Climate & Energy

Small hydro, big potential

‘Run of river’ projects set for a boom?

When I bought my house, I didn't realize that the stream that travels its acres is perennial and spring-fed ... which seemed like the perfect scenario for a microhydro generator. These units make a lot of power all day and night, unlike solar and (usually) wind. It works by siphoning off a portion of water to run through a pipe, then through a generator, and then back into the creek. Voilà! So I did the measurements and found 140 gallons per minute, which is about enough for the purpose, but less than a 20 foot drop in elevation, which is the killer. Microhydro usually requires either high head or high volumes to pencil out, but I have barely the minimum of each. At best, it would account for 20 percent of the house's needs -- not quite good enough for me to think too deeply about the capital expense or the fact that the town's Conservation Commission probably wouldn't allow the use. Other nearby commissions have also been unfriendly to residents employing or proposing it on their properties, even though microhydro is not a consumptive use and requires no dams. I have some small consolation, though, knowing that all the electricity in this portion of my county's grid is already 100 percent hydro, due to its proximity to the Deerfield River (one of the most developed rivers in the country, with small dams working up a good portion of its length from southern Vermont into western Massachusetts). Which is nice, in a way: the next nearest power plant to my community uses coal from a mountaintop removal mine in Appalachia, so this somewhat green power is welcome. So I was interested to see news that small hydro is possibly on the verge of a boom, with new estimates of 30,000 MW of potential small hydro capacity in the U.S. alone. This would build on small hydro's ubiquity in the industry, if the article is right that 80 percent of the existing hydro projects in the U.S. are low power (under 1 MW) or small hydro (1 to 30 MW). The industry is saying it can get more power out of falling water without any more dams:

Déjà nuke

This lede made me laugh out loud: As concerns about greenhouse gases and global warming mount, nuclear energy is getting a second look in California, with supporters ranging from the governor to at least one …

Breaking the U.S.-China suicide pact

William Chandler’s recommendations on how we can cooperate to lower emissions

William Chandler, director of the Carnegie Energy and Climate Program, has borrowed my phrase for the title of his new study: "Breaking the Suicide Pact: U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change." It begins: Together, China and the United States produce 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Their actions to curb or expand energy consumption will determine whether efforts to stop global climate change succeed or fail. If these two nations act to curb emissions, the rest of the world can more easily coalesce on a global plan. If either fails to act, the mitigation strategies adopted by the rest of the world will fall far short of averting disaster for large parts of the earth. These two nations are now joined in what energy analyst Joe Romm has aptly called "a mutual suicide pact." American leaders point to emissions growth in China and demand that Chinese leaders take responsibility for climate change. Chinese leaders counter that American per capita greenhouse gas emissions are five times theirs and say, "You created this problem, you do something about it."

Navajo Nation will develop wind-power project

Today we present the good, the bad, and the ugly of energy sources on Navajo land. The good: The Navajo Nation has formed a joint venture with Boston-based Citizens Energy Corp for a wind-power project …

Carbon policy details: Part 3

Carbon taxes vs. carbon trading

This is the third post in a series about details we are still getting wrong in the climate policy discussion. See also part one and part two. There is no shortage of economic analysis and policy discourse that shows that carbon tax and cap-and-trade methodologies can deliver economically equivalent outcomes. The general consensus -- at least today -- seems to be that since they're equivalent, it really comes down to politics, and it's politically difficult to do anything with the word "tax" in it, so we'll do cap-and-trade. I like the conclusion, but the rationale is pure bunkum. To understand why, we need only go back to my simple test of any climate policy proposal: the degree to which it encourages investment in capital that lowers atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Cap-and-trade and carbon taxes do not pass the test equally.

U.S. West warming faster than the rest of the planet, says analysis

The U.S. West is warming faster than the rest of the country, and faster than the planet as a whole, according to an analysis of 50 scientific studies done by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. …

Think globally by thinking locally

A new study bolsters the importance-of-place arguments made by people like Wendell Berry: the strongest way to get people to engage with the problems and to act responsibly for the global environment is to focus on the threats to their own place). This doesn't really surprise me -- but it does prompt me to change my signature line to "Save your community -- cut greenhouse gas emissions 5% per year."

Casten gospel reaches NYT

Congrats to our own Sean Casten for getting the following letter to the editor in The New York Times: Re "States’ Battles Over Energy Grow Fiercer With U.S. in a Policy Gridlock" ("The Energy Challenge" …

A Southern Baptist conversion to concern about climate change

Young theologian discusses denomination’s recent declaration

Jonathan Merritt is a young theologian in Atlanta who broke into the national conversation this month by championing, within the conservative Southern Baptist faith, the declaration of a new set of principles regarding creation care and climate change. While noting continuing debate on some global warming questions, the declaration made a point of stating that we as a species can damage the planet and that such actions are wrong. The declaration stressed that "we do not believe unanimity is necessary for prudent action," and that "humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change -- however great or small." The declaration was signed by three of the four most recent presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, including the current office holder, Frank Page. In a phone interview, Merritt conceded that the resolution, like all resolutions issued by the SBC, is non-binding, but he and his fellow counselors are pleased that, since the declaration made the national news, hundreds of prominent Southern Baptists have signed on, including divinity school presidents, pastors, seminary professors, and missionaries. Merritt said that it represented an "evolution" of the Southern Baptist position on the issue, but the mildness of that description is debatable. In the Resolution on Global Warming issued in June 2007, the Southern Baptist Convention used the dismissive rhetoric of climate change denial, claiming the science was "divided" on the question of global warming and that measures to reduce emissions were "very dangerous" and costly. Because the Southern Baptist denomination is the second largest in the country, with over sixteen million adherents, the church's position on social issues makes news. Not only do these believers stake out a new position on the issue, but they use the language of repentance to describe the change, which makes their change of heart sound almost like a conversion experience. The declaration mentions the "study, reflection, and prayer" the signatories underwent before reaching consensus on the declaration, and added in a widely-quoted statement: We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues have often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice. Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. I asked Merritt about this language, saying that if I were a reporter in a courtroom, I would describe this as a statement as "remorseful."