Climate & Energy

What do Juneau?

Grist talks to Alaska Democratic Senate candidate Mark Begich

Anchorage’s Democratic mayor, Mark Begich, is challenging Republican incumbent Ted Stevens for his Senate seat this November. Begich, 46, is in his fifth year as …

Cape blind

A failure of leadership in the wind

This recently appeared in Wendy Williams' blog. She is coauthor of the book Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound, now out in paperback -- a fascinating and horrifying read. ----- I've been giving lots of talks about Cape Wind around the country, and I can tell you -- the American people are getting really angry. Both Democrats and Republicans are equally disgusted by what they read in our book about Cape Wind. At this point, they're angry about a lot more than Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney getting together behind the scenes or over dinner to plot about how to kill Cape Wind.

Nagging our way to climate stability

Forget a carbon cap; try guilt instead!

This is quite possibly the most idiotic argument I've ever heard against cap-and-trade. Why is it bad? By turning carbon emissions into commodities that can be bought and sold, cap-and-trade policies could remove the stigma from producing such emissions ... the purchase of the right to emit greenhouse gases would likely reduce any stigma associated with doing so. Emission levels, consequently, could rise. Oh, lordy, that's a good one. But that's from an op-ed in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor written by Justin Danhof from The National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative D.C. think-tank. Could he be right? Could it be that the only thing standing between us and a climate crisis is stigma? We need more guilt!

Reframing the energy debate, part 1

Time to stop using the phrase ‘renewable energy’

This is the first in an occasional series on reframing the energy and climate debate. I welcome all ideas on how we can improve our language in what is now the central front in the war to protect the health and well-being of American families and all future generations. The phrase "renewable energy" is often used by the media and conservatives to give lip service to clean energy sources -- by lumping them all together in order to trivialize them or diminish their individual potential. For instance, the "bunch of bland old guys" had just one bullet for renewables (and one for efficiency), thereby making them equivalent to expanded domestic oil and gas production, expanded nuclear production, and "clean coal." Progressives, I think, should stop using the phrase "renewable energy" entirely. It is lazy and fits into the conservative frame of renewable energy sources as individually insignificant. We should go out of our way to specify them, since several of them have come of age.

Gore's plan is more than 100 percent feasible

We can do more than he calls for, but I would settle for Gore’s objective

Everyone is talking about Gore's proposal to decarbonize electricity over the course of 10 years. Without considering transmission and storage losses, Gore's estimate of $1.5 to 3 trillion would require capital costs of under 37 to 74 cents per annual kWh. Taking those losses into consideration, cost would have to be more in the 28 to 56 cents per kWh range. (Note again these are not cost per watt of capacity. These are costs per annual kWh. They are levelized costs translated into capital numbers.) Jon Rynn and I have a worksheet in process on costs to 95 percent decarbonize economy, rather than 100 percent decarbonizing the grid. But it does include 99 percent decarbonizing the Grid, including a 30 percent redundancy to handle annual variations. The bottom price with the most aggressive improvements we looked at came to 66 cents per annual kWh. That comes out to $3.54 trillion, about $540 billion more than Gore budgets. But because biomass has proven so devastating ecologically, and so disastrous to the poor we assume very little use of biomass. Also we phase out nuclear as well as fossil fuels, something I'm pretty sure Gore does not. More nuclear and biomass not only reduce the amount electricity that needs to be generated, but it also reduces the need for storage losses. So Gore's plan does pencil out at the high end with 100 percent fossil-fuel free electricity at under $3 trillion. If you follow our plan you would probably see the grid more like 90 percent decarbonized in first 10 years. But you would also see 85 percent of truck freight shifted to mostly electrified trains, construction of light rail, and massive reductions of emissions in residences, commercial buildings, and industrial use. So we reduce emissions by more than Gore's proposal, and reduce oil use significantly too, something Gore's plan would not do. So not only is Gore's plan feasible over a 10 year period, much greater reductions are feasible than Gore calls for over a 10 year period. Gore remains, as he as always has been, a mainstream centrist. That so much of the environmental community and netroots chooses to back away from it as "almost feasible" or "a moonshot," that is, as too radical, says something about their timidity.

Newt's got a song

Will Washington buy his brand of snake oil?

One of the all-time great episodes of The Simpsons is "Marge vs. the Monorail," written by Conan O'Brien. The EPA fines Mr. Burns for dumping nuclear waste, leading to an unexpected cash windfall for Springfield. Marge suggests spending the money to repair the town's tattered infrastructure. But just as her proposal is about to pass, a fast-talking charlatan named Lyle Lanley arrives and sells the ever-gullible people of Springfield on a plan to build a monorail, climaxing with the monorail song (sung to the tune of "Trouble" from The Music Man). As the monorail plan passes, Marge remains unconvinced: Marge: I still think we should have used the money to fix Main Street. Homer: Well, you should have written a song like that guy. Now Newt Gingrich is ready to march into the halls of Congress to deliver his petition on opening up more of America's public lands to oil and gas drilling. He even still has floor privileges, so you can almost imagine him marching through the House with Republican leadership trailing behind, chanting drill, drill, drill. But drilling wouldn't solve our problems any more than the monorail solved Springfield's. Fortunately, we couldn't ask for a less-beloved figure to be trying to lead the American people in a sing-a-long. Would you believe he's nearly as unpopular as Dick Cheney?

Dude, where's my coalition?

Progressives discover there is no coherent energy movement to take advantage of this moment

I talked with lots of people inside and outside the green movement at Netroots Nation, and one theme arose again and again. Everyone agrees that …

FERC releases reports

Feds note electric rate increases and high construction costs for nuclear and coal

An interesting new report [PDF] from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeks to explain why electric prices are currently increasing so dramatically. They lay most of the blame on rising fuel costs and rising commodity costs (copper, steel, etc.), which is certainly contributory, but in my opinion deceptive, since it suggests that -- but for commodity volatility -- things could be hunky-dory again. This implicitly diminishes the fact that we're entering a build-cycle in the power fleet, and thus fails to understand all the chickens now coming home to roost in the power sector. That said, it still makes for an interesting read -- even if one disagrees with the causes. The reality of rising power prices and even higher prices on forward markets is something that we must understand -- and for which we must start thinking through the consequences.

Speaker for yourself

Grist talks to Speaker Nancy Pelosi about climate and energy politics on the Hill

For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), any action on climate change hinges on Barack Obama winning the White House this fall. Only the bully-pulpit of …