its funding of a think tank that has sought to cast doubts on climate change. And on Nov. 2, the company announced that it will contribute more than $1.25 million to a European Union study on how to store carbon dioxide in natural gas fields in the Norwegian North Sea, Algeria and Germany.

    These changes come as Democratic leaders prepare to take over key committees on Capitol Hill. Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), who calls global warming "the greatest challenge of our generation," will take the place of Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe refers to global warming as a "hoax."

    Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the incoming Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, said he hopes to "do something on global warming." Even though the Bush administration's expected opposition might make the enactment of legislation unlikely in the next two years, many companies cannot put off decisions about what sort of power plants to build.

    Duke Energy, for example, has not added significant power generation in two decades, and customer demand is rising 1 to 2 percent a year. The company has included a price for the carbon emitted in its cost estimates for a new coal-fired generating plant proposed for Indiana.

    "If we had our druthers, we'd already have carbon legislation passed," said John L. Stowell, Duke Energy's vice president for environmental policy. "Our viewpoint is that it's going to happen. There's scientific evidence of climate change. We'd like to know what legislation will be put together so that, when we figure out how to increase our load, we know exactly what to expect."

    One reason companies are turning to Congress is to avert the multiplicity of regulations being drafted by various state governments. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a group of seven Northeastern states, is moving ahead with a proposed system that would set a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions, issue allowances to companies, and allow firms to trade those allowances to comply with regulations.

    California is drawing up its program. Other states are also contemplating limits. Even the city of Boulder, Colo., has adopted its own plan -- a carbon tax based on electricity use.

    "We cannot deal with 50 different policies," said Shell's Hofmeister. "We need a national approach to greenhouse gases."

    Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the federal government is obligated to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant; its decision could force the government to come up with guidelines.

    Though many energy firms had already voiced support in recent months for federal regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the coming changeover in Congress has intensified the discussions.

    "There have been many more folks wanting to engage on the detailed architecture of climate-change legislation," said Jason S. Grumet, executive director of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy. "The tenor, tone and the detail of discussions has changed in the last couple of months. Nobody's going to want to be the last company to come before the Congress and say, 'I've been opposing you for five years, but now can I have my piece?' "

    Some businesses are making new hires based on the assumption that legislative activity on global warming will increase in the coming months. Truman Semans, director of markets and business strategy for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said at least half a dozen of the companies that belong to the center's Business Environmental Leadership Council have recently hired staff members focused on global warming.

    Not every energy company is planning to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. TXU Corp. is planning to spend $10 billion to build 11 new coal-fired power plants, which would more than double the company's carbon dioxide emissions, from 55 million tons to 133 million tons a year. That increase in emissions is more than the total carbon dioxide pollution emitted in all of Maryland or by 10 million Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicles.

    In an e-mail to The Washington Post, TXU spokeswoman Kimberly Morgan said that the company supports "a comprehensive, voluntary, technology-based approach to global climate change based on carbon intensity" that is both "flexible and cost effective."

    "We are at a point in time where other states and businesses are starting to take global warming seriously," said Colin Rowan, spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defense. "California is heading toward the future, and TXU and Texas are sprinting full speed back to the 1950s."

    The company's approach may pay off in the short term, but it may not last. "Over the next two years I don't think environmental policy is going to change radically," said Carl Pope, executive director of the advocacy group Sierra Club. But he added, "I think the environmental agenda and conversation will change radically."

    Corporate America wants to be part of that conversation. Duke Energy's Stowell said: "Industry is coming together and saying, 'Okay, if we're going to do this, let's do this in a way that won't wreck the economy.' "

    Translation on that last line: "Okay, if we're going to do this, let's do this in a way that benefits our company and it's shareholders as much as possible".

    With folks like Duke, Shell, Walmart, the Petroleum Industry and others calling for federal legislation, it's probably only a matter of time before something is passed. However, you also know that these companies want to be at the table to ensure the best deal possible for themselves, and not the best public policy, so it's a double-edged sword as well. The public interest/enviro community had better be actively involved and gearing up for a grueling process to make sure we come out with a workable policy.

    When it comes to climate change legislation, we need it soon, and we really can't afford to screw up - we just don't have the time to mess around anymore!

    I'd be happy to see national legislation on climate change/carbon emissions soon. I think it's a big enough deal that the federal level is probably the place to do carbon legislation - we need an economy-wide/nation-wide cap on emissions, or a suitable high carbon tax, that doesn't leave too many loopholes. But I fear that if federal climate change legislation moves in the next two years (i.e., while Bush the Second still reigns), it will either be:

  • a) a strong policy that gets vetoed by Bush; or

  • b) a weak policy that will pass Bush's desk but will preempt stronger action at the state level.

  • Still, it's good to see some momentum developing at the national level to address climate change, after so many long years of inaction, denial and, at times, outright misdirection/misinformation from some of our 'Congress Critters' [*cough*Inhofe*cough*].

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

    Read more!

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Message to Washington and Detroit: 3 out of 4 Americans Want Higher Fuel Economy Standards

    [From Green Car Congress:]

    Fully 78% of Americans want Washington to impose a 40 mile per gallon (mpg) fuel-efficiency standard for American vehicles, according to a new Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) national opinion survey released by the nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI).

    Ninety percent of Americans expect gas prices to rise again “in the near future,” with nearly half (46%) “definitely” expecting a resumption of higher fuel prices.

    According to the survey, 70% of Americans say they are factoring “expected future gasoline price increases into consideration in thinking about buying a new vehicle.”Forty-five percent say they are now more likely to buy a “hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle” than they were six months ago, compared to 30% who are unchanged in their plans and 24% who are less likely to make such a vehicle purchase.

    [Graphic: A majority of American's surveyed support increasing fuel-efficiency standards. Click to enlarge]

    Pam Solo, Civil Society Institute President and Founder said:

    "These findings should be a real wake-up call to any auto executive in Detroit who is hoping against hope that Americans will fall back in love with gas-hog vehicles. What Americans are saying to American carmakers is that they are ready for change. We know the technology exists for higher fuel efficiency that will save money, reduce this nation’s dependence on foreign oil and diminish the pollution linked to global warming. What Detroit needs to realize is that low gas prices have not—and will not—lead to the demise of the now very strong and continuing demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. If American carmakers make that wrong-headed gamble for a second time, it may just be the last losing bet they can afford to make."
    Other results of the Opinion Research Corporation survey conducted for the Civil Society Institute include the following:

  • 76% think US automakers have been blind to US consumer needs and tastes;

  • 50% think that Japan is ahead of the US in hybrid or other fuel-efficient technologies, 36% think the countries are roughly equal and 6% think the US is ahead;

  • 85% support White House pressure on automakers for reducing “energy consumption and related global-warming pollution”;

  • 66% support Federal incentives for automakers in return for increasing investments in fuel-efficient technologies;

  • 90% want automakers to start selling more fuel-efficient vehicles that they make or sell overseas but do not offer in the US; and

  • 74% support federal gasoline taxes devoted to renewable energy R&D.

  • Results are based on telephone interviews conducted among a sample of 1,016 adults (509 men and 507 women) age 18 and over, living in private households, in the continental United States. Interviewing by ORC was completed during the period of November 9-12, 2006. Completed interviews of the 1,016 adults were weighted by four variables: age, sex, geographic region, and race, to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total adult population. The margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the sample of 1,016 adults. Smaller sub-groups will have larger error margins.

    CSI has conducted more than a dozen major surveys since 2003 on energy issues, including vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, global warming and renewables. CSI is the parent organization of and the Hybrid Owners of America.


  • The U.S. Auto Industry, Washington and New Priorities: What Americans Think

  • I'm surprised to see such a strong response on this survey. Almost half (45%) "strongly agree" that fuel economy standards should be increased, and over 3/4s "somewhat or strongly agree." I hope that this message is recieved in Washington, as a gradual increase in fuel economy up to 40 mpg would do wonders for energy security, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and weening our economy off of our dependence on oil. It's a very doable goal as well.

    Of course, surveys are just surveys, and they are only as good as their questions. Americans continue to vote with their pocketbooks everyday by continueing to purchase the gas-guzzling SUVs, trucks and luxury sedans produced for the U.S. market. 40-mpg cars are out there right now - the Camry, Prius and Civic hybrids all top 40 mpg, and regular model Carollas, Civics and others get close, while several diesel models top approach or top 40 mpg.

    Still, what I imagine most people responding to the survey had in mind is that all vehicles, including the SUVs and luxury sedans many of them love, could get a boost in fuel economy, so that driving a more fuel efficient vehicle doesn't have to mean driving a compact car. Folks want their cake and want to eat it too.

    Of course, that goal isn't impossible. Hybridization of those beefy vehicles, light-weight chassis, improved aero-dynamics, reduced rolling-resistance tires, hydrogen-boost systems, continuously variable transmissions, etc. etc. etc. can all improve the fuel efficiency of even the largest cars, trucks and SUVs (for a bit of a premium, of course). The technologies are out there. Simply downsizing and de-powering the vehicle fleet would be a heck of a lot easier way to increase fleet fuel economy, but there are other ways as well.

    As I've argued before, we should use a reformed and increased CAFE standard, with a minimum fuel economy standard by weight class as well (to solve the 'buy a hybrid, sponsor a hummer' syndrome). We should increase the standard gradually (maybe by 3-5 mpg) every 3-4 years, as this is how long it takes to retool for a new vehicle model up to 40 mpg by 2020.

    The market can then decide how best to meet those targets. If consumers are willing to pay a premium to continue to buy large, higher performance vehicles, they can do so - they'll just have to buy SUVs and performance sedans that get 30+ mpg with hybrid drives, carbon-fiber chassis, etc. (the Escape and Accord hybrids do this already). If consumers decide they don't want to pay the extra price to keep their over-sized, over-powered vehicles, they can buy the smaller, more fuel-efficienct vehicles already popular throughout Europe and Japan. Ultimately, it will depend on consumer preference and the balance between performance, size and the price premium needed to achieve those qualities and meet the fuel efficiency standards.

    Meanwhile, we will double the average fuel economy of the light duty vehicle fleet, cutting in half the amount of oil used and greenhouse gas emissions emitted in the light vehicle sector. The public health and energy security benefits are clear, public support seems to be there (according to this survey at least), and the goals are feasible. It's time for a 40 mpg vehicle fleet.

    Read more!

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Calling All Students: Apply for EPA P3 Award: People, Prosperity and the Planet

    [I received a request to publicize this grant award opportunity for university students lookingto fund "cutting-edge, sustainable solutions to environmental challenges."

    If you're a university student with an idea for a possible project, I'd encourage you to check this out. The deadline for applications in December 21st.

    The P3 Award: People, Prosperity and the Planet A Student Design Competition for Sustainability – Apply by December 21, 2006.

    Got an innovative solution that protects the environment while growing the economy? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sponsoring an exciting environmental design contest for undergraduate and graduate students – The P3 Award. Through this national design competition, students and their faculty advisors submit cutting-edge, sustainable solutions to environmental challenges and compete for $10,000 to develop their designs. Winners from the first phase of the competition advance to the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, DC, in the spring of 2008 where they compete for the chance to win up to $75,000 in funding to move their designs to the marketplace or implement them in the field.

    Last year, 42 teams were awarded grants, including a team from Oberlin College that designed and tested a low-cost system for observing and interpreting energy and water consumption for individual dorms and college campuses. The project led to the creation of Lucid Design Group, a small business that designs and implements data acquisition and display systems for the green building industry. You can see all the grant winners’ designs and ideas at

    “P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. EPA and its partners launched the P3 Award in 2003 to promote innovative thinking for moving the world toward sustainability. Participating college students gain new skills and knowledge as they research, develop, design and implement scientific and technical solutions to environmental challenges.

    Teams of undergraduate and/or graduate students at institutions of higher education located in the U.S. are eligible to apply. But time is running out! This year’s P3 competition closes on December 21, 2006.

    Learn more by visiting Assemble your team and apply today!

    Read more!

    New Congress Could Tackle CO2 Emissions

    Change in Congressional Leadership May Signal a New Press for Federal Climate Change Policy

    [From this week's Clearing Up, Issue 1263 - available by subscription only:]

    Flush from their election victory, Democrats last week filled leadership positions and outlined their priorities for the Congressional session that begins in January. Energy issues were high on the agendas of most of them, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Speaker-elect of the House.

    With Democrats calling for a new energy policy that would bring "true energy independence," Pelosi repeated her pledge to repeal what she called "billions of dollars of subsidies to energy companies." Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who will take over the Committee on Energy and Commerce, also promised to investigate "oil subsidies" and to revisit Vice President Cheney's controversial energy task force and the energy bill it created.

    The House Resources Committee will see an aboutface as Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) takes the chairmanship now held by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). Pombo, who lost his seat to wind-energy expert Jerry McNerney, was a strong supporter of energy development in national parks and forests. He also championed a move to lift the federal moratorium on drilling for oil and gas off the nation's coastline, and sharp curtailments to the Endangered Species Act.

    In a statement shortly after he was named Resources chair, Rahall promised to "protect the wilderness potential of public lands . . . and restore our oceans and fisheries."

    Senate Democrats gave Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the top job as Majority Leader. With nuclear power gaining credibility in Congress, Reid is expected to use his position to fight the federal plan to store nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Reid supports storing the waste at the site where it's produced. He also indicated strong support for renewable energy resources.

    At a meeting last week with geothermal industry officials, Reid said they could benefit from more incentives to produce power. The statement was welcomed by the renewables industry, which is lobbying Congress to extend the inflation adjusted production tax credit. The $18/MWh PTC (which will escalate to $19/MWh next year) is set to expire at the end of 2007. Reid admitted "we have some tax problems," but would not specifically comment on the PTC.

    The key Senate energy job will go to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bingaman has always eschewed confrontation, and indicated last week that he will continue that policy, saying he is "looking forward to . . . continuing the spirit of bipartisanship with my colleague [current committee chair] Pete Domenici (R-N.M.)."

    Bingaman echoed the call to reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels "by increasing energy efficiency and promoting renewable technologies. "It is imperative that Congress address our energy future. Our dangerous addiction to foreign oil, the need to restructure our energy system to avoid the harmful potential of global warming and rising gas prices, will be issues that both sides of the aisle will desire to take up," he said.

    The Senate Energy Committee will lose Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is leaving to assume the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, but it will gain brand-new Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.).

    Perhaps the biggest change will occur when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) takes over the Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel is currently led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has said that scientific evidence on global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind." Boxer appears to take nearly the opposite position, promising last week that legislation to curb greenhouse gases will be one of her top priorities next year.

    "Nowhere is there a greater threat to future generations than the disastrous effects of global warming," said Boxer. The California lawmaker said she would hold hearings on the several global warming measures introduced this year. Those bills target carbon dioxide emissions, with some offering an emissions trading system.

    But with President Bush strongly opposed to CO2 regulations, Boxer faces a major hurdle. Last week she took a step toward surmounting that hurdle with a letter to Bush seeking support for mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. "The recent elections have signaled a need to change in many areas, including global warming," said the Nov. 15 letter, which was also signed by Bingaman and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

    "When the 110th Congress begins in January, we pledge to work to pass an effective system of mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. We urge you to work with us . . . to signal to the world that global warming legislation is on the way," continued the letter.

    Environmental Groups Press Bush Administration on Climate Change Policy

    Having apparently scored victories in the congressional races, environmental groups last week turned their focus on the Bush Administration. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit charging the executive with failing to produce a national assessment of the impact of global warming. The review, which was due in 2004, is mandated under the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

    The plaintiffs hope to force the U.S. Climate Change Science Program to produce the assessment, which would include the most recent data on the impact of global warming on the nation's environment, economy and public health. The groups called the assessment "one of the most important tools to grapple with this complex, potentially overwhelming and yet all-important issue."

    While the administration would not comment directly on the lawsuit, White House spokesman Ben Fallon was quoted as defending the Bush record on global warming. "The president has been focused on results-driven research for practical ways to address climate change in ways that aren't damaging to the economy," he said.

    Lame Duck Congress Not Expected to Act on Offshore Drilling Bills

    The lame duck Congress is not expected to act on major bills, which could kill the effort to expand drilling off the nation's coastline. A House bill that essentially would have ended the federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration is considered dead; a Senate bill to allow drilling in a large area of the Gulf of Mexico is teetering on the edge. The natural gas industry and President Bush continue to press lawmakers to approve the Senate measure, but sources say it's unlikely to pass.

    Most in the industry are pinning their hopes on the next session, but it could be a slim hope. Pelosi has offered tentative support for the Senate bill, but has made it clear she opposes lifting the federal moratorium. Bingaman and other Democrats are not happy with the Senate bill because it gives states much of the royalties from oil and gas leases.

    While I don't expect to see a federal climate change policy signed into law during Bush's term in office, I see the change in Congressional leadership as an opportunity to at least begin seriously working towards carbon legislation.

    Any real movement towards an energy policy that addresses the threat of climate change has been repeatedly stalled by both the Bush Administration and it's appointees in the various federal agencies and departments as well as several key Republican leaders in Congress, Pombo and Inhofe in particular.

    With key committee chairs and Congressional leadership positions in both the House and Senate filled by Democrats open to climate change policy, we should at least see hearings working on crafting appropriate legislative responses to climate change, and probably debate on the floor on one or more bills. Perhaps a bill will even clear the House and Senate, forcing a hopefully unpopular vetoe from President Bush.

    I am more hopeful that other pieces of energy legislation that will help develop our nation's abundant homegrown renewable energy resources will pass in the upcoming session. I'm pretty confident that the Production Tax Credit will be extended, hopefully out to at least 2010, which would go a long way to maintain the boom in renewables development in the U.S..

    Maybe some of these policy suggestions - or something similar - will also pass.

    Read more!

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Warnings from a Warming World: New Analysis Shows Recent 4x Growth in Rate of Global CO2 Emissions

    [From Green Car Congress:]

    The global growth in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels was 4 times greater in the period between 2000 to 2005 than in the preceding 10 years, according to an analysis by the Global Carbon Project, a component of the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP).

    Despite efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the global growth rate in CO2 has climbed to 3.2% in the five years to 2005 compared to 0.8% in the period 1990 to 1999, according to the data presented. The data puts carbon dioxide emissions over the last five years as tracking close to the A1B emission scenario from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to the GCP analysis.

    "This is a very worrying sign," said Dr Mike Raupach, Chair of the Global Carbon Project. "It indicates that recent efforts to reduce emissions have virtually no impact on emissions growth and that effective caps are urgently needed."

    The A1 scenarios describe a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter and, in several variations of it, the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. A1 is subdivided into A1FI (fossil-fuel intensive), A1T (high-technology), and A1B (balanced). A1FI generates the most CO2 emissions and A1T the least—but even A1T sees a near doubling of pre-industrial atmospheric concentration of CO2 by 2100.

    The A1B scenario assumes that 50% of energy over the next century will come from fossil fuels, and leads to unacceptably high atmospheric CO2 concentrations resulting in, according to some estimates, a temperature increase of almost 3° C in global average temperature by 2100 compared to 1990. (See chart at right.) Other projections put the A1B temperature increase at 4° C.

    [Change in global average temperature under different scenarios. Click to enlarge. Source: Arnell, Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change]

    Dr Josep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project:

    "On our current path, we will find it extremely difficult to rein in carbon emissions enough to stabilize the atmospheric CO2 concentration at 450 ppm and even 550 ppm will be a challenge. At some point in the near future, we will miss the boat in terms of achieving acceptable levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
    Due to the phenomenon of environmental inertia, even when anthropogenic emissions do begin to decrease, atmospheric CO2 will continue to rise for up to as much as a century. Global temperatures will continue to increase for an even longer period, locking the world into continuing climate change. Effective management of Earth system inertia depends on early and consistent actions, notes the ESSP.

    The analysis was commissioned by UNESCO and was presented at an ESSP conference in Beijing and at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention (COP 12) meeting in Kenya.

  • Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change

  • A sizable part of the large uptick in the rate of growth in global anthropogenic GHG emissions is likely due to the rapid industrialization and economic development of China and India in recent years. The staggering growth in these two countries, home to a third of the world's population, is having impacts on a global scale [which is why I continue to focus on these two countries here at Watthead (see the Eye on China series of posts, for example)].

    Additionally, the United States, conspiciously absent from the Kyoto Protocal, has been reluctant to rein in it's large emissions, which continued to increase. Even the developed nations that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol don't seem to be on track to meet their emissions reduction targets at this point, although they still have time to redouble efforts and meet their targets.

    Time is running out to stabalize CO2 emissions at a level that will avoid damaging climate change. This much is becoming increasingly clear. The longer we wait - as a global community and as nations, communities and individual actors - to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, the harder and costlier it will be later to achieve significant enough reductions to avoid dangerous climate change. In fact, the window may soon close entirely on the possibility of stabalizing GHG levels at a low enough level to avoid significant sea level rise, widespread droughts, mass extinctions, and the other problems that will arise from a 3 degree C increase in global temperatures.

    Again, I will repeat a call for concerted and committed action, over the next several decades, and starting
    yesterday, to rein in greenhouse gas emissions at all levels of action - individual, local, national, global. We can't afford to screw this up, and we're clearly not on the right track now. It's time for a serious course correction - in fact, that time is becoming increasingly overdue.

    Read more!

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    US Geothermal Power Expanding

    Industry Undergoing Most Dramatic Expansion in Two Decades

    [From and the Geothermal Energy Assocation:]

    Some 58 new geothermal energy projects are now under development in the US, according to a survey by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) - the industry trade group. "This represents the US geothermal industry's most dramatic wave of expansion since the 1980s," noted Karl Gawell, GEA's Executive Director.

    These projects, when developed, would provide up to 2,250 megawatts of electric power capacity, generating approximately 18 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. These additions would serve the needs of 1.8 million households, producing electric power roughly equivalent to all US wind facilities operating in 2005. This would almost double installed US geothermal power capacity to over 5,000 MW, according to GEA.

    "The good news is that federal and state incentives to promote geothermal energy are paying off. We are seeing a geothermal power renaissance in the US," stated Gawell. "The bad news is that some projects are already being put on hold because of the impending deadline for the federal production tax credit," he added.

    As part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress expanded the full production tax credit (PTC) to include new geothermal facilities. Prior to 2005, the PTC was limited to new wind projects and has been widely credited with spurring the expansion of the US wind industry over the past decade. But, the deadline for plants to be on-line and qualify for the credit was extended for only two years, or to December 31, 2007.

    "Geothermal and other baseload renewable power plants take several years to build and many of these plants can't be on-line by the December 31, 2007 deadline," Gawell stated. "The PTC deadline urgently needs to be extended."

    The new GEA survey identifies power projects under development in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Utah and classifies their stage of development. Since the last survey in March, 2006, Alaska has been added to the list of states producing geothermal power and a dozen new US geothermal projects have been initiated.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    Election 2006: Environmentalists, Though Winners in the Election, Warn Against Expecting Vast Changes

    [Here's a bit of a more tempered view on the mid-term election results, from the New York Times. Still it's clear that change is coming in the realm of energy policy:]

    Last week’s election whipsawed the Congressional committees that are crucial battlegrounds for environmental and energy legislation. But even many environmentalists believe that an ambitious new agenda is unlikely.

    The leadership changes are striking. Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who favors mandatory cuts in emissions linked to global warming, will become chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, replacing Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who has called the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.”

    [Graphic: Barbara Boxer will head the Senate committee on the environment in the 110th Congress, replacing Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)]

    In the House, Jerry McNerney, a California Democrat and wind-energy executive, will replace the current chairman of the House Resources Committee, Representative Richard W. Pombo, a Republican who fought to open public lands to private interests.

    “I think you’d have to go back to the Enlightenment to find such a big change in worldviews,” Ken Cook, the president of the Environmental Working Group, a research organization, told reporters on Monday.

    But despite the committee changes, some lobbyists are trying to dampen expectations that a major environmental agenda can speed through Congress.

    While environmental groups are likely to worry less about oil and natural gas wells in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they say that trying to get the new Congress to embrace initiatives like tougher automobile fuel-economy standards and requirements that industry pay more for Superfund cleanups could mean that little, if anything, will be accomplished.

    Melinda Pierce, a senior lobbyist with the Sierra Club, said in an interview, “The environmental community has to recognize how difficult it’s going to be to advance an environmental agenda with such narrowly held majorities.”

    Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico and the presumptive new chairman of the Energy Committee, said in an interview: “I think there’s a danger of trying to overreach. The close divide between Democrats and Republicans ensures we can’t pass anything unless we get some Republican support.”

    Even before the 110th Congress is sworn in, there is unfinished business for the 109th, including the question of how much to expand energy drilling along the outer continental shelf. Many on Capitol Hill believe that two rival measures — an expansive House bill and a more limited Senate bill that would open 8.3 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration — have little chance of passing.

    Bob Greco, an expert on oil and gas exploration and production, said he thought that Congress would eventually open more areas to the energy industry.

    “Our sense is that Congress might be willing to work on a bill to improve domestic access,” Mr. Greco said, adding, “You need both increased resources as well as conservation and energy efficiency.”

    The agenda for the next Congress is a work in progress, legislators and lobbyists said. Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust and a former senior Democratic Senate staff member, said in an interview on Thursday, “It’s very clear that the House Democrats want to move a piece of energy legislation sometime this spring.”

    Mr. Clapp said the measure would probably provide incentives for the production of biologically based fuels, like ethanol.

    Mr. Bingaman said he would continue to push for requirements that at least 10 percent of any utility’s electricity be generated by renewable sources like geothermal, solar and wind energy by the year 2020. He also said he wanted to guide legislation mandating energy-efficiency measures through the next Congress.

    In an interview on Monday, Senator Boxer said her first priority would be to hold hearings on global warming. These would first review the half-dozen proposals that senators have put forward to slow the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, then focus on choosing the best approach. “Many states are way ahead of us,” she said.

    Her other chief concern, she said, is “protecting children and families” from toxic chemicals, by, among other things, ensuring that the risks from Superfund sites is made public.

    The views held by Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, show the difficulty in finding support for a broad agenda. Mr. Dingell supports the control and cleanup of toxic substances but has never embraced automobile fuel-efficiency standards.

    Mandates on fuel efficiency for cars have had wavering support from Congress since the original passage of a fuel-economy law in 1975.

    In March, the federal Transportation Department ruled that by 2011 the largest light trucks and sport-utility vehicles must average 24 miles per gallon and the others in this class 28.4 miles per gallon. Anna Aurelio, an environmental lobbyist for the United States Public Interest Research Group, said Monday that a 40-miles-per-gallon standard was feasible for all passenger vehicles.

    In an e-mail message, Mr. Dingell was noncommittal about tightening fuel-efficiency standards but said he would be assertive in oversight of the Energy Department and of Superfund cleanups. His strong stance on oversight has been a career trademark. Given that, and the questions many Democrats have after six years with little chance to probe administration decisions, a season of oversight hearings is at hand.

    “I think we’re still looking at a big turnaround in the tenor of the debate,” Mr. Cook said, “and the nature of information coming out of Washington.”

    Read more!

    Election 2006: Election Buoys Oregon Governor's Green Energy Agenda Plan

    Gov. Kulongoski hopes to present a bill backing renewables with mandates and tax breaks

    [I somehow missed this article in Saturday's Oregonian (I was out of the country, so I have some excuse!). Continueing the post-election coverage here at Watthead, here's "Vote buoys green energy plan" from the Oregonian, 11/11/06:]

    When a grinning Gov. Ted Kulongoski delivered his victory speech on election night, he stood before a banner that read "Energy Independence."

    Although education, jobs and health care had dominated his campaign, he had insisted on preserving a spot for his energy agenda, which promoted home-turf renewables such as wind, solar and biofuel.

    Some considered his green intentions a bit ephemeral. But, with this week's election, the climate changed. Not only did Kulongoski win a second term, but he also gained a Legislature dominated by fellow Democrats.

    "It's a new day," said David Van't Hof, the governor's renewable-energy policy adviser. "We're excited about our prospects."

    Kulongoski has said he wants to make Oregon a leader in the development of alternative energy. He considers his green agenda key to strengthening the state's economy, especially in struggling rural areas.

    Clearly, he is emboldened by the election results, which sustained a Democratic majority in the Senate and, for the first time in 16 years, handed the party an advantage in the House. Despite the power shift, Kulongoski is determined to gather broad bipartisan support, his advisers stress.

    Whatever the partisan interplay, substantial opposition could come from utilities and business groups leery of greater regulation and fearful of higher power costs.

    Kulongoski has developed a three-pronged energy plan, which includes combinations of mandates and tax breaks. Already bill writers are drafting proposals for early introduction to the Legislature, which convenes in January.

    Here are the nuts and berries of his agenda:

  • Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, wave and biomass.

    A bill, known as a renewable energy standard, would require utilities, including Portland General Electric Co. and PacifiCorp, to obtain specified amounts of their power supplies from new renewables in the years ahead, with 5 percent by 2011 and 25 percent by 2025. At this point, Oregon consumers get about 4 percent of their power from renewables.

    At least 19 states have renewable energy standards [the count is actually 21 states now plus the District of Columbia - two more states have non-binding renewable energy goals as well]. Neighboring California has one. In unofficial election returns, Washington voters passed one Tuesday [see previous post].

  • Biofuel.

    The proposal would establish fuel blending standards for biodiesel and ethanol. It would require raw materials used in the fuels to be grown or produced in the Northwest.

    The package would include property tax breaks for the plants that make the biofuel blends, and it would offer income tax credits for producers and collectors of biofuel raw materials and for consumers who use biofuel.

  • Energy tax credits.

    One piece of the proposed package of incentives would increase the business energy tax credit for companies that install renewable energy systems such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaic arrays. The credit percentage would rise to 50 percent from the current 35 percent. Limits on a project's cost would increase to $20 million from $10 million.

    Another piece would increase residential tax credits for wind generation and fuel cells to $6,000 from $1,500, matching the maximum available for solar electric systems. The proposal also would allow the residential credit to be used for more than one qualifying system -- a solar water heater and a solar electric system, for example.

  • "If these pass, Oregon can stand up to any state in the country" in terms of its efforts to develop renewable energy and address global warming, Van't Hof said.

    Renewable portfolio standards in California and Washington increase pressures to move quickly, Van't Hof said.

    "The point for us is, do we want to be on the tail end and have other states capture the benefits, or do we want to be on the front end?"

    Last session, Kulongoski nudged along pieces of his energy agenda. A biofuel bill passed both chambers, only to die in conference committee, the victim of end-of-session maneuvering.

    Kulongoski found many rural lawmakers, regardless of party, eager to consider incentives that might aid jobs and businesses in their districts, but he knew he'd get nowhere with a renewable portfolio standard, given Republicans' aversion to mandates.

    More predictability

    In the House, the post-election reality of a slight 31 to 29 Democratic majority hardly creates a majority party juggernaut, the election winners note. But it does give Kulongoski and his crew assurances that key energy bills will hit committee agendas, receive hearings and, more likely than not, proceed to the floor for votes.

    "Before we had no idea what the House leadership would do," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental advocate for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, or OSPIRG. "They could sit on wildly popular bills if they wanted to."

    The renewable portfolio standard promises to draw the most political intrigue. It is expected to be a complex bill, which means that special interests will have room to maneuver for provisions more to their liking.

    Utilities want details

    PGE and PacifiCorp, the state's largest utilities, say they need more details before they take a position on a renewable requirement. But, PacifiCorp opposed the Washington state initiative, and its parent company, Berkshire Hathaway's MidAmerican Energy Holding Co., said it prefers market incentives to mandates.

    Neither has Associated Oregon Industries, Oregon's largest business lobby, weighed in on any portfolio requirement, but it would fiercely fight anything thought to increase energy costs, often a critical operating expense.

    "My members will watch closely anything that might have an effect on energy rates," said Julie Brandis, an AOI lobbyist.

    OSPIRG's Baumann said he's eager to debate business interests. He said he's thrilled by his organization's sudden political clout, but careful to curb any tendency toward reckless enthusiasm.

    "We're not expecting the whole political world to reverse itself," he said. "Things are looking better for the environment, for global warming and energy. But we still have a lot of work to do."

    The Renewable Northwest Project and our allies continue to champion Kulongoski's renewable energy agenda in Oregon, particularly the renewable portfolio standard. We are currently participating in the Governor's Renewable Energy Working Group, which has been meeting for a year now and has been working to reach a consensus of stakeholders (or as close to a consensus as possible) on a package of renewable energy legislation to be proposed in the 2007 legislative session beginning in January.

    We are committed to the passage of a strong renewable portfolio standard in Oregon (25% by 2025) that will drive the development of clean, homegrown renewable energy in the state and the region and will accrue the many public benefits - public health, energy indepenence and economic development benefits - to the citizens of Oregon and the Northwest. And, like Governor Kulongoski, and our friends at OSPIRG, we are also quite optimistic after the outcome of last week's election.

    Read more!

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Election 2006: Renewable Energy-friendly Platforms Perform Well

    [From the American Wind Energy Association's Wind Energy Weekly (11/10/06 edition):]

    As most of the attention stayed focused throughout the week on national-level elections and the Democratic takeovers of the House and Senate, state candidates with a history of embracing wind power and renewables generally fared well at the polls on Tuesday.

    As for the new incoming governors, Colorado governor-elect Bill Ritter (D) stands out as one of the most ardent endorsers of renewables, which he has called a top priority. “Renewable energy is one of Governor-elect Ritter’s primary issues,” InterWest Energy Alliance Director Craig Cox told Wind Energy Weekly. “He sees it as a way of helping rural areas as well as diversifying our energy portfolio.”

    In Massachusetts, Deval Patrick (D), who has endorsed the Cape Wind project in his state, became the first African American governor in Massachusetts.

    Several incumbents, meanwhile, capitalized on their renewables track records and future agendas to help propel them to victory. Some of those include California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), New Mexico’s Bill Richardson (D), Texas’ Rick Perry (R), Pennsylvania’s Edward Rendell (D), Arizona’s Janet Napolitano (D), and Kansas’ Kathleen Sebelius (D). “Energy will be a very key area,” said Sebelius, alluding to wind power and ethanol in particular. “That will be front and center.”

    Wind proponent Perry recently joined industry executives in announcing $10 billion in potential wind farm development in Texas provided the necessary transmission is built (See Wind Energy Weekly #1211). Schwarzenegger recently signed legislation that will make California the first state to place a cap on all greenhouse gas emissions (see Wind Energy Weekly #1206). Richardson, one of several candidates featuring wind power in campaign commercials, is working to create a Renewable Energy Transmission Authority in his state, among other renewables initiatives.

    Renewables ballot initiatives also took center stage in some states, achieving mixed results. One big winner: Washington State’s ballot Initiative 937 requiring that 15% of the electricity from the state's largest utilities come from renewable resources by 2020. However, in North Dakota, Fargo voters rejected an initiative to require that 20% of electricity supplied to the city be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020.

    On the national level, the wind industry has one of its own headed to Washington. Jerry McNerney (D), a wind power engineer and long-time member of the industry, defeated seven-term Rep. Richard Pombo (R) in a race for Pombo’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Jerry has been a long-time and very well-respected member of the wind energy community,” said AWEA Executive Director Randy Swisher. “We look forward to having him with us in Washington.”

    Other pro-wind candidates proved victorious on the national level, among them Ed Perlmutter (D), who was elected to represent Colorado’s Seventh Congressional District. Perlmutter replaced Bob Beauprez (R), who lost the gubernatorial race in the state.

    Read more!

    Election 2006: AWEA Says New Congress Opens New Possibilities for Wind Energy Policies

    [From the American Wind Energy Association's Wind Energy Weekly (11/10/06 edition):]

    While renewable energy remains a bipartisan issue, the shift to a Democratic-controlled House and Senate opens up many new possibilities for broader policies aimed at positioning the wind industry as a major player in U.S. electricity production and environmental improvement, according to AWEA Legislative Director Jaime Steve.

    “Those who control the Congress set the Congressional agenda, thus setting the markers on the playing field,” said Steve. “The old markers effectively limited that field to the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and improvements in transmission access. The new markers create additional avenues with respect to the PTC and transmission while also broadening the field on climate change, a national renewable energy requirement, small turbine incentives and investments in renewable energy research and development.” Added Steve: “Our time is now, and it is what we make of it.”

    An extension of the PTC, AWEA’s No. 1 priority, enjoys broad bipartisan support. However, Democrats may seek opportunities to extend the credit faster and for a longer duration than in the past. On transmission access, change opens up the possibility that targeted transmission infrastructure development provisions could be inserted into smaller energy bills aimed at specific issues (as opposed to a broad, wide-ranging energy policy legislation).

    AWEA also is in a better position to advance the establishment of a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). This provision has gained Senate approval in the past but always been blocked by the previous House leadership. The industry also should be in a better position in the areas of climate change and creation of a new small turbine tax credit.

    Whether run by Republicans or Democrats, the House operates on a strong “majority rule” basis with the party out of power having little impact on the direction of legislation. Importantly, it is the Chairman who sets the agenda. In the area of ever-important tax policy, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is set to become Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, replacing the retiring Republican Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). In the energy policy arena, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is set to become Chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over not only energy but clean air and climate change issues. Dingell is a moderate Democrat who has expressed support for an RPS.

    In the Senate Finance Committee, which has oversight over tax policy, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), will continue to be an important player as the senior Republican on the panel and an unparalleled leader on the PTC. Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the likely Chairman, is also a strong supporter of the PTC.

    Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)—a long-time leader on issues including the PTC, RPS, climate change, and transmission for wind—is likely to become Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, replacing Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

    Read more!

    News From My Backyard: Oregon College Plans State's First Geothermal Power Plant

    If all goes according to plan, the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls will soon meet its electricity needs with a new $5 million, one-megawatt geothermal power plant, according to an article in this week's Clearing Up newsletter [sorry, only available by subscription]. The proposed geothermal plant, which would be Oregon's first, would use hot water from a well drilled about a mile deep into a fault system beneath the OIT campus.

    According to John Lund, director of OITs Geo-Heat Center, the college's plans also call for an additional 250-kilowatt low-temperature power plant that would use water from existing wells currently utilized to provide district heating for the OIT campus. The college plans to sell excess hot water to neighboring buildings for heating.

    [Graphic: part of OIT's existing geothermal district heating system which provides space heating and domestic hot water for the campus, melts snow on sidewalks in the winter and runs chillers in the summer]

    Together, the two new geothermal power plants would etablish a geothermal direct-use business incubation center. In addition to providing educational opportunities for OIT students, the business incubation center - which would include a geothermally heated greenhouse and aquiculture ponds - could be used to attract potential businesses in cooperation with a regional economic development association, Clearing Up reports.

    Lund said hot water rises up from the fault system beneath the OIT campus and the town of Klamath Falls, and then flows horizontally in a geological layer that the college and city currently tap for residential and commercial district heating. "We have geochemistry indications that the water could be as hot as 300 degrees F," he said. "We're just not sure how deep we would have to go to reach it."

    The school has been developing the plans for the last two years, Lund told Clearing Up. The school is reportedly searching for funding sources, both state and federal, and has enslisted the help of the state's congressional delegation. Lund told Clearing Up that OIT is working up a request for bids on the various parts of the project, and hopes to issues a request for proposals (RFP) by next spring or summer. About half of the $5 million project costs - $2.2 million - is estimated for the cost of the deep well, Clearing Up reports.

    A power plant for the lower temperature water from existing wells could cost $600,000-$800,000, Lund said. Additionally, if water from the planned deep well proves hot enough, it could be run through a 'bottoming' low-temperature power plant to generate extra electricity after first spinning a steam turbine (i.e., a binary plant configuration). That could boost the output of the proposed plant above one-megawatt. In either case, the water exiting the power plant would still be hot enough to use for space heating, both on and off campus.

    The greenhouse and ponds would cost an estimated $300,000 each, Clearing Up reports.

    OIT is home to the nation's first modern geothermal district heating system, installed in 1964. The geothermal system uses hot water from three wells drilled during construction of the campus and heats approximately 95% of the campus's 600,000 square feet of buildings, according to an OIT website. The geothermal system also melts snow on 2,300 square feet of sidewalk in the winter, provides domestic hot water, and even cools five buildings during the summer. The college estimates that the system saves them about 70% of the cost of alternative heating fuels (i.e., natural gas).

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    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Election 2006: An Open Letter to Congress

    Federal Energy Policies for a Sustainable Energy Future

    With Senator George Allen (R) of Virginia conceding his closely contested race to Democrat Jim Webb, Democrats have now secured control of both branches of Congress in this Tuesday's mid-term elections.

    This should be good news for clean energy advocates, as it will create a more favorable atmosphere on Capitol Hill for federal energy legislation aimed at reducing America's dependence on foreign oil and other fossil fuels, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and developing our own homegrown renewable resources. Democrats in both the House and the Senate have introduced several smart clean energy policies over the past several years of a Republican-controlled Congress, but none of them ever made it out of committee.

    As with many other issues, Democrats must now show that they can indeed lead this country forward on energy policy to create a more secure, healthy and sustainable energy future for the United States (and leading is a lot harder than complaining).

    To help them along (as if anyone is really listening to me!), the following open letter suggests several federal-level energy policies that I firmly believe should be implemented in order to help America on the path to a secure and sustainable energy future. Think of this as my 'wish list' for the coming Congressional session.

    I know that not all (maybe not any) of these policies will pass, but I am optimistic that we will at least finally see public debate on the floor of the House and Senate focusing on how this country should address concerns about dependence on foreign oil, resource depletion concerns, and greenhouse gas emissions. And perhaps, we will see one or two of these sensible and forward-looking policies enacted as we take a few steps down the path to a sustainable energy future.

    An Open Letter to Congress

    Dear newly elected and re-elected Democrats in Congress and other Senators and Representatives interested in a secure and sustainable energy future,

    On Tuesday, November 7th, the people of this great nation voiced their discontent with the current direction our nation is heading by voting in a new set of leaders and representatives and granting control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats. This is a clear vote of confidence in the platform of the Democratic Party and indicates that Americans are looking for new leadership and new strategies in the war in Iraq, a stronger economy (that actually benefits real working Americans), a higher minimum wage, expanded health care coverage and many other issues.

    It should also be considered a clear indication that Americans want to see new leadership, new solutions, and new action to address a strong and growing concern for people across the United States: our energy future.

    We want leaders who will craft smart policies to ensure a secure, affordable, healthy and sustainable energy future for all Americans. We want to see Congress pass energy legislation that will address our depenence on foreign oil, rising gas prices, resource depletion concerns, and global warming. We want our energy spending to support people and jobs right here in the United States, not line the pockets of Saudi princes, Russian oil barons, or even our oil-exporting neighbors in Canada and Mexico. We're tired of fighting wars and supporting dictators and getting into international entanglements to secure our oil interests overseas. And we want to know that we can feel proud leaving a clean, secure and healthy energy future for our children and grandchildren.

    And we're tired of waiting, tired of rhetoric, and tired of empty words. We want action, and we want it soon. And it's up to you.

    I would like to bring to your attention the following policy suggestions that would each help address the concerns many Americans have about our dependence on foreign oil, our depleting fossil resources and our growing greenhouse gas emissions. I would strongly encourage that some or all of these policies are implemented in the near future to help set America on a course for a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future:

  • Enact a nationwide Renewable Energy Standard (also known as a Renewable Portfolio Standard) that would require utilities across the United States to include a certain portion of renewables in their energy mix by a given target year. I would suggest a target of 15-25% of their resource mix by 2020 or 2025.

    21 states and the District of Columbia have already enacted Renewable Energy Standards at a state level, and these policies have been proven to be effective and efficient ways to gaurantee the development of our abundant homegrown renewable energy resources and ensure that we accrue the public health, economic development and energy security benefits of tapping our domestic renewable resources.

  • Enact strong nationwide appliance efficiency standards and building efficiency codes. These could be modeled after state-level standards in California and other states that have been very succesful in conserving the energy we use in our homes, offices and industries.

    High performance buildings, energy efficient appliances and lighting and other cost-effective efficiency measures should be harnessed across the country so that by 2025, we consume at least 10% less energy in our homes and businesses than we do now.

  • Raise or reform the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards for light-duty vehicle fuel economy so that the average fuel economy of the light vehicle fleet reaches 30 mpg by 2015-2020 and 40 mpg by 2025-2030.

    This would raise the fuel economy of the average car or light truck by about 50% in 2015-2020 and by almost 100% by 2025-2030 compared to the Energy Information Administration's business-as-usual forecasts, resulting in huge savings in imported oil use and large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the light vehicle fleet.

  • Close the flex-fuel vehicles loophole in CAFE which creates a large incentive for automakers to manufacturer gas-guzzling flex-fuel SUVs that hardly ever actually run on E85, and end the tax incentives for businesses to purchase large SUVs

    Both of these loopholes in current policies result in increased fuel consumption and greater dependence on foreign oil. According to a NY Times piece written by Thomas Friedman, the E85/CAFE loophole "increased U.S. oil consumption by 80,000 barrels per day in 2005 alone." [see this for more]

  • Enact minimum fuel economy standards for different weight classes to suplement CAFE and end the 'buy a hybrid, sponsor a hummer' syndrome in current CAFE rules.

    Currently, since CAFE is an average fuel economy standard only, progress in fuel economy on the leading edge of an auto manufacturers weight classes explicitly condones the sale of more gas guzzlers on the trailing edge of that weight class. For each fuel efficient Escape Hybrid Ford Motor Company sells, they can sell one more gas guzzling Ford Explorer or F250, eroding the progress made by the expanding adoption of hybrid vehicles. Enacting a sensible minimum fuel economy standard for different weight classes of vehicles would ensure that when energy conscious consumers buy hybrids or other fuel efficient vehicles, they aren't simply allowing carmakers to sell another Hummer or Escalade. The minimums should progressively increase as the average fuel economy standard increases over time.

  • Double or triple the federal energy research budget and focus research spending on basic research into carbon-free and/or renewable technologies and fuels, advanced batteries (for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles), light-weight vehicle chassis, fuel efficient technologies, carbon sequestration, etc.

    Current spending, now at just $3 billion per year, is sorely lacking. The New York times recently reported that annual United States federal spending on all energy technologies, not just climate friendly ones, has fallen from an inflation-adjusted peak of $7.7 billion in 1979 to just $3 billion in the current budget. In contrast, federal spending on medical research has nearly quadrupled since 1979 and military spending has gone up 260% since then to $75 billion a year - over 20 times what is spent on energy research. If we are serious about energy independence, fighting global warming, and creating a new energy future, we've got to start spending some serious money to tackle these problems.

  • Enact a variable rate gas or oil tax that ensures that either gas prices or oil prices do not fall below a certain floor (say $2.50/gallon for gas or $45.00/barrel for oil, adjusted over time for inflation). This would provide investment certianty for alternatives to oil and ensure that America isn't lulled into inaction if gas or oil prices temporarily fall. While prices may dip and fall temporarily, high oil and gas prices will be the norm in coming decades, and it's time we plan for such a future.

    Part of the money raised could offset income taxes for low-income taxpayers who will be hit disproportionately hard by this tax, while the remainder could fund the increased energy research budget suggested above.

  • Fund public-private partnerships to accelerate commercialization of plug-in hybrids, with the goal of getting them on the market by 2010.

    Plug-in hybrids are an excellent near-to-medium-term solution to our oil dependence, reduce our transportation energy consumption and can harness a diverse range of electricity-producing resources to fuel transportation, including our abundant domestic renewable energy supplies. Plug-ins are nearly ready for mass commercialization and an extra push from a public-private parternship could greatly accelerate their deployment.

  • And finally, (and this is the big one!), enact a nationwide, economy-wide carbon cap and trade system with the goal of reducing national GHG emissions to 2000 levels or below by 2015, to 1990 levels by 2020, at least 15% below 1990 by 2025, and at least 60% below 1990 levels by 2050 (or some other similar targets).

    This is the linchpin policy in the fight against global warming and is long overdue. The other policies described above will be key in achieving the emissions reductions targets, while the cap and trade system will provide the proper market incentives to ensure that they are met. Cap and trade systems have already been implemented to effectively and efficiently reduce several kinds of pollutant emissions from power plants (i.e., SO2, NOx and Mercury) and would be an effective policy mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Additionally, several states are already implementing statewide or regional carbon cap and trade systems in the absence of federal action. This could eventually lead to a hodge-podge of state and regional policies that could create unfair competitive environments for our country's businesses. A national cap and trade system would create a level playing field, which is why more and more big business and industry leaders are asking for a federal carbon cap and trade system.

    Enacting this policy sooner, rather than later, even if caps don't go into effect until later years is also desirably as it would provide industry and business with regulatory certainty and allow smart investment and planning decisions. The current 'wait-and-see' stance in industry is creating large uncertainty and hampering investments in clean energy resources.

    Congress should also immediately pass a resolution or issue a public statement that any pulverized coal plants built after this point in time will not be 'grandfathered' into upcoming carbon regulations.

    Many utilities and power plant developers are planning to construct traditional, dirty, pulverized coal-fired power plants across the United States - over 150 such plants have been proposed in the West - under the assumption that if these plants are constructed before the enactment of carbon legislation, they will be 'grandfathered in' and will avoid regulation. This cannot be the case. The construction of dozens of new pulverized coal-fired power plants - the worst contributors to greenhouse gas emissions - will set the United States back decades in our efforts to control our growing emissions of greenhouse gases and avoid the worst effects of global warming.

    Issuing a clear and public statement to utilities and power plant developers that they should not expect their proposed plants to avoid regulation will provide a clear signal to utilities and developers that building these new plants carries high risks due to upcoming carbon regulations. This should dissuade and prevent the proposed coal building boom now planned across the United States. Utilities and power plant developers should be building power plants that can exist in a carbon-constrained world and should plan accordingly. If we still want to utilize our large domestic coal reserves, we should turn to coal gasification combined cycle power plants - the so-called 'clean coal' technologies - that can capture and sequester carbon emissions safely in geological formations.

  • Members of Congress, it's time for you to lead this great nation into a new energy future: a future where we break our addiction to foreign oil, where we become world leaders in advanced energy technologies, where we create tens of thousands of new jobs and strengthen our economy by developing our abundant homegrown renewable energy resources, where we need not fear the potentially devastating effects of global warming, and where we have created a clean, healthy, secure and sustainable energy future that we can feel proud to leave to our children and grandchildren.

    This is the future that Americans demand! It's up to you to lead us there. A sustainable energy future is possible, and with smart policies and committed leadership, we can make it happen.


    Jesse Jenkins
    Concerned citizen and resident of Portland, Oregon

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