Monday, July 26, 2010

"Climate Bill Set Aside, What's Next for U.S. Energy Policy"

I appeared last Friday on 88.9 KCRW Santa Monica and Public Radio International's nationally-syndicated show "To the Point" to discuss the recent withdrawal by Sen Harry Reid (D-NV) of a compromised Energy bill based on largely on a framework of Cap and Trade.

After more than $100 million in lobbying by green groups and allied industry players, and the bill's eventual watering down to a "utility-only" cap, Majority Leader Reid confessed that there was still no way he or the party would be able to muster the sixty votes necessary for the beleaguered legislation to pass.

This is the fourth time in seven years that this cap and trade strategy has been shot down. This time, with the Democrats just one seat shy of a super-majority and with the White House occupied by a president who came to office promising to make climate change a top priority, perhaps the latest episode in the serial failure of cap and trade indicates that it is time to bury the failed policy and develop an entirely new strategy -- one capable of overcoming the political obstacles that doomed cap and trade while successfully making clean energy cheap enough to sustainable power an energy-hungry planet.

You can listen to the roughly eight-minute discussion below. Just hit play and skip to 45-minute mark for the segment.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Time to Bury Cap and Trade and Plan Anew

By Jesse Jenkins and Devon Swezey

Cap and trade is dead. Again. For real this time.

Reports put the time of death at 1 P.M. EST, July 22nd, 2010. That is when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid emerged from a meeting of the Democratic Caucus without enough support for even a severely weakened and scaled-back emissions cap on the utility sector.

With that, recognition has finally set in everywhere: the United States Senate is not going to enact any form of cap and trade. Not this year. And probably not any time in the foreseeable future.

Worse yet, clean energy progress this year has gone down with the long-sinking cap and trade ship.

Democrats in the Senate have now successfuly wasted what little time they had left on the Congressional calendar wrangling over a utility-only cap--already compromised beyond recognition and destined for political failure--instead of working to advance a package of measures that would have started to make real progress on clean energy.

Reid has made it clear he'll bring only an extremely narrow bill to the floor before the August recess, one pairing measures responding to the Gulf oil spill with some incentives for home efficiency retrofits and natural gas vehicles. That's it. After a full two-year Congressional cycle, Democratic super-majorities, and Barack Obama in the White House: home retrofits and natural gas vehicles are all the Senate will deliver. We should let that sink in for a moment...

Blame Game or Moment of Reflection?

After making his decision to drop cap and trade (and any meaningful clean energy measures with it), Reid wasted no time in pinning the blame on those recalcitrant Republicans, declaring in a statement:

"Many of us want...a comprehensive bill that creates jobs, breaks our addiction to oil and curbs pollution. Unfortunately, at this time not one Republican wants to join us in achieving this goal. That isn't just disappointing. It's dangerous."
Whether it was Republicans, the filibuster, oil and coal industry lobbyists or President Obama himself, blame has already been cast far and wide.

But if anything is deserving of blame, it is the cap and trade strategy itself.

Cap and trade has now died four times in the last seven years (this time, we can hope, for good). There is little evidence that Senate Democrats had substantially more votes for cap and trade this year than they did in 2003 (when it failed with 43 votes), 2005 (failed again with 38 votes) or 2008, when Reid also pulled the bill before it could go down in embarrassing defeat and insiders put the final tally at only 35-40 votes in support of the bill.

At this dark moment, the important question is whether any greens or Democrats in Congress are willing to seriously re-think a policy framework that was structurally flawed from the beginning and has consistently failed politically.

(Early indications are that they aren't, with Nancy Pelosi saying of the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill, "we're very proud of it and excited to take it to conference.")

The Serial Failure of Cap and Trade

Cap and trade has repeatedly failed because it doesn't address the main barrier to the widespread deployment of clean energy technologies: the technology-based price gap between new clean energy and mature fossil fuels.

Many renewables, like wind and solar power, are expensive, intermittent, and difficult to scale for example, while nuclear power is extremely capital intensive and faces substantial local opposition.

Because of higher costs and technical barriers to widespread clean energy adoption, efforts to move the U.S. energy system away from fossil fuels towards clean energy alternatives inevitably comes with a significant price tag.

The result: every country in the world has been unwilling to raise the price of fossil fuels--either through a carbon tax or a cap and trade system--high enough to close this gap for the majority of clean energy technologies.

The United States is a clear case in point, where the proposed cap and trade bill was riddled with so many loopholes and cost containment mechanisms--most notably the availability of up to 2 billion dubious carbon offsets--that the effective price on carbon was too low to effectively spur clean energy innovation and adoption and the "cap" on carbon was rendered effectively non-binding.

But there's another rub. For all the talk about the urgency of a "cap" on emissions in the United States, China has become the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases and its voracious appetite for energy threatens to wipe out any gains we achieve here in the United States.

China has moved aggressively in recent years to become a leader in the clean energy industry; with timing so perfectly ironic it seems almost planned, China announced today that the national government would level a staggering $74 billion in annual investments over the next ten years (5 trillion yuan) to adopt clean fuels and build the nation's clean energy industries. But even while establishing itself as the dominant global clean energy power, China's insatiable energy demand is so large that the nation's demand for fossil fuels continues to rise almost unabated.

In the end, until we make clean energy cheap enough to be widely available and affordable throughout the world, countries like China will continue to satisfy the majority of their increasing energy demand with fossil fuels.

Planning Anew for Clean Energy Progress

Given the stakes for both the global climate and the nation's economic outlook, we can't afford yet another episode in the serial failure of the cap and trade strategy.

This moment demands a fundamentally new strategy designed to overcome the inherent political obstacles to carbon pricing and simultaneously achieve the primary objective upon which our climate future hinges: making clean energy cheap in real, unsubsidized terms.

History shows that such technological transformations do not occur through modest shifts in market price signals. We didn't tax the telegraph to get telephones or put a cap on typewriters to see the birth of the personal computer, as Breakthrough's Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus often note.

Instead, time-and-time again, the most reliably successful driver of new innovation and transformative technology changes has been an active partnership between private-sector entrepreneurs and innovators and a public sector acting as both an initial funder and demanding customer of new, cutting-edge technologies.

This will demand an unprecedented level of public investment in clean energy innovation and the accelerated adoption, scale-up, and improvement of a full suite of clean energy technologies.

Such a strategy can begin to cut U.S. emissions in the near-term, but most importantly it will be absolutely essential to establish the technological and economic foundations for deep emissions cuts in the long term.

As the International Energy Agency has been clear, a global clean energy technology revolution is urgently required, and we have not a moment left to lose.

Without clean, cheap energy, emissions both at home and abroad will continue their inexorable rise, while China and other economic competitors solidify their dominance of new global clean technology markets. With this latest death of cap and trade, will we finally bury a fundamentally flawed strategy and dare to plan (and act!) anew?

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5 Easy and Affordable Ways to Start Using Solar Power

There is so much talk of green and clean energy these days, most people have at least thought about how they can use solar in their lives. The problem is that with a tough economy and bleak jobs market, most people just don’t have the money to invest in solar. Here are 5 cheap and easy ways to start using solar power that won’t break the bank.

1. Affordable Grid Tie Kits Are Here For The Handy Homeowner
Thanks to rapid advancements in inverter technology, you can install a solar grid tie kit on your home for far less then ever before. It used to cost at least $10,000 to install a small system on a home. But using micro-inverters and 200W panels, homeowners can install a single panel and inverter for about $1000 and start to reap the benefits of free energy from the sun.

Many homeowners are adding panels on a regular basis, on Earth Day, or as their budget allows. The new technology allows you to add on to your system as you wish, without spending a fortune. You could start with a 230W system, add a panel every 3 months or as your finances allow, and have a 4000W system that covered your entire power bill in a few years.

2. Solar Leasing Programs Often Cost You NOTHING
Now that solar has gone mainstream and is a viable investment, companies like SunRun have leasing programs to help homeowners get started in renewable energy. Here’s how it works:

  • A local installer works with a solar financing company like SunRun to evaluate the suitability of your home for solar.
  • If your situation is right, the financing company will pay the installer to put the panels on your home, usually at zero cost to you.
  • The financing company owns and maintains the panels, and receives any rebates associated with the installation.
  • You get charged a fixed, discounted rate for your electricity for the life of the lease, usually 20-25 years.
  • You save money in the short term in the discounted and fixed rate, plus you won’t experience the sharp rate increases that are inevitable as carbon taxes and renewable subsidies become more prevalent.
  • You can choose to purchase the system from the financing company and reduce your energy bills to nearly zero.

Best of all, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you are saving money AND helping the environment at the same time!

3. Simple RV, Boat & Golf Cart Systems Keep You Charged Up
Many people forget that they are various uses for solar panels. Boats, RVs and even golf carts are great uses for solar. Solar panels generate direct current, or DC power, which is what most boats and RV’s need anyway. Adding a simple panel and charge controller to the system will keep the batteries charged, save the expense of charging those batteries, and allow you stay out longer and go farther.

In most cases the panels will allow you get rid of the generator or shore power you relied on before. For folks in southern climates that use golf carts in lieu of traditional vehicles, a 200W solar golf cart kit means you can say goodbye to the power cord and hello to lower energy bills. Starter kits can be as little as $100, the larger units are over $1000.

4. Take Your Stuff ‘Off the Grid’
It was not that long ago and that the components in solar power systems were so complicated that using an electrician to install them was a must. That is not the case these days (and thank goodness for that!). Simple ‘plug and play’ solar power kits now allow you to gather, store, and use the sun’s energy easily. They work much the way a computer does, you simply plug the panel into the control box (like you would a computer monitor), and then plug the control box into a battery (like you would plug the computer into the wall). Then, start plugging your stuff into the control box.

This is a great system for remote cabins, work sheds, or garages. Often people that live in hurricane country keep them for backup power when the inevitable outage comes. They’re great for campers and travellers too that have added laptops, iPhones and stereos to their ‘can’t live without’ list when they’re in the back country. These kits can be had for as little as $300 and can be expanded for your future needs.

5. Make Your Space Brighter and More Comfortable With the Power of the Sun
Unfortunately solar lighting has gotten a bad rap by the proliferation of those poorly made solar garden lights. There are, believe it or not, great solar lights out there that are high quality and look terrific. Many communities are doing away with the gas lamps that appear on every front lawn because they are expensive to run and maintain. A nice solar lamp post light can replace the gas lamp, spruce up your yard, and cost less than $200 in most cases.

There are also tons of affordable options for heating and cooling your home with solar. Solar air heaters have recently become more popular, and they have the added benefit of using recycled cans in many cases. There are even solar air conditioners now, too. These use the sun to heat the medium in the cooling process, whereas traditional AC’s use electricity. These new solar AC’s are about 50% more efficient than their traditional counterparts.

So solar doesn’t have to be out of reach for everyone. With a wide variety of applications and prices, solar power can help you save money and the planet.

Kriss Bergethon is a Solar Power expert and author from Colorado. For more information visit his site at Solar Panels.

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China Leaves U.S. in Clean Energy Dust: Teryn Norris on The Alyona Show

On Wednesday evening, I was interviewed on TV as part of The Alyona Show in a segment called "China Leaves U.S. in Clean Energy Dust," aired live in Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles.

In the midst of a raging nation-wide debate on energy and climate policy, Alyona asked me what will it take for lawmakers to realize the U.S. is falling behind in the global clean energy industry and take the necessary action to regain our position. We discussed the implications for federal policy, the need for a comprehensive "third way" strategy for clean energy competitiveness based on strategic public investment in technology, as well as this week's Department of Energy Clean Energy Ministerial.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Testimony: The Challenge of China's Green Technology Policy

Breakthrough Institute Project Director (and my friend and colleague) Devon Swezey testified last week before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China's clean energy technology policy and the steps the United States must take to remain competitive in the growing clean energy race.

The key to competitiveness, said Swezey, is not a low price on carbon--as proposed in current congressional climate bills--but a robust and long-term investment strategy in critical areas such as research and innovation, advanced manufacturing, market creation, infrastructure, education, and new industry clusters.

Swezey's testimony builds on Breakthrough Institute's recent work on clean energy competitiveness policy, including the landmark 2009 report, Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant, published with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), and policy memo, "Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness," released in June with ITIF and the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.

Click here to download Swezey's hearing agenda and Swezey's prepared testimony.

His full oral testimony is below:

Commissioner Bartholomew, Commissioner Brookes, and members of the Commission, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is Devon Swezey, and I am Project Director at the Breakthrough Institute, a climate and energy policy think tank based in Oakland, CA. Since its founding in 2004, the Breakthrough Institute has advanced an innovation and investment-centered policy framework for addressing climate change, energy security, and U.S. economic competitiveness in clean energy.

It is my great pleasure to discuss with you China's comprehensive strategy for developing a domestic clean energy economy, and the various policies and investments that the United States must prioritize to mount an effective response to the competitiveness challenges it faces today.

As the United States searches for new sources of growth amidst a sluggish economic recovery, the rapidly growing clean energy industry represents an important job creation and export market opportunity. Global private investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies is estimated to reach $450 billion annually by 2012 and $600 billion by 2020.

Unfortunately, the United States risks losing out on this opportunity, as it lags behind economic competitors in Asia and Europe in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies. The United States produces only 5 percent of the world's solar cells, relies on foreign-owned companies to manufacture the majority of its wind turbines, and is losing ground on hybrid and electric vehicle technology and manufacturing. Measured by market capitalization, only four of the world's top 30 solar, wind, and advanced battery companies are American.

At the same time, other nations are moving quickly to implement comprehensive clean energy investment strategies, which will allow them to gain first-mover advantages ahead of the United States and capture a majority of the economic benefits--in terms of jobs, tax revenues, and growth--associated with this burgeoning industry.

China in particular, has emerged as a clean energy powerhouse. It is now the world's largest manufacturer of solar cells and wind turbines and has also taken the lead in commercializing plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as manufacturing the advanced batteries that power them.

China is not out-competing the United States through some inherent comparative advantage, but through targeted and comprehensive public policy characterized by large and sustained public investment across the entire industry.

China's investment strategy includes major funding for clean energy research and development; subsidies and tax incentives for domestic manufacturers; ambitious clean energy deployment targets and incentives and procurement policies to develop its domestic market; and major investments in enabling infrastructure.

Local and provincial governments are also offering clean energy companies free land, tax breaks, and other subsidies to facilitate the development of clean energy clusters--dense regional networks of investors, manufacturers, suppliers, universities, and other actors that can confer lasting competitive advantage to the region as a whole. One prime example of this is the city of Baoding, which has transformed into the fastest growing hub of wind and solar energy equipment makers in China. The city is home to "Electricity Valley," an industry cluster modeled after Silicon Valley, composed of nearly 200 renewable energy companies.

To make matters worse, the Chinese government is set to massively out-invest the United States over the next five years, even assuming passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. We documented these clean energy investment estimates in our November report, "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," written with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Already, China's public investment strategy has helped the country attract the bulk of private investment in clean energy. Last year, China attracted $34.6 billion in investment, nearly twice the $18.6 billion invested in the United States.

As clean energy manufacturing and investment shifts overseas, research and innovation activities -- America's historic "comparative advantage" -- have started to follow. Perhaps the highest-profile example is Silicon Valley giant Applied Materials, the global leader in supplying the manufacturing equipment used to make solar cells, which recently decided to construct the world's largest, most advanced solar R&D facility in Xian, China.

Applied Materials is not alone. IBM has announced that it will invest $40 million to create the company's first "energy-and-utilities-solution lab" to develop innovative new technologies for smart grid and other applications. The new lab will also be located in China. These decisions follow those of leading U.S. companies such as GM, Dow Chemical, and Intel, which have all constructed high-tech research labs in China, and show that high-value R&D is starting to follow manufacturing abroad, threatening America's historic leadership in innovation.

We believe that the decisions the United States government makes in the next five to ten years will largely determine whether the country can emerge as a global leader in these new growth industries. Unfortunately, proposed legislation in Congress would not be enough to keep the U.S. competitive.

Some say that pricing carbon is the most important policy the U.S. can adopt to become a leader in the global clean energy industry. But it is important to understand what a price on carbon would and would not accomplish. For political reasons, the carbon price established by both the House and Senate climate bills would remain much too low to substantially increase demand for clean energy technologies. A low carbon price also would not be sufficient to support growth in domestic clean energy manufacturing.

To develop a globally competitive clean energy industry, the United States needs a comprehensive investment agenda that prioritizes large and sustained public investment in clean energy technology. Today, clean energy is still too expensive to be widely deployed at scale around the world, and most governments are unwilling or unable to impose high carbon prices or sustain large subsidies to make clean energy cost-competitive. Therefore, the overarching goal of a new clean economy strategy should be to make clean energy cheap in real, unsubsidized terms.

Accomplishing this goal will require robust and long-term investments in areas such as research and innovation, manufacturing, market creation, education, and the development of industry clusters. The primary role of carbon pricing should be to raise the revenue needed for these critical investments.

We don't have to look far for examples of past public investment strategies that created whole new industries and unleashed waves of economic prosperity. In the 1950s, the Defense Department's procurement of microchips facilitated market development and dramatically reduced chip costs. Today's vibrant IT sector exists largely thanks to early, sustained public investments in R&D, computer science, infrastructure, and procurement. Government investment was also crucial for the development of railroads, radios, computers, the Internet, and many other technologies.

We believe America can still lead the global clean energy industry. The U.S. remains one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial countries in the world. But without a comprehensive clean energy investment strategy, America will lose out on one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.

Thank you very much, and I'm happy to take your questions.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

IEA: New Report Says $46 Trillion More to Clean Tech by 2050

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute.

In a recent IEA report intended to inform and guide climate and energy policy decision makers, the Energy Technology Perspective 2010 (Exec. Summary; full report purchase required) demonstrates that the clean technology revolution will require an additional $46 trillion investment (beyond energy infrastructure investment expected in BAU scenarios) if we intend to halve carbon emissions by 2050 (from 2005 levels). And, the IEA adds, a carbon price alone will not be sufficient to drive that level of investment.

According to E&E coverage (subs. Req'd):

Yesterday, IEA released its Energy Technology Perspectives report, projecting that the extra $46 trillion is needed to develop technologies that can cut global CO2 emissions in half by mid-century -- a widely-accepted target for corralling temperature rise between 2 and 3 Celsius.

But if the technologies catch on, the IEA predicts, the world will spend so much less on coal, oil and other fuels that by 2050 it will come out $66 million in the black....

Pricing carbon won't be the prime driver for this investment, the report says. Many options, such as vehicle fuel economy and burning coal more efficiently, are economic on their own. Most carbon prices being considered today are too low to drive the necessary investment all by themselves, said Peter Taylor, head of IEA's Energy Technology Policy Division.

"We believe that a price on carbon is needed to send a strong signal to the market, but it's unlikely this will be enough to transform our energy system," he said. "Other policies will be needed to support technology development and deployment."

The report also said research and development spending needs to reach two to five times its current level.

This isn't the first time the IEA has tried to send a powerful message to world leaders, and once again the global energy watchdog is quite clear: the world must invest massively to ignite the global clean technology revolution that will make clean energy cheap and abundant. A carbon price simply won't cut it if the world intends to stabilize global temperatures below potentially disastrous thresholds.

But the question remains -- are global policy makers listening?

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Oregon Offered a Chance at a Coal Free Future

Oregon has the opportunity to lead the United States toward a coal-free future and lay groundwork for averting the worst consequences of global warming. Alternatively, state agencies and commissions can bow to industry pressure and set a different kind of precedent, one of prolonging the life of a dirty coal plant for close to a decade or longer, in the process making it very difficult to achieve the reductions in greenhouse emissions which the best climate science mandates. Oregon’s choice has become starkly clear in recent weeks, as the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has laid out three options for the future of the Portland General Electric (PGE) Boardman Coal Plant.

One option for the Boardman Coal Plant would commit Oregon to ten more years of burning coal, while PGE invested huge amounts of ratepayer money into prolonging the plant’s life. A second option would see the coal plant only slightly sooner, while still forcing ratepayers to pay for expensive upgrades. Only one option would require Boardman closing on a timescale consistent with Oregon’s greenhouse emissions reduction goals. That third option lights the one clear path toward Oregon’s clean energy future.

As I’ve written previously, students and youth activists in Oregon have been organizing for months to close the Boardman Coal Plant by the year 2014 – a date selected because it would allow PGE to avoid installing millions of dollars’ worth of pollution control upgrades required on the plant after that time. Most notably, student governments at ten educational institutions in Oregon passed resolutions supporting the 2014 date, which collectively represent over 107,000 Oregon students.

At the same time however, PGE was pushing the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to let most new pollution controls slide and allow Boardman to burn coal until 2020. Fortunately the DEQ rejected PGE’s initial request for pollution waivers. Instead, the agency has proposed a tentative list of three possible routes to Boardman’s closure: PGE can keep Boardman open until 2020 and install $320 million in new pollution controls; the company can run Boardman through 2018 and fork up $100 million worth of controls; or PGE can install only $35 million of essential pollution controls, and close the coal plant somewhere in late 2015 or early 2016.

I certainly can’t speak for the hundreds of Oregon students who have rallied around a 2014 closure date for so long. But to me, the DEQ’s 2015-2016 option seems like a reasonable compromise. In selecting that option, PGE would probably see little complaint from environmental groups. The utility could finally begin repairing its green image, seriously damaged by its months-long fight to prolong the life of Oregon’s largest carbon emitter. On the other hand, if PGE continues to pursue much later operating timelines for its coal plant, it will have to keep fighting environmental groups – which haven’t come all this way only to give up now. The 2020 and 2018 options for Boardman are unacceptable in terms of climate and environmental impacts, and the amount of ratepayer money that would have to be thrown at the coal plant to keep it running.

PGE has a clear choice: commit to the DEQ’s earliest proposed closure scenario for Boardman, or continue the public relations nightmare which burning coal has become for this utility. Yet the choice for Oregon is even more stark. If the Boardman Coal Plant closes in 2015 or early 2016, the state will have a much better chance of meeting its greenhouse emissions reduction goals, and will set an example for the rest of the country. If Boardman continues to burn coal for ten or eight more years, utilities across the nation will seize the chance to ask for lifetime extensions for their own aging, dirty coal plants.

This shouldn’t be such a hard choice to make.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Climate Awareness Bike Trip Includes Redwood Forests, Beautiful Cycling, and Beer

Working in the climate movement, it's easy to get discouraged. Almost every month, a new climate bill seems to get introduced, only to be seriously watered up, and then voted down. Often times it feels like we've made no progress (perhaps because we haven't followed this advice). Add to that the recent litany of recent environmental disasters, and it all adds up to a bad case of 'climate fatigue.'

For the third year, I'll be taking part in the Brita Climate Ride--a 5-day, 300-mile bicycle tour and 'climate conference on wheels,' and I'm writing this column to try to get you to join me.

The ride will take place September 21-25, starting in Fortuna, California (near Eureka), and finishing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco at New Belgium Brewery's Tour de Fat celebration where more than 6,000 bike lovers will greet us. Riders sign up and then raise at least $2400, which benefits climate advocacy programs at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Green America, and 1Sky. One of the great things about the event is that campsites, luggage transfer, road support, meals, bike mechanics, and bike guides are all included--all I (or you) have to do is pedal along some of the most spectacular roads in California, including the legendary Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean.

Climate Ride California is a new event. For the past two years, I've participated in the popular East Coast version where we biked from New York City to Washington D.C. along country roads most people don't even know are there (see video at the end of this psot). In the process I made new friends and probably had some the most fun I've ever had during climate advocacy. But the reason I'm doing the ride again is because I want inspiration.

On the Brita Climate Ride, I've met countless people who have inspired me. I've shared meals with environmentalists who have their own television show, cycled with activists who helped found, and chatted with ordinary individuals who had never biked more than 20 miles in a day, but were now riding over 300 miles in five days. I even met people such as ocean rower Roz Savage (who will be on the ride again this year), who rowed a boat solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The people on the ride are a vibrant, diverse community who gather each year to learn about and advance solutions.

You can register for the ride here. Below is a video of last year's ride. Hope to see you out on the California coast in September!

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Jenkins 'Empanelated' At Grist

Over at online environmental magazine, I've been featured among a panel of "seven of Grist's favorite journos and wonks" each offering their two cents on what (if any) changes to climate and clean energy strategy should be made now that cap and trade is on the ropes.

Part 1 focuses on what to do with the remainder if this quickly-waning Congressional year, while Part 2 focuses on longer-term strategy. Here's my response to each question:

Grist: If it's true that a carbon price is impossible this year, what policies should energy reformers rally around in the short-term?

Jenkins: The focus for the remaining few weeks left has to be on substantive steps forward we can take without ceding ground or giving up too much in the way of opportunity cost. There's not a lot of time left to rally support for new ideas, so it has to be something that's already on the drawing board, like vehicle electrification and other efforts to win our freedom from oil. One big opportunity that's been ignored is the America Competes Act, which would authorize a number of key provisions to strengthen our clean energy innovation system in the United States. Some of those provisions could be put into Senate energy legislation. And there's the Clean Energy Deployment Administration, which could be an important part of financing emerging, innovative technologies. I would hate to see that fall through the cracks.

Grist: Given that the pursuit of cap-and-trade has fallen short yet again, is there reason for energy reformers to reassess their broad legislative strategy?

Jenkins: The policy approach of the last five years -- McCain-Lieberman through McCain-Warner through Lieberman-Warner through Waxman-Markey and the American Power Act -- has run its course. We should rethink a strategy that can be more politically and substantively effective in 2011. The broad contours are: We should try much less to make dirty energy more expensive and focus much more on making clean energy cheaper in unsubsidized terms in the long term. That doesn't mean that there's no role for carbon pricing, but it's a different role than it has under Waxman-Markey. First, it's a mechanism to provide the long-term, stable funding we need to make public investments in clean energy technology innovation, demonstration, and deployment. Second, price plays an important role in helping close off some externalities, helping make the market work more efficiently, and providing a synergistic demand pull for more mature clean energy technologies.

If you look at what Americans support in poll after poll, it is clean energy technology. There's very little support for clean energy technology in the current approach, because the money in cap-and-trade has been used as the bargaining chip for efforts to get an increasingly weaker carbon cap in place. Put investment in clean technology front and center -- and oh, by the way, we're going to pay for this with a modest fee on carbon.

See also:

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In Defense of 'Energy-Only'

Over at NRDC, David Doniger writes a last-ditch defense of a diminished, utility-only cap and trade proposal while categorically rejecting any "energy-only" legislation -- e.g. legislation lacking a cap and trade component.

Unfortunately, Doniger, NRDC (and EDF) wind up clinging onto a "cap" on carbon they have already given away while at the same time standing opposed to a new clean energy strategy that could still salvage a substantive win despite what little time remains on the Congressional clock.

A flawed case against "energy-only"

Doniger's case for rejecting any legislation without a carbon "cap" rests on this central argument:

Unless the overall Senate bill includes a cap on stationary source emissions, some energy bill provisions would actually make carbon emissions worse.
Doniger cites four examples -- policies promoting new power lines, electric vehicles, synthetic fuels, and biofuels -- that he says could potentially result in an increase in emissions absent other regulations on carbon.

Some of his examples are just plain flawed; an NRDC-sponsored report on emissions from electric vehicles directly contradicts Doniger's assertion that EVs powered by coal-fired electricity would raise emissions (in reality, even a coal-powered EV would be a marginal win from a GHG perspective). Others are more legitimate concerns; coal-to-liquids synthetic fuels should clearly be off the table from a GHG perspective, for example.

But the specter of an "energy-only" bill doing more harm than good could be addressed in several simple ways -- GHG standards could be established for qualifying biofuels, and transmissions lines qualifying for incentives or expedited siting could be required to carry a certain percentage of zero-carbon electricity, for example. If NRDC is worried about bad outcomes, they could easily push for smart fixes to these policies, rather than categorically rejecting legislation that might include critical steps forward, including expanded transmission access to renewable energy zones, a vehicle electrification push, or the promotion of advanced, non-grain biofuels.

Furthermore, Doniger inexplicably ignores the fact that the EPA is already moving forward with efforts to limit carbon pollution from stationary-sources like power plants and is set to forge ahead in the absence of Congressional cap-and-trade legislation. Even in the face of likely litigation, the resulting regulatory uncertainty surrounding new EPA regulations will put the damper on any investments in new major emissions sources for the time being, including new coal-fired power plants.

Clinging to an illusory carbon "cap"

The real nugget though is that while NRDC et al. keep rejecting any substantive steps forward that lack a "binding cap" on emissions, they long ago ceded anything resembling a hard, binding emissions cap in their negotiations with industry stakeholders and Congress critters.

The Waxman-Markey bill passed the House loaded with enough offsets to render the cap completely non-binding on covered sectors. (What's the problem with offsets? See here). The Kerry-Lieberman draft bill is the same. And any utility-sector only bill is likely to include just as many offsets, yet cover only about one-third of U.S. emissions, making matters even worse.

The truth is that we've never been debating a real, binding "cap" on greenhouse gas emissions, just an emissions target and a (pretty modest) carbon price signal. Call it "visor-and-trade" not "cap-and-trade." And with that as the bar set by "cap" and trade legislation, it is certainly possible to get even better outcomes -- faster transformation of the U.S. energy sector, faster clean energy innovation, and even faster emissions cuts -- with a new clean energy strategy.

Snatching a win from the jaws of defeat

A series of proactive clean energy policy measures still have the chance to move the ball substantively forward before time runs out this year, while avoiding major concessions such as ceding EPA regulatory authority (something NRDC et al. was happy to give up in exchange for the deeply-flawed House-passed "cap" and trade bill, a fact Doniger fails to mention in his post). And if done right, such an effort could even start building a new bipartisan clean energy consensus, positioning things for a new strategy in the next Congress that marries a low but steadily rising carbon price to raise critical revenues with a series of proactive and comprehensive investments in energy technology innovation and deployment.

Alternatively, we can keep chasing the failed USCAP strategy down the rabbit hole...

"Do no harm" is a fine guiding principle

In the end, Doniger's case for a climate/energy bill that "first does no harm" is something I can agree with wholeheartedly. Doniger writes:
[In crafting energy/climate legislation] there are some things that the Senate absolutely must avoid - things that would actually dig a deeper carbon pollution hole. The Senate bill must not include measures that increase carbon emissions, take away the laws already on the books to cut those emissions, or weaken other protections for public health and the environment.
The reality is that there are bad "energy-only" bills and good "energy-only" bills. The good ones are hardly "energy-only" at all, and will make substantive progress towards a low-carbon energy system -- even without a "cap" on stationary source emissions.

The best chance of seeing a good energy bill pass Congress this year and drive America towards a clean energy future is if climate advocates, like NRDC's Doniger and EDF's Fredd Krupp rally behind a new play call to salvage clean energy victory from the jaws of impending defeat. Time is nearly up.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Forget About the Deficit - Invest in the Green Economy Now!

By Jerome E. Roos, Breakthrough Fellow.

This is a guest post from the Breakthrough Generation blog. Breakthrough Generation is the young leaders' initiative of the Breakthrough Institute, a public policy think tank. Founded in 2007, Breakthrough Generation has fostered the development of young thought leaders capable of fully grappling with the scale and complexity of today's greatest challenges and advancing large-scale solutions over the near and long term. To read more writings from this year's 2010 Breakthrough Fellows, head to

Europe has lost its mind. Just two years after the financial crisis pushed the global economy to the brink of collapse, we appear to have forgotten all historical lessons about the importance of stimulating aggregate demand in the face of an economic slowdown. All over the continent, deficit hawks have built their nests in the ivory towers of government, trapping the world's largest economy back into the shackles of the neoliberal straitjacket.

If we are to truly deal with the two overwhelming crises of our time - climate change and economic meltdown - we need to realize where these crises overlap and where their solutions could reinforce one another. History teaches us that the world did not emerge from the Great Depression until it mobilized for World War II and built the War Economy. Today, we need mobilization on a similar scale to build a Green Economy and avert the worst consequences of climate change. In the process, we can create millions of jobs and forestall a global depression.

As the Greek debt crisis has recently illustrated, global speculators still hold just as much sway over currency and bond markets as investment bankers until recently held over financial markets. The musical chairs of global capital nearly forced the Eurozone to its knees earlier this year, triggering a backlash of primordial fear among European populations that economic apocalypse was imminent.

Ironically, nationalists, conservatives and free-market fundamentalists - that's right, the folks responsible for causing the crisis in the first place! - were amply rewarded by utterly confused electorates for their misleadingly simple solution to our economic ills: deficit reduction at a pace faster than advocated by even the most hardcore hawks in the U.S.

While it seemed to some that Thatcher's soul had died with the collapse of Lehman Brothers back in 2008, her macro-economic ghost has apparently come back to haunt our continent with a vengeance in 2010. "Balance the budget!" appears to be the most intellectually profound phrase coming out of the watering mouths of self-proclaimed economists like art-history student David Cameron of the UK, history student Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, and physics student Angela Merkel of Germany.

Now that our world is gradually coming undone at the seams, such executive incompetence is no longer just a source of amusement; it has become a threat to our collective well-being. Is this really the most creative solution we can come up with to solve the crises we are facing? With global temperatures rising higher every year and unemployment reaching levels not seen since the 1930s, is this really the mantra that will save global capitalism from itself?

Leading economists like Columbia's Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz, Princeton's Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, and Harvard's Dani Rodrik strongly disagree. These experts argue that we need growth before we can balance our budgets, and in order to revive growth, we need to first stimulate aggregate demand by making serious public investments in infrastructure and industry.

In an op-ed piece warning us of the oncoming Third Depression, Krugman argues that:
... this [coming] depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world -- most recently at last weekend's deeply discouraging G-20 meeting -- governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.
In my home country of the Netherlands, we seem to have grown more terrified of short-term debt than long-term inundation as a result of climate change. But Joseph Stiglitz already pointed out several months ago that the conservative narrative on the problem of short-term debt is utterly misleading:
Faster growth and returns on public investment yield higher tax revenues, and a 5 to 6% return is more than enough to offset temporary increases in the national debt. A social cost-benefit analysis (taking into account impacts other than on the budget) makes such expenditures, even when debt-financed, even more attractive.
Dani Rodrik agrees, arguing that:
... Europe needs a short-term growth strategy to supplement its financial-support package and its plans for fiscal consolidation.
Such a short-term growth strategy should revolve around a visionary project for public investment in green infrastructure, like the replacement of our aging micro-grids with a much more efficient continental super-grid, the wholesale retrofitting of public buildings, the creation of a standardized plug-in recharging infrastructure, and more public-private collaborations on massive solar voltaic and wind projects. Such short-term public investments have the potential to create millions of jobs and kick-start the transformation to the Green Economy before the longer-term investments in R&D of breakthrough technologies kick in.

It is time for Europe's hopelessly childish leaders to stop being bossed around by global speculators and start building the economy that will lead our continent into a new era. To actually get there, we first have to stop worrying about the imaginary climate for investors and start mobilizing to protect the physical climate for our people. This way we might just kill two birds with one stone.

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Elementary Particles, Complex Challenges

By Mark Caine, Breakthrough Fellow

This is a guest post from the Breakthrough Generation blog. Breakthrough Generation is the young leaders' initiative of the Breakthrough Institute, a public policy think tank. Founded in 2007, Breakthrough Generation has fostered the development of young thought leaders capable of fully grappling with the scale and complexity of today's greatest challenges and advancing large-scale solutions over the near and long term. To read more writings from this year's 2010 Breakthrough Fellows, head to

Environmentalists have long couched their opposition to nuclear power in the argument that tinkering with elementary particles to produce energy is inherently unsafe. But advances in climate and nuclear sciences suggest that the dangers posed by today's nuclear technology are far less serious than the risks of tinkering with global climate systems.

In 1945, J. Robert Oppenheimer gave the go-ahead for the Trinity test, the first human-induced nuclear explosion. As he observed the massive explosion unleashed by his creation, he uttered the now-famous phrase:

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
With these words, excerpted from the Bhagavad Gita, Oppenheimer captured and reinforced a widely-held sentiment that nuclear technology is a fundamentally destructive force worthy of great respect and profound trepidation.

This view would be strengthened by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a month later and again in 1979 and 1986 by the meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Justifiably influenced by the specter of nuclear meltdown or, worse, worldwide nuclear war, early environmentalists adopted a vehement anti-nuclear stance. At the time, nuclear proliferation seemed to present an existential threat to the natural environment, to human health, and to world peace.

Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, summed it up in his 1976 report Assault on Future Generations:
Nuclear power plants are, next to nuclear warheads themselves, the most dangerous devices that man has ever created. Their construction and proliferation is the most irresponsible, in fact the most criminal act ever to have taken place on this planet.
Forged in an era of fear, uncertainty, and disaster, this uncompromisingly critical stance towards nuclear energy has remained a central tenet of U.S. environmentalism ever since.

While this stance is understandable as a reaction to the events of World War II and Chernobyl, it has become drastically outdated in the nearly twenty five years since the Chernobyl disaster took place.

These twenty five years have seen two fundamental, ground-shifting changes.

First, climate scientists--and increasingly the general public--have become aware that carbon dioxide emissions lead to global climate change and a host of resultant ecological and atmospheric consequences. Second, nuclear energy technologies have developed to become far safer and more efficient than their decades-old antecedents.

These two transitions have redefined the energy landscape; taken together, they should redefine the energy debate.

At this point, anyone serious about climate change should be asking themselves: what role should nuclear power have in a clean energy future? Can we decarbonize our economy without nuclear power?

While the science, the technology, and the debate have shifted beneath their feet, mainstream environmental groups have resolutely held their anti-nuclear ground.

The Sierra Club, an early opponent of nuclear power, continues to stick by the nuclear policy it established 36 years ago in 1974:
The Sierra Club opposes the licensing, construction and operation of new nuclear reactors utilizing the fission process.
Greenpeace, another early nuclear opponent, calls not only for no new construction but also for the dismantling of existing plants:
Greenpeace has always fought - and will continue to fight - vigorously against nuclear power because it is an unacceptable risk to the environment and to humanity. The only solution is to halt the expansion of all nuclear power, and for the shutdown of existing plants.
Most recently, Friends of the Earth has been releasing egregious anti-nuclear advertisements employing ominous music, dark photographs, and hyperbolic rhetoric to inspire visceral fear of nuclear power.

Contrary to the frightful narratives sown by mainstream environmental groups, the long-term safety record of nuclear power is in fact far better than that of coal, our primary source of electricity. Even in terms of direct deaths, which do not include the tens of thousands of yearly deaths caused by pollution from coal combustion, nuclear comes out on top:

nuclear safe bigger.jpg
Compiled by Jesse Jenkins, The Breakthrough Institute

When it comes to waste and emissions, nuclear again emerges the clear winner: while powering a single person's lifetime with coal produces 68 tons of solid waste and 77 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, a person-lifetime worth of nuclear-generated electricity produces zero emissions and an volume of solid waste the size of a soda can.

These waste and emissions disparities raise a critical question: which is worse, small quantities of radioactive waste in secured storage or huge amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

For greens who find themselves increasingly concerned about climate change and its impacts on humans, oceans, and ecosystems, this lesser-of-two-evils debate should not be taken lightly.

Given the capacity of nuclear to produce emissions-free energy with orders of magnitude less waste than coal combustion, it would appear that the environmental community's reflexive rejection of nuclear energy runs counter to its most basic charge: to employ sound science and smart policy to protect the environment and the people within it.

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Harnessing the Power of Hubbert: Reducing our Exposure to the Oil Risk

By David Mitchell, Breakthrough Fellow.

This is a guest post from the Breakthrough Generation blog. Breakthrough Generation is the young leaders' initiative of the Breakthrough Institute, a public policy think tank. Founded in 2007, Breakthrough Generation has fostered the development of young thought leaders capable of fully grappling with the scale and complexity of today's greatest challenges and advancing large-scale solutions over the near and long term. To read more writings from this year's 2010 Breakthrough Fellows, head to

Many "peak oil" theorists suggest we will reach peak oil production by the year 2020. I argue that this peak is artificial, occurring only due to economic, technological and political limitations. While I contest the "peak oil" theory, I do believe that we can harness the real power of its assertions: governments and businesses should make large-scale investments to reduce their exposure to the oil risk. We can therefore get to the "End of Oil" without adhering to the "Peak Oil" theory. Today we need a new logic - one of environmental protection, energy security, and national prosperity - for ending our addiction to oil.

In 1956, M. King Hubbert produced his famous symmetrical exhaustion curve, forecasting a peak in global oil production. The curve that he constructed is both simple and logical, and appears to work well for the U.S. Yet this seemingly inescapable curve was wrongly fitted to the total, global oil resource. In reality the geological fact that oil, a finite resource, is depleting has thus far been estimated, as Stouteberg (2008) shows, with a wide range of uncertainty.

In turn, there are a number of key errors with Hubbert's curve:

1. It assumes constant technology, when our efforts towards exploration and extraction have obviously changed dramatically over time.
2. It lacks an economic dimension, failing to take into account prices and how these impact rates of extraction.
3. It doesn't account for how we are getting more efficient at using oil. Over the last 200 years, energy use has gone up by a factor of 4; energy intensity has gone down by a factor of 6. Massive improvements have been made. As efficiency improves, the peak, by definition, must be shifting.
4. Hubbert looks only at "Conventional" reserves. Ignoring "Unconventional" reserves (tar sands, oil shale) is a mistake when trying to predict the "peak" of oil production.

For his work, Hubbert used the analogy of a voyager starting out on a major expedition of discovery, equipping himself with charts of two kinds - detailed charts of known shores, and comprehensive charts of whole oceans. He wrongly suggests that, in the case of oil, we have these detailed and comprehensive charts. For while the U.S. has been drilled extensively, the world has not been drilled to the same degree. This presents us with a large set of unknowns.

In the case of oil, we have long had the problem of people crying wolf. The "McBride survey" (McBride & Sievers, USGS, 1921) famously said about the availability of gas: "the data at hand in regard to the gas still available underground...make it probable that the annual output will never be very much more than it was during the period 1916-1920." We therefore find a recurring perception of scarcity with resources. In the case of oil, this drives up prices and leaves us vulnerable to manipulation by OPEC.

One of the industry's most prominent consultants, Dan Yergin, explains how this is not the first time we have "run out of oil". It is more like the fifth. Yergin says that a number of oil projects that are under construction will increase the supply by 20% in five years and that technological advances will increase the amount of oil that can be recovered from existing reservoirs. Estimates report reserves of conventional oil at around 1,000bn barrels of oil (143-150 gigatonnes), while reserves of unconventional oil (oil shale, heavy crude oil, and tar sands) could be as high as 245 gigatonnes.

The points I make are not to suggest that we have a bright future of oil use ahead of us. For, while I contest the "peak oil" theory, I do suggest that we must appreciate the real power of Hubbert's curve: governments and businesses should begin to make investments to reduce their exposure to the oil risk.

In this way, "peak oil" and "end of oil" can be decoupled.

"Turning oil into salt", a 2007 article by James Woolsey and Anne Korin, employed an oft-used phrase to explain the logic for getting off of oil: "just as the stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones, so the oil-age will not end because we are running out of oil". And, they argue, just as salt held a strategic value some 400 years ago (indeed wars were fought and people died over it), so today oil holds a strategic value.

While we may not have reached the physical peak of oil, I suggest we are reaching the peak in terms of its strategic value.

Turning oil into salt and transforming our energy future, Woolsey & Korin argue, will largely depend upon the actions not only of the government, but also of regional alliances, the private sector, and civil society. I fully agree with this logic.

At present, oil consumption is about 84 million barrels a day: this represents a massive exposure to financial, environmental, and strategic risk. We therefore need massive investments in alternative energies to reduce, indeed end, our exposure to these oil risks. By those means, the End of Oil is nigh.

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