Climate & Energy

The subsidy tease, part I

Congress needs to stop flirting with the renewable energy industry

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. ----- When it comes to relationships, Congress is a big tease. Or so it must seem to the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. Just when they think they're about to go to the altar with the federal government, Congress becomes the runaway bride. Everyone who's anyone acknowledges that energy efficiency and renewable energy are indispensable to America's future. They promise greater energy independence, clean air, steady prices, infinite supplies, a lower trade deficit, and a way to begin minimizing the suffering that will result from global climate change. Due to the urgency of global warming, the future must start now with rapid diffusion of the clean energy technologies that are ready for market. We must also expedite the development of new efficient and renewable energy technologies and the industries that make, sell, and service them. To compete on the same playing field as oil, gas and coal -- our entrenched and heavily subsidized carbon fuels -- the clean energy technologies need federal help, including subsidies. For example, to help embryonic renewable energy industries reach viability, Congress implemented a Production Tax Credit (PTC) as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and scheduled it to expire in 1999, seven years later. Since 1999, Congress has extended the credit for one to two years at a time and has allowed it to expire three times. It currently is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, along with a bundle of other tax benefits to encourage the use of more efficient windows, furnaces, and building insulation. The result of this on-again, off-again subsidy has been boom-bust cycles for wind energy and the other technologies covered by the credit. Each time the PTC is renewed, renewable energy projects begin to blossom. Then, months before the next expiration date, investment stops because of uncertainty. In an analysis of the PTC's impact on the wind industry, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded:

Biofuels and the fertilizer problem

Can a ‘renewable fuel’ rely on mining a finite resource?

While scrolling through news accounts of the recent boom in the agrochemicals industry — yes, that’s how I spend my days — I came across an interesting take on biofuels and phosphate, a key element of soil fertility. The article, from Investors Business Daily, takes a standard rah-rah position on what it deems a “heyday in the heartland.” The journal wants to make sure its readers know there’s plenty of cash to be made investing in the companies catering to the great boom in industrial agriculture. With corn and soy prices both at or near record highs, the article tries …

Barack's economic policy speech in Wisconsin

Obama lauds green jobs and clean tech in economy speech

Photo: Sam Graham-Felsen In a speech on Wednesday at a GM auto plant in Wisconsin, Barack Obama outlined his economic agenda for the country. He described his stimulus plan, promising to boost green jobs, help the middle class, dole out tax cuts, negotiate worker and environmental protections in upcoming free-trade agreements -- and, to help pay for much of it, end the costly war in Iraq. The environmental highlights of the speech are below (audio available here):

Journey to the bottom of the Earth

CBS airs final segment of Antarctica series tonight

CBS has been televising a series this week on climate change impacts in Antarctica. Monday's broadcast spotlighted how climate change has affected Adelie penguin populations. The segment last night focused on scientific research in Antarctica and what it might mean for our understanding of global warming (see video below). You can tune in tonight at 6:30 pm EST to find out about waste and recycling issues in our least-inhabited continent.

Houston, we have a problem

Opinion writer suggests efficiency stimulus would be more effective

An opinion writer at the Houston Chronicle says: Congress missed a major opportunity with the stimulus package. They could have invested in something that would have been good for the consumer (encouraging energy savings), the environment (reducing emissions) and the economy (stimulating development of products that represent our future). The magic elixir? Energy efficiency is the best thing we can do for our economy and environment right now. Instead of $600 once for every consumer, how about $100 to every family that replaces incandescent bulbs with florescent? Or $1,000 to every family that buys a car that meets future CAFE …

And you thought the subprime mess was bad for the homebuilding industry

Well, this is certainly bad news for anyone in the Phoenix real estate market. 

House Democrats make another push for renewable-energy credits

Democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced legislation that would extend renewable-energy incentives, which were booted out of both the recent energy bill and the economic stimulus bill. The House legislation would provide tax breaks for investments in energy efficiency and solar, wind, and geothermal power, at an expected cost of $17.5 billion over 10 years. It would be financed mostly by repealing some $13.6 billion in tax breaks currently enjoyed by crazy-rich oil and gas companies. The House legislation passed committee on Tuesday, but likely won’t be taken up by the full chamber until next week. There’s reason …

Against the wind

Cute take on wind power:

Biofuels: good for agrochemical/GMO biz

GMO giant Monsanto wows Wall Street, consolidates its grip on South America

While debate rages on Gristmill and elsewhere about whether biofuels are worth a damn ecologically, investors in agribusiness firms are quietly counting their cash. As corn and soy prices approach all-time highs, driven up by government biofuel mandates, farmers are scrambling to plant as much as they can — and lashing the earth with chemicals to maximize yields. At a Wall Street meeting on Tuesday, genetically modified seed/herbicide giant Monsanto promised investors even-higher-than-expected profits in fiscal year 2008. The company expects to rake in $1.3-$1.4 billion in gross profit from its Roundup herbicide alone (Monsanto had been previously expecting to …

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