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Obama silent on climate change in big Iowa energy speech

Obama in Newton, IowaObama's energy speech: lots about wind, nothing about climate. (Photo by Darin Leach for USDA.)

A version of this post originally appeared on Climate Progress.

Last month, the White House edited climate change from Obama’s Earth Day 2012 proclamation. That was after the president omitted any discussion of climate change from his State of the Union address.

But then, in a Rolling Stone interview, Obama unexpectedly broke out of his self-imposed silence on climate change, saying he thought climate change would be a campaign issue.

Of course, it would be hard for climate to be a campaign issue if the president doesn’t actually talk about it in public. After all, his challenger Mitt Romney seems unlikely to bring it up, having Etch-a-Sketched his position on that subject many times. And Lord knows that media isn’t itching to talk about climate.

So it was disappointing again once again that on Thursday the president reverted to form in his big speech on energy at TPI Composites, a wind-blade manufacturing plant in Newton, Iowa.

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Could Romney’s scorn for wind power hurt him in the heartland?

Photo by Eric Tastad.

On Thursday, President Obama will visit TPI Composites, a wind manufacturer in Newton, Iowa (population, 15,254). There, he will reiterate his support for the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal support program that has helped drive wind's rapid expansion in the U.S. The PTC is now in peril, as Congress appears unlikely to renew it when it expires at the end of this year. The loss of the PTC would put tens of thousands of current jobs -- and almost 100,000 future jobs [PDF] -- at risk.

Newton's experience is illustrative, so let's recount a little history.

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Turbine that looks like a piece of art will fit right in at your yacht club

There are some who believe that those behemoth white wind turbines are beautiful and some (Donald Trump) who believe that they're a blight on the landscape. Well, here is a wind turbine that will win over both groups. It’s like the Frosted Mini-Wheats of wind energy: The penny pincher in you loves the efficiency, but the Trump in you loves the fact that it looks like it came from West Elm.

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Buzzword decoder: Your election-year guide to environmental catchphrases

bees saying buzzwordsDon't expect the environment to be in the spotlight in political campaigns this year. The economy will be the star in 2012, with the culture wars singing backup.

Still, environmental issues are getting talked about, often obliquely as part of larger discussions about energy -- though the words don't always mean what you might think they mean. And the words politicians don't say can tell you as much as the words they do.

Here's a guide to energy and environmental buzzwords you'll be hearing, or not, this election year:

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The surprising reason why Newark Mayor Cory Booker supports wind power

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is handsome, approachable, and once saved a lady from a fire -- he's basically the Ryan Gosling of politics. And one of the reasons people like him, even people like me who know next to nothing about his job performance, is that he's always willing to make jokes about himself, and about the fundamental absurdity of being a politician. Which is why I had to love his explanation of why he supports wind power.

Read more: Politics, Wind Power

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Anti-wind activists want to create fake grassroots campaign against industry

Photo by lightsight.

A version of this post originally appeared on Climate Progress.

Last February, a group of anti-wind activists gathered in Washington, D.C. Their goal: establish a coordinated, nationwide program of “wind warriors” who could be dispatched to fight the industry anywhere, anytime.

The organization would combine efforts and create “what should appear as a ‘groundswell’ among grass roots” to counter legislation supporting wind energy on the federal, state, and local levels.

The leader of the group was John Droz, Jr., a longtime wind opponent and a senior fellow at the ultra-conservative American Tradition Institute (ATI). ATI calls itself an “environmental” think tank. The organization, known best for suing climate scientist Michael Mann, is devoted to spreading doubt about climate change, opposing state-level renewable energy targets, and stripping away environmental regulations.

ATI is so extreme that it was denounced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for contributing to an “environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas.”

According to a memo just obtained by the Checks and Balances Project and reviewed by Climate Progress, Droz has also been focused on crafting a fake grassroots campaign to fight renewable energy projects -- specifically wind -- in legislatures, zoning boards, and town halls across the country.

Read more: Wind Power

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New interactive book could explain everything anyone needs to know about energy

The Kickstarter video for The WATT? An Energy 101 Primer does a good job of explaining why, exactly, people should care about energy:

Energy is everything. It's a part of pretty much every aspect of modern life. wherever you live, whatever you do, however you do it.

Unfortunately, most people know next to nothing about how this stuff actually works. The makers of the The WATT? -- Focus the Nation, a clean energy youth organization, and Friend of Grist List Ben Jervey -- aim to change that by publishing an "users' manual for energy in the 21st century." They're going to publish it as a PDF whether you fund their Kickstarter project or not, but if they raise enough money, they are going to make it a much, much more awesome interactive e-book with charts, graphics and videos.

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How wind power fits into our energy diet

Photo by stormcrypt.

There’s a bunch of discussion right now on renewable electricity vs. baseload electricity. David Roberts gives a good German example here. Chris Nelder goes so far as to suggest that thanks to renewables, "baseload is doomed," while John Farrell suggests that renewable energy is the new and sexy iPad, destined to replace the old baseload typewriter. Meanwhile, in utility land, we see issues like the one that took place in the Northwest last year, with Bonneville Power Association (BPA) forcing the curtailment of wind turbines, on the claim that the grid could not readily accommodate the rising percentage of intermittent resources.

So is BPA just a Paleolithic typewriter sales rep, or are these smart writers missing something fundamental about the power grid? I suggest to you that both are right -- but that the debate is focusing on the wrong axis. As evidence, consider that the percent of power generated from renewable energy in the U.S. today is virtually the same as the percent of power we generated from renewable energy 20 years ago. If something dramatic is happening in renewable energy that is disrupting the old paradigm, it hasn’t happened yet. So then why is there so much noise about the sudden challenge integrating renewable energy into our grid?

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U.S. coal is on the decline, and utility execs know it

Every week brings a new story about coal's decline in America. Here are two from last week.

One is about American Electric Power, the nation's largest electric utility, based in Ohio but ranging over 11 states in the South and Midwest. AEP is the farthest thing from a good actor in the utility sector. Between 2008 and 2010, the company raised executive compensation by 30 percent, laid off 2,600 workers, spent almost $29 million lobbying the federal government, and paid a tax rate of -9 percent [PDF]. Yes, negative nine. It's that kind of company.

So it's significant that last week, AEP reaffirmed its intention to accelerate a shift away from coal. By 2020, according to CEO Nicholas Akins, coal will fall from 67 percent of AEP's assets to 50 percent.

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Wind farms DO NOT cause climate change

A study that just came out in Nature Climate Change found that wind farms can impact local temperatures, particularly at night. Basically, the turbines mix warmer air from high up with colder air closer to the ground. Hence, warmer air overall, in these very local spots.

So, of course, Fox News is telling people that "New research shows wind farms cause global warming." Not to be out-crazied, the Telegraph is going with "Wind farms can cause climate change." Gizmodo at least uses the word "local" in its headline. But unfortunately such restraint hasn't stopped the internet from deciding, as this apparently very patriotic gentleman on Twitter demonstrates, that "Wind farms = worse for local climate change than 100 years of pollution (0.6 degree F)."

Which, FINE, the scientists report that the temperature changes they've documented, "if spatially large enough, may have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate." That impact, however, is different from what we normally mean by climate change. We're talking about the increase of global average temperatures, which -- funny how averages work -- is a much bigger deal than local temperature increases.