Climate & Energy

You know what they say about a guy with a big footprint?

GAO says the electric sector’s got a big subsidy to match

The GAO has reported on subsidies to our electric sector, proving what Grist readers already (sadly) know, namely that subsidies to the dirty folks vastly exceed existing or proposed subsidies to cleaner generation. The most remarkable thing is that the biggest subsidies, like nuclear liability guarantees and lower debt costs through rate payer guarantees, aren't even included in the list (although, to the GAO's credit, it does acknowledge their existence). So who's packing the biggest, er, subsidy?

Report from the World Meteorological Organization

CO2 levels hit new record in 2006

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), in its new 2006 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, reports: In 2006, globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached their highest levels ever recorded ... 381.2 parts per million (ppm), up 0.53 per cent from 379.2 ppm in 2005. Note this is a one-year rise of 2.0 ppm, continuing the accelerated trend of the past decade, which is due to increases in global economic activity and carbon intensity, together with decreased efficiency of natural sinks, like the ocean.

Splitting up is hard to do

Pelosi joins Reid in bifurcating the energy bill

A couple weeks ago, as I wrote here, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was keeping mum about her efforts alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to pass the energy bill. She would neither confirm nor deny rumors about a split bill. Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that she's no longer keeping quiet: Democratic leaders have wrestled for months with how to meld the Senate bill, which includes a new fuel-economy mandate for auto makers, and the House bill, which would require power companies to use greater amounts of wind, solar and other renewable fuels. With only a few weeks left in the year, Democrats are now considering a new option: moving two separate bills.One measure would include the proposed fuel-economy increase as well as a proposal to boost production of ethanol and related biofuels. The companion bill would include the utility mandate, as well as a tax package rolling back oil industry tax breaks. How this makes the utility mandate any less likely to be filibustered remains a total mystery to me. But I suppose there is some logic to moving as many parts of the bill as are immediately passable, thereby narrowing the battle to one over renewables alone. Maybe Reid will just jam clean energy into some difficult-to-filibuster legislation down the road.

Ice, ice, maybe (not)

Must-see ice-sheet TV

Do you want the latest data -- some not yet published -- and the best post-IPCC scientific predictions on the stunning collapse of Arctic ice and unexpected shrinking of the Greenland (and Antarctic) ice sheets? Then you should definitely watch this C-SPAN video of yesterday's American Meteorological Society seminar (see note on link below). The seminar is by three of the world's top cryosphere experts: Dr. Mark Serreze (NOAA), Scott Luthcke (NASA), and Dr. Konrad Steffen (CIRES) -- full bios and program summary available here. I will post their presentations when AMS puts them online (which will be here). I have spent a great deal of time studying the ice and sea-level-rise issue (see links below) and still found the presentations informative and startling. It is very safe to say the Arctic Sea will be essentially ice-free by 2030, and I'd personally bet on 2020 -- any takers?

Congressional fuel-economy deal near

A possible compromise in energy legislation negotiations

The Detroit Free Press reports: Congressional negotiators are close to agreement on an increase in fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, with some caveats to satisfy U.S. automakers. What caveats? The compromise would preserve the distinction between cars and trucks, something Detroit automakers have fought for, while giving federal regulators strict limits on how to put the increases into place. It also would include a provision backed by the UAW aimed at keeping small-car production in the United States. Still, much better than no deal at all.

Public overwhelmingly opposes drilling on Coloradan plateau, say activists

Conservationists have analyzed public comments on a Bureau of Land Management proposal to drill for oil and gas on Colorado’s Roan Plateau and have come up with a tally: seven comments for drilling; approximately 42,000 against. Hm — guess it’s not a consensus then.

Another one bites the dust

Coal plant application rejected in Washington

Another coal plant application denied. This one was stiffed because of a law Washington passed this year requiring that coal plant proposals include plans for carbon sequestration or, if that’s not possible, plans to purchase offsets in a commensurate amount. But you gotta start with the sequestration plan, and the application from Energy Northwest didn’t have one. Said the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC): "The principal flaw in the (Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan) is its failure to present a plan to achieve geological sequestration. It does not detail specific actions (Energy Northwest) will take … (Energy Northwest’s) GGRP fails …

How not to make an energy policy

A strong and realistic energy policy is not dependent on any one fuel, technology, or supplier

First a caveat: When it comes to electricity generation, I (Jason) am an agnostic. In other words, I try to evaluate energy sources on their own merits, from cradle to grave, and I try my best to keep ideology out of the analysis. When we're talking about our energy future, it is essential to look at the big picture. We should evaluate each fuel source -- its pros, cons, and its potential for the future -- in light of all the geopolitical, economic, and environmental challenges we face. We should develop a comprehensive plan that maximizes energy potential, minimizes risk, and makes room for new technological developments. There are two things we absolutely must not do: turn reactionary decisions based on short-term situations into long-term policy, and base our energy future on wishful thinking. Speaking of coal and CO2 sequestration ... Reactionary decision-making In the early 1970s, this country had about 12 percent of its generating capacity in natural gas-fired power stations. Then the OPEC embargoes hit, and we legislated against using natural gas in power stations (the Fuel Use Act of 1979). The gas share of electric generating capability dropped to around 7 percent. Then, after the Fuel Use Act was repealed in 1986, we went on a gas-fired power construction binge in the late 1990s. Today, we have more gas-fired generating capacity than we have coal-fired! However, because the price of gas is so high, those plants only account for about 12 percent of actual kilowatts generated. Hmmm ... 1970: 12 percent. 2007: 12 percent. Also in the '70s, we were on a path to replace a significant amount of coal capacity with nuclear. Then Three Mile Island occurred. All the planned nukes were canceled, and we were back to relying on coal. Not only that, but the economics of the Clean Air Act of 1990 encouraged utilities to switch to western coal, because even though it had less energy per unit weight (a lower-quality fuel than most eastern coal sources), it was low in sulfur and less expensive, even when transportation costs were factored in. Power plants representing tens of thousands of megawatts switched to western coal, because it was cheaper in the short-term (based on regulated utility economics) than adding sulfur dioxide scrubbers or other alternatives. So now we not only use much more coal, we use lower quality coal, with poorer efficiency, that emits more CO2. The result of all these jumps and starts is that despite some interesting cycles in the trend lines, our energy source mix today looks remarkably like it did forty years ago.

Looking for a good investment?

Food prices going up, along with everything else

From an article in the Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Hat tip to Gristmill reader KO): What has abruptly changed is the twin revolution of biofuel politics and Asia's switch to an animal-protein diet. Together, they have shattered the fragile equilibrium. Investors who want to take advantage of agflation must tread with care, both for moral reasons and questions of timing. Riiiight ... moral reasons. The way I see it, you can go the PETA route and call the closest thing the environmental movement has to a hero (Nobel Laureate Al Gore) a hypocrite for eating meat, replete with a bulbous-nosed, pot-bellied caricature, or you can admonish your politicians to stop supporting biofuels. I suppose you could do both. I'm concentrating my firepower on the biofuel side of the equation. Industrial agrofuels are still in their infancy. They have to be stopped now, before it's too late. As consumers, voters, and peaceful protesters, we have a measure of power. Let's start using it. Find an effective way to convince humanity to eat fewer animal products and I'll support that effort also. More quotes from the article under the fold:

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