Climate & Energy

No coal? OK, then what?

Beware the allure of liquefied natural gas

Two years ago, one of us (Jason) was at an energy industry conference planning committee and he made the point that whether or not everyone around the table agreed on global warming, the issue was just about to break out and dominate the public conversation on energy. Because of global warming, he went on to say, getting a new coal-fired power station built was just a "prudency review waiting to happen." For those of you that remember, it was, in many ways, the prudency review process that killed the nuclear industry back in the 1980s. In the past several weeks, several announcements suggest that this situation has indeed come to pass. Here's what's going on: the Kansas Department of Health and Environment turned down a permit for 1400-MW of coal-fired power based on emissions of global warming gases. This is arguably the first time a coal plant has been denied for this reason. Let's repeat the state: Kansas. It's not California, Florida, New York,or Oregon. Kansas has historically been a coal-friendly state. Another story revealed that even in Montana, a coal-producing state (or at least one with significant coal reserves), coal plant permits are being fought by bipartisan coalitions, and that electric utilities concede that these groups are effective. In other reports that cross our desks regularly, we note that more than 10,000 MW of coal plants recently have been canceled or postponed around the country. No doubt many are of you are cheering! But there are trade-offs in all things -- especially in energy, environmental, and economic issues. As enthusiasm for coal wanes, it grows for nuclear, even among some that have fought tooth and nail against nuclear in the past. However, there's a problem. The fastest any nuclear plant can come online, given regulatory and financing hurdles, is around 2015. Meanwhile, electricity demand continues to grow. As much as the rewewables camp wants to believe it, solar and wind are not going to supply all or even most of the necessary power anytime soon. (We strongly believe in renewable energy, but also believe that we need energy storage to make it work on a scale that will be able to replace a significant amount of fossil fuels.) So what's going to replace coal as the dominant fuel for electricity production?

Bye, bye, Ms. Renewable Pie

Dem leadership considers axing renewable energy from the energy bill

OK. I'm still trying to report this out. What I have for now comes from environmental advocates, off-the-record conversations, and, for what it's worth, my own speculation. The situation is very fluid, and can change at any time (as in, by the time you read this). Near as I can tell, though, this is how things look going into tonight: I've learned from concerned advocates that Democratic congressional leadership is considering stripping the production tax credits for wind and solar, along with the federal renewable portfolio standard, from the conference bill. Losing the RPS and the PTC would mean jettisoning basically every measure that the White House has complained about. Apparently, Reid and Pelosi may have decided that a bill with a Renewable Fuel Standard (i.e., monstrous subsidies for ethanol) and a boost in CAFE standards is enough to secure Democratic bragging rights on energy. If this happens, it will mean there's bupkis in the energy bill for renewable electricity, imperiling probably billions of dollars in solar and wind contracts that have been written with the expectation that the production tax credits will lower costs to investors and consumers.

Nefarious legislative shenanigans

Domenici tries to kill the energy bill and sneak nuclear loan guarantees into the farm bill

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) is up to some serious shenanigans up on the hill. First, he has introduced an amendment that would attach the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to the farm bill. He claims he’s trying to save the RFS, in case negotiations on the energy bill (where the RFS now lives) stall out. Senate majority leader Harry Reid opposes the move. Why? It’s complicated, but the gist is that lots of folks — Reid likely included — see this as an attempt to sink the energy bill. The RFS is one of the key planks holding support for the …

The youth climate movement proves itself at Power Shift

Van Jones gets youth activists riled up at Power Shift rally. Photo: Fritz Myer About 5,500 people, most under the age of 21, traveled from all over the country to the unremarkable suburb of College Park, Md., this past weekend to take part in the largest climate-change conference and rally in U.S. history. At Power Shift 2007, these college and high-school students established in clear terms the major differences between today’s young Americans and their political leaders in Washington — whereas the former can punch high above their weight, their elders are sitting out the fight. As national advocacy conferences …

China …

… will not accept binding emissions caps in any international agreement. But according to Guido Sacconi, chairman of the European Parliament’s climate change committee, China isn’t the real problem: “The problem is rather that of other superpowers — other areas of the world — who may not wish to join in and follow the same course.” Hm …

Masters of their domain

Politicians and the art of deception

Compare this video (posted by David) of Hillary squirming while she tells a whopper with the video below of McCain being brutally honest (via a comment by greyflcn in same post). Refreshing. We human beings are masters of deception, and of detection of said deception -- the result of an evolutionary arms race: Update: I didn't realize that this is old footage before his flip flop.

Getting nervous

Via Boucher, Bush signals willingness to sign onto (weak) mandatory carbon controls

According to E&E (sub. rqd), Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Coal) says President Bush would sign a climate bill with mandatory carbon controls as long as it was, well, toothless: A House Democrat writing legislation to require greenhouse gas limits said today that White House officials have privately indicated that President Bush might sign such a bill, despite the administration’s public stance against mandatory controls. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) told a business forum that White House officials have not put up a “red light.” But he outlined several big “ifs.” “If a bill is presented to the White House that has a …

As a matter of fact you <em>can't</em> take your eyes off these people

Oil companies target the fragile Arctic continental shelf for oil drilling

You’re probably against drilling in the Alaskan Refuge, but what you really ought to be worried about is offshore drilling on Alaska’s continental shelf, which isn’t protected by law or by close attention from environmentalists — and where the likelihood and impact of accidents are far worse. Read Peter Matthiessen’s definitive piece in The Nation: When one considers the more than four thousand spills — over one a day — recorded by the oil industry in its land operations in the last decade, and keeping in mind that offshore hazards are far greater, the inevitable accidents seem certain to accumulate …

Trading, taxing, and public reconstruction

Some signs of another mitigation alternative emerging

There has certainly been a great deal of discussion of carbon taxes and various cap-and-trade and cap-and-auction frameworks among environmentalists. Recently, Nordhaus and Shellenberger used the term "public investment" as another mitigation strategy, a term which seems to refer mostly to research and development. However, another alternative is direct governmental construction of the various means of transforming economies toward sustainability -- what might be called public reconstruction. I thought I'd share three quotes from well-known writers that seem to be moving in this direction.

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