Climate & Energy

Familiar refrains from some fossil fossils

Big Energy promotes Big Energy at Houston energy conference

Today's first panel focused on "supply-side solutions" and featured quite a line-up: Dana Flanders, President, Chevron Technology Ventures James Hackett, Chairman, President, and CEO, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation Thad Hill, Executive Vice President and President, NRG Texas Robert Kelly, Founding Director, DKRW Energy LLC Aubrey McClendon, Chairman of the Board, CEO and Director, Chesapeake Energy Corporation This being a veritable who's who of the old energy economy, I was interested to see what they would say when among friends, as it were. While it started out positive, with Chevron's Flanders citing efficiency ("a barrel saved is a barrel found") as the most promising new technology, things went downhill quickly as the discussion turned to the promise of oil shale and other unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and liquid coal. For his part, NRG's Hill repeated the talking points the nuclear industry is aggressively pushing these days. He referred to the nuclear waste issue as "not that big of a problem" and cited politics as the only real obstacle. Somehow I think the people of Nevada might disagree. And despite shockingly serious recent incidents in Japan and here in the U.S. at the Davis Besse facility in Ohio, Hall claims that nukes have had a "phenomenal safety record." The most interesting -- and perhaps telling -- comments came from the head of Anadarko, one of the biggest oil exploration companies in the world. After some platitudes around environmentalism in regards to more drilling, particularly in the Arctic Refuge, he went on the attack.

U.S. may import 20,000 tons of nuclear waste

Know how the U.S. hasn’t even figured out a long-term solution for its own nuclear waste? Perhaps importing 20,000 tons of radioactive material from Italy might not be the best idea. Not to mention that we don’t want to do the Italians any favors until they decriminalize crotch-grabbing.

'Stabilizing climate requires near-zero emissions'

A new climate science paper calls for dramatic action

Avoiding climate catastrophe will probably require going to near-zero net emissions of greenhouse gases this century. That is the conclusion of a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req'd) co-authored by one of my favorite climate scientists, Ken Caldeira, whose papers always merit attention. Here is the abstract: Current international climate mitigation efforts aim to stabilize levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, human-induced climate warming will continue for many centuries, even after atmospheric CO2 levels are stabilized. In this paper, we assess the CO2 emissions requirements for global temperature stabilization within the next several centuries, using an Earth system model of intermediate complexity. We show first that a single pulse of carbon released into the atmosphere increases globally averaged surface temperature by an amount that remains approximately constant for several centuries, even in the absence of additional emissions. We then show that to hold climate constant at a given global temperature requires near-zero future carbon emissions. Our results suggest that future anthropogenic emissions would need to be eliminated in order to stabilize global-mean temperatures. As a consequence, any future anthropogenic emissions will commit the climate system to warming that is essentially irreversible on centennial timescales. Since the rest of the article is behind a firewall, let me extract a couple of key findings:

How will it end?

Two chapters from the book of coal

Chapter 1, courtesy of our friends at Greenwire ($ub req'd): The coal industry is spending tens of millions of dollars to cement support among members of Congress and the top presidential candidates in an effort to fight critics of coal-fired power and is also appealing directly to the voters those politicians need. Why, you ask? Turn to Chapter 2, this time from The New York Times: "Stymied in their plans to build coal-burning power plants, American utilities are turning to natural gas to meet expected growth in demand ..." Excepts from both are below the fold. Stay tuned for Chapter 3 ...

Cap-and-caulk

How smart climate policy can cut our energy costs

True confessions: I love weatherstripping. And programmable thermostats. And insulation -- all kinds. Oh, and efficient shower heads with "Navy shower" shut-off valves. And high-efficiency appliances. And waste-water heat recovery systems. You get the idea: I actually enjoy the process of making buildings more energy wise -- enjoy as in, "Yippee, it's Saturday! Where's my caulk gun?" So today's topic is especially near to my heart: the role in climate policy of low-income weatherization programs and related efficiency upgrades for working families. A quick review: climate change is economically unfair by nature; it punishes those least to blame. Auctioned cap-and-trade can counteract this injustice. I've already written about two ways to seize this opportunity: distribute the money from the auction of carbon allowances as equal dividend checks to every citizen ("cap-and-share"), or make sure dividends get to low-income families who are hardest hit by rising energy prices ("cap-and-buffer"). A third option is to invest auction proceeds in energy efficiency in ways that specially benefit working families, by weatherizing homes, for example, or improving the efficiency of household appliances. (Let's call it "cap-and-caulk.")

Green power empowerment

Events in Seattle and Portland sure to inspire

Renewable energy installations in remote communities of developing nations encourage indigenous and rural communities to stay put and keep their traditions alive. With remarkably small power systems, these underserved villages can store vaccines in a refrigerator, pump water, light a clinic at night, or contact the outside world. One of the key grassroots groups doing this work is Green Empowerment, which approaches all of their projects in Central/South America and Southeast Asia through a lens of generating social as well as environmental progress for communities with renewable energy & potable water delivery. GE interviews community members about what their power or water procurement needs are, recommends a system that would be appropriate -- including small hydropower, biomass, wind or solar -- supply the system, and then train a team of community members to plan, install, and maintain that system. That team can then help neighboring communities do the same, while maintaining its own. GE is bringing two of their inspiring partners, engineer/activists from the Philippines who run NGOs there, to give folks in Seattle this Friday and Portland next Thursday a better sense of the huge possibilities of their shared projects. Highly recommended!

Dispatches from the heart of oil country

I am here in sunny Houston today with Carl Pope, our executive director, who will be addressing today's huge energy confab. Oil City USA is about what you'd expect. (I have some expertise on the subject, having briefly called Houston home a few years ago.) Instead of expanding public transport to its rapidly-growing Western suburbs, Houston decided that spending billions to tear down buildings and seize land within a thousand feet on either side of a 20-plus mile stretch of the freeway and expanding it to an even more obscene size was the better option. I can only assume that my daily cursing of the D.C. Metro's foibles resulted in the karmic payback of being forced to crawl along in my rented Prius at ten miles per hour or less today for the better part of an hour as I headed to the conference. (I spent this time dipping into my reserve of outrage as I listened to the President's press conference and his contradictory answers on skyrocketing gas prices and ridiculous attacks on the renewables tax package that the House passed by sizable margin yesterday.) I'll be providing updates on the goings-on here throughout the day. They cap off with a speech this evening from Sen. Hillary Clinton. If the barrage of campaign ads from Hillary, Obama, and even Ron Paul is any measure, the battle for Texas ahead of March 4 is pretty fierce and I am quite interested in her remarks to these energy heavyweights.

Don't get burned

The dangers of funding new coal-fired plants

Indeed. This paper (PDF) on the risks of investing in new coal-fired power plants is worth reading.

Suboleski withdraws; remaining Appalachian mountaintops breathe sigh of relief

A while back I noted that Bush had nominated one Stanley Suboleski for the position of assistant secretary for fossil energy at the DOE, where he would "oversee projects such as developing clean-coal technologies and carbon sequestration, and polices related to fossil fuels" — including FutureGen, which the dept. recently shitcanned. Suboleski is a long-time Massey executive and a real piece of work. The good news — unheralded in the mainstream media — is that on Monday the Suboleski nomination was withdrawn for, ahem, "personal reasons" (sub rqd). Whew. Can’t wait to see who comes next. (via Hill Heat)

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