Climate & Energy

U-boat sightings

European biodiesel industry being bankrupted by loophole

They call them U-boats because they pull into a port just long enough to do a U-turn and head off to Europe. They stop just long enough to blend a touch of fuel into the tank so they can claim the government subsidy. Let's say you have a million gallons on board from, say, a palm oil plantation in Indonesia, or a soybean operation in South America. An hour or two after your arrival, your pockets are bulging with just short of a million U.S. taxpayer dollars. From the Guardian: ... the European Biodiesel Board, has uncovered the trade as part of its investigation into why British, German, and Spanish producers are in financial trouble at a time when biodiesel prices remain high. The board will call for retaliatory action against the U.S. over subsidies for its leading biofuel. ... "[P]eople are bringing boats of soy or palm-based biodiesel from Europe and then mixing it with a bit of local biodiesel -- or even fossil-fuel diesel -- and then shipping it back," [biofuel consultant Ian Waller] said. This is perfectly legal and has been going on for years now. Our politicians are apparently cool with it because it lines the pockets of their campaign fund supporters (primarily the ag lobby). Some U.S. biofuel company is getting a big return on investment every time it happens. The American public is cool with it because we are unwitting idiots.

Umbra on long, hot showers

Dear Umbra, The biggest waster of energy in our house right now is our 15-year-old daughter, whose never-ending daily showers must surely be responsible for warming the planet another half-degree. No matter how loudly we …

California’s ‘hydrogen highway’ runs into roadblocks

Despite California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s executive order four years ago that “hundreds of hydrogen fueling stations” be built in the state, nary a station has been built under the program. Depending on whom you ask, …

Mr. Rogers responds

Duke Energy CEO responds to climate scientist Jim Hansen

Dear Dr. Hansen: I am happy to meet with you as you suggest in your letter dated March 25, and will work with my staff to find a time that is mutually convenient to discuss climate change. I am in New York City on a regular basis and also open to scheduling a special trip to meet with you. I look forward to spending some time together to discuss climate change and explore ways we can work together on this critical issue. I enjoyed attending your presentation on climate change at Queens University last fall. I have admired your work and leadership on climate change over the past several decades. Your contributions to this issue have been extraordinary. I was pleased to read in your letter that you support coal projects that can capture and store carbon dioxide underground. As you know, this technology is not yet commercially available for large coal plants, and the federal EPA has not yet prepared the permits for this technology for large-scale coal plant demonstration sites. I was surprised to see that you do not want us to proceed with our Edwardsport IGCC plant in Indiana. This plant will be one of the largest IGCC plants in the world and has received $460 million in local, state, and federal clean coal and economic development incentives. The project is located in an area with excellent geology to demonstrate carbon sequestration. It is one of the best -- if not the best -- site in the nation to advance and commercialize this technology. We intend to work with the federal government and other partners to offer the site to demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration as soon as it is technically feasible. I was also concerned that you apparently continue to be against our Cliffside project. Since your visit to Queens University, we have worked extensively with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources on our air permit, which we received last January. The following is from a column by Keith Overcash, Director of the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, that was published in the Winston-Salem Journal 14 Feb. 2008. Keith provides an overview of the permit and the innovative approach used to make the Cliffside project carbon-neutral by requiring the retirement of 1,000 megawatts of older unit

Darth Vader and Mr. Rogers

James Hansen writes to Duke Energy on coal

This is a guest post by noted NASA climate scientist James Hansen. ----- The captains of industry, perhaps more than anyone else, have the ability to solve the global warming problem, so they deserve attention. But different strategies are needed for a Mr. Rogers or a Darth Vader. Some may argue that Mr. Rogers, $28M/year chairman of Duke Energy, is just another executive focused on short-term profits, with any concern for his children and grandchildren directed toward their portfolios rather than the world they will inherit. I have a different impression. Mr. Rogers attended a talk on climate change that I gave in North Carolina. That doesn't prove much. And the words in Duke newspaper ads ("Cliffside [coal-fired power plant] -- Good for the Environment and North Carolina") have the same ring as those of celebs and other well-to-dos who purchase "carbon offsets" to "balance" their carbon emissions. Mr. Rogers, in using the rationale that new coal plants are more efficient than old ones, is misguided, but he does not deserve the enmity that Darth Vader has earned. (The problem, in the thinking of both celebs and Mr. Rogers, is failure to recognize that burning fossil fuels adds CO2 to the air that we cannot practically get back. A large fraction of the elevated CO2 will remain for many centuries. Potential offset by growing trees is limited and that drawdown potential will be needed to reduce airborne CO2 back beneath the dangerous level, to avert centuries-long overshoot of the dangerous CO2 level [PDF]. We simply cannot put the CO2 from most of the remaining fossil fuels into the air. Most of the remaining coal must be left in the ground or used with CO2 capture and storage. It does not help to burn the coal more efficiently or more slowly, because of the long lifetime of the airborne CO2.) Last week, I sent the following letter to Mr. Rogers:

Fossil Fools Day roundup

Activists worldwide target coal plants and banks

Rainforest Action Network's Matt Leonard provides this roundup of Fossil Fools Day actions targeting coal plants, coal minings, and the banks funding it all. Rising Tide (North America, U.K., and International units) spearheaded these efforts and others. Cliffside: 8 Arrested as North Carolina residents shut down construction at Cliffside coal plant At 6:30 a.m., North Carolina residents locked themselves to bulldozers to stop the construction of Duke Energy's massive Cliffside coal-fired power plant being built 50 miles west of Charlotte, N.C. "In the face of catastrophic climate change, building a new coal plant is tantamount to signing a death sentence for our generation," said local farmer Matt Wallace while locked to a bulldozer. The concerned citizens also roped off the construction site with "Global Warming Crime Scene" tape and held banners that read "Coal Fuels Climate Change" and "Social Change, not Climate Change." (more)

<em>WSJ</em>: Biodiesel's advocates smarter than corn ethanol's

Subsidies contribute to muddying of biodiesel instead of boosting the industry

The WSJ reports today: The U.S. taxpayer forks over a $1 subsidy for every gallon of biodiesel that is blended in the U.S. for export later. The idea was to give a nudge to the U.S. biofuel industry. But it is boomeranging, as the Guardian reports today in the latest installment on biodiesel "splash-and-dash." ... Increasingly, traders ship biodiesel from Asia or Europe to U.S. ports, where it is blended with a "splash" of regular diesel, the paper reports. That qualifies the shipment for U.S. export subsidies. Then it is shipped back to Europe where it is also subsidized. European biofuels organizations talk about between $30 million and $300 million in U.S. subsidies being exported that way to Europe. The result? Biofuel's already-tarnished environmental reputation comes under more fire, because round trips across the Atlantic add unnecessary transport emissions to the mix. And Europe's own biodiesel industry has been shutting plants, despite its own efforts to ramp up production to meet political mandates. Imports are undercutting local producers on price. The Christian Science Monitor has more details:

Let me boil it down for you ...

When additionality always matters

Sean Casten and Adam Stein have been discussing when it is important that a carbon savings be additional -- that is, when it is important that we not pay for a saving that would have happened anyway. You guys are making this way more complicated than it needs to be. Iron-clad additionality is critical when you're selling a permission for someone else to pollute. If you are reducing emissions, generating a financial instrument from that fact, and then selling it to someone else to use as a substitute for reducing their own emissions, your reduction had damn well better be additional. Otherwise, you are almost certainly increasing pollution. You're welcome.

Mysterious new pro-coal organization