Sunday, November 1, 2009

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Contest: Come up with a title for my book

Posted: 31 Oct 2009 07:35 AM PDT

My publisher and I still haven't come up with a title that works.  The problem is that there are a great many books on climate and/or clean energy solutions coming out right now many with similar sounding titles.

I do think this collection of blog posts accomplishes what I try to do on my blog — save readers time, cut through the crap and focus on what's important in climate science, solution, and politics (with a hefty dose of old-media critiques).  The trick is it making that all clear in a few, catchy words.

I prefer figures of speech — The Hype About Hydrogen is my best-selling book.  And don't worry too much about the subtitle — it will explain what the book covers, and I have a pretty good idea for that, but don't want to thwart any of your creativity by putting out any ideas right now.

If we end up choosing your suggestion (or something very similar), you'll get free copy of the book (woo-hoo) and you can write a guest blog post!  For similar sounding suggestions, the earliest entry wins.  You can build on someone else's idea — in fact, that's usually how the best title is ultimately found.

Enter as many suggestions as you want.  Do use Google to check whether the title is sufficiently original.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu on home weatherization: Saving money by saving energy

Posted: 31 Oct 2009 07:29 AM PDT

The guest blogger today is the Nobel prize-winning Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, by way of HuffPost.  As you'll see, he's the mirror image of Bush's Energy Secretary (see "Bodman as Orwell: DOE erases 'most successful' weatherization program from website").

Photograph a person holding a caulking gun while caulking the inside of a window.I've always been a bit of an energy efficiency nut.

I've made it my mission to cut the utility bills at every home we've owned. Long before I learned about the risks of climate change, I was fanatical about energy efficiency because I'm cheap.

Whenever my wife and I move into a new home, I check the attic for adequate insulation. I look for leaks around doors and windows and install a programmable thermostat if needed. In our latest home, I've also insulated our water pipes with inexpensive foam from our local hardware store and painted mastic sealant on the seams of the air ducts. When our hot water heater needed replacement, we installed a tank-less water heater which decreased our summer-time gas use by 50%. In the summer, we found that setting the thermostat at 77 – 78 degrees and a gentle breeze from a fan was all that is required to be comfortable.

So far, we are on track to cut our utility bills by about half compared to the previous owner, but we are doing more. Our home has two large skylights that funnel too much heat out in the winter and let too much heat in the summer. We intend to replace these older windows with modern widows with five times the efficiency.

Taking these steps is called "weatherization." I would rather call it "saving money by saving energy." Over the next several years, we want to help millions of American families seize the same opportunity to cut their utility bills by making their homes and appliances more energy efficient while increasing comfort.

We are making a major down payment on this effort through the President's economic recovery plan.

First, the Recovery Act expanded tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades to your home. If you purchase and install certain energy-efficient windows, insulation, doors, roofs, or heating and cooling equipment, you can receive a tax credit for 30% of the cost, up to $1,500. For example, if insulating your attic costs around $1,600, you'll receive a $480 tax credit, and you could save up to $200 on your utility bill each year.

Second, we are launching an innovative new effort called "Retrofit Ramp Up" that will simplify and reduce the cost of home retrofits by funding pioneering programs that reach whole neighborhoods and towns. If we can energy audit and retrofit a reasonable fraction of the homes in any given residential block, the cost will be greatly reduced. Programs such as these will decrease barriers to saving money: inconvenience, inertia, and inadequate information. We want to make home energy efficiency upgrades irresistible and a social norm for homeowners.

This effort could offer homeowners innovative ways to finance the upfront investments they can't afford on their own. For example, homeowners might receive a loan for an energy improvement and pay back the principal and interest over time via an assessment on their property tax bill. The homeowners might pay an extra $400 per year on their property tax bill but save $500 a year on their utility bill. Since the financing would be attached to the property tax bill, both the savings and the loan payments stay with the house if the owners decide to sell.

Finally, for low-income families who are hit hardest by high utility bills, the Recovery Act provides $5 billion for home weatherization. This is the largest single investment in home energy efficiency in U.S history. This program is creating jobs now, putting money back in the pockets of hardworking Americans, reducing our environmental footprint, and making these homes more livable. However, some people – including me – have been frustrated that the program started off more slowly than we'd hoped.

It took a few months for states to develop their plans and for the Energy Department to ensure those plans met the highest standards of accountability. We also used this time to work with the Labor Department to establish standards that guarantee these jobs pay a fair wage. States and their local weatherization agencies also began training this new workforce and buying millions of dollars in necessary equipment and materials, like caulk guns, insulation blowers, and service vehicles. We are taking the care and time necessary to make sure these taxpayer dollars are well spent.

Those purchases are creating jobs. A good example is an insulation machine manufacturer called Krendl in Delphos, Ohio. Because of Recovery Act-driven purchases, Krendl has expanded its workforce by 30 percent, and one of Krendl's distributors, Applied Energy Products, Inc., increased its staff by almost 60 percent.

Here's more good news:

  • All 50 states have received 100% of their Recovery Act weatherization funding and have begun to double and triple their home energy efficiency efforts. Workers are being hired, homes are being improved, and families are being helped.
  • In September, we estimate we weatherized 15,000 – 20,000 homes – the fastest pace in the 30 year history of the Weatherization Assistance Program. We expect to be weatherizing 20,000 to 30,000 homes per month soon.
  • This effort has already created or saved thousands of jobs, and the pace of hiring is accelerating. The Department of Energy and our partners have an aggressive training and technical assistance program to continue to invest in green workforce development.

We're training a workforce and building a home energy efficiency industry that will be a crucial part of America's new, clean energy economy. As states, utilities and private companies increasingly pursue home energy efficiency – in part because of the innovative incentive programs I described earlier – we will have the capacity to help millions of Americans lower their utility bills.

Energy efficiency is simply good economics. It will save you money. It will create jobs. It is a way for you to personally decrease your carbon emissions and help save our planet.

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Energy and Global Warming News for October 30: Coal industry knew of fraudulent letters; Senate GOP may try to stall climate bill

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 01:18 PM PDT

Coal industry knew of fraudulent letters

A coal industry association waited until several weeks after a major House vote on climate legislation to let lawmakers know that letters sent to them opposing the bill were fraudulent, according to a congressional investigation.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal knew before the June cap and trade vote that these letters — purported to be from minority and senior citizen groups concerned about the legislation — were fraudulent. The letters were sent to several politically vulnerable House lawmakers in the days before the vote. The bill barely passed the House in late June, approved by just a seven vote margin.

But the association and its contractor, The Hawthorn Group, did not inform lawmakers that the letters were fake until weeks later, according to an investigation by the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

"Some here today will claim these letters can be attributed to a temporary employee, when, in fact, this fraud chiefly resulted form a systemic lack of oversight and quality control, mixed with a substantial disregard for the facts," said Chairman Ed Markey, select committee, in a Thursday hearing about the letters.

The letters were sent out by Bonner & Associates, a subcontractor hired by Hawthorn for their expertise in grassroots campaigns.

The coal association spent nearly $10 million over the past 18 months on lobbying efforts supervised by Hawthorn and Bonner. In the three months before the vote, ACCCE paid Hawthorn $975,000 for activities related to the climate bill.

Critics say the campaign is a classic example of astroturfing, or using fake grassroots campaigns to influence policymakers, in this case pushing them to modify or kill the legislation.

Officials at the coal association say they never communicated with Bonner & Associates directly. But, the senior account official at Hawthorn charged with managing grassroots advocacy efforts for the coal group is married to Paul Bailey, the senior vice president for federal affairs at ACCCE.

Bailey joined the association in February and was given a "specific directive" to assure that he "he would not have authority to authorize or evaluate Hawthorn's activities," according to the documents.

Jack Bonner, the president of Bonner and Associates, said the letters were the result of "one rogue temporary employee" who acted without the knowledge of anyone at the firm. The employee worked at the firm for seven and a half business days, said Bonner, and was immediately fired upon discovery of the forged letters.

"While we take full responsibility for what happened and recognize that there were quality control and human resources improvements that needed to be made, we have learned that it is difficult to defend against a person bent on committing fraud," said Bonner.

Could coal lobby chief be probed for perjury?

Could apparently false statements made by the head of a coal-industry lobby group before Congress this morning end up being referred to the Justice Department for a criminal perjury probe? Congressional investigators aren't ruling it out.

As we reported, Steve Miller, the director of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), appears to have twice misled Congress while under oath during his testimony this morning over those forged letters sent on the coal lobby's behalf by Bonner and Associates.

It's a crime to lie to Congress. Asked by TPMmuckraker whether Miller's statements might be referred to the Justice Department for a possible perjury investigation, a spokesman for the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming responded, via email:

We are currently reviewing the testimony and will determine our course of action soon.

In this morning's hearing, Miller first said that his group had never opposed the Waxman-Markey climate change legislation that passed the House in June. But last month, Greenwire reported, in a clarification to a story:

This story was changed to state that ACCCE opposed Waxman-Markey. An ACCCE spokeswoman in an interview Wednesday said that ACCCE was not opposed to Waxman-Markey but later in the day said that was an error and ACCCE at the time of the vote opposed the bill.

Later in the hearing, Miller said that his group had only lobbied since April 2008. But there are extensive records of the group's lobbying for many years before that.

Miller appears to have been trying to get cute here. It was in April 2008 that ACCCE was formed out of a merger of two other industry front groups Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, and the Center for Energy and Economic Development. So Miller appears to have was referring only to the period after the name change. But given that just moments after Miller went straight on to talk the 16-year long history of his organization, it's clear that he was trying to have it both ways, and being extremely misleading.

Other false statements by congressional witnesses have been referred to the Justice Department in recent years. Last year, Bradley Schlozman, a former DOJ official, was found by an internal department probe to have lied to Congress in 2007 about his role in politicized hiring at the department. And there is evidence that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress about his role in the US attorney firings. Neither Schlozman nor Gonzales was ultimately prosecuted.

Senate markup scheduled for Tuesday, but will any republican show?

The Senate global warming debate appears headed for a partisan standoff early next week with Republicans threatening to boycott a key committee vote and Democrats weighing their options on an alternative route to advance the bill to the floor.

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said yesterday that she is planning to hold a markup Tuesday on S. 1733, a bill that seeks to curb domestic greenhouse gas emissions across much of the U.S. economy.

But Boxer cannot hold the markup unless at least two Republicans show up, and EPW ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) signaled that he has unanimous support among the panel's minority members to boycott the session until they get more data on the legislation from U.S. EPA and the Congressional Budget Office.

Inhofe said he will wait for Boxer to file an official notice of the markup — expected today — before responding with his own declaration of the GOP's markup strategy.

"As soon as we find out what her announcement is and what she wants to do, we'll have our response," Inhofe told E&E last night. "We'll have our unanimous expression ready."

For her part, Boxer insisted that she would not back down from the markup, and she even opened the door to alternative approaches for moving the bill, including the use of Senate Rule 14 that allows the majority to discharge legislation out of a committee and bring it directly to the floor.

"We're going forward," Boxer said. "We're going to do our job. We're going to use every tool at our disposal to get this done."

Partisan tension on the EPW Committee stretches back more than a decade, but recent battles between the two parties have been especially tense when it comes to debate over climate policy (E&E Daily, Sept. 29).

Lawmakers repeatedly raised their voice at each other during three days of hearings this week on the climate bill, with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) complaining yesterday that Boxer had been unfairly chiming in after any remarks that did not square with her point of view.

"You're editorializing on my comments, as you do everyone else's comments," Voinovich said just moments after seizing on testimony earlier this week from U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson where the Obama official acknowledged the agency did not do a specific set of modeling runs on the Senate bill. Jackson said it would take four to five more weeks to do such a review.

Boxer replied that she is satisfied with the EPA analysis Jackson released last Friday. "This is the longest study there is," she said, noting that it included a two-week review of the Senate proposal, as well as the findings from a five-week review that the agency took this spring to analyze H.R. 2454, the House-passed climate bill.

Combined, Boxer said the two bills are 90 percent similar, leaving little reason to dive deeper before the markup. "We're not going to waste taxpayer money because someone drew a line in the sand," she said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called the threat of a GOP boycott "theatrics."

As for the merits of the Republicans' request, Whitehouse argued, "I think the notion that absolute exactitude before the bill goes in, when the EPA has come so close to figuring out its economic effects, doesn't make any sense in light of the fact the amendment process is going to move the results around more than the level of uncertainty that exists right now."

But Voinovich said that he wanted to have the EPA analysis, as well as a CBO review, to help him prepare for the markup. "The fact of the matter is, the complete analysis gives you a much better idea of what kind of amendments you ought to be working on," he said.

To make their case, Republicans went back into the history books to find other examples of the Senate committee delaying its work to get more information from EPA.

Inhofe cited the two-year buildup that led to a tie 9-9 vote on former President George W. Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, which would have overhauled the Clean Air Act without setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The GOP held a narrow Senate majority during the Clear Skies debate, but Inhofe as EPW Committee chairman could not convince then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) or any Democrats to vote for the bill, including then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois (E&E Daily, March 10, 2003).

The Bush-led EPA produced more than 10,000 pages of analysis on the air pollution bill, but Inhofe insisted that he still postponed the March 2005 markup several times as Democrats pushed for more information.

Senate Democrats did boycott for two weeks the 2003 confirmation of Michael Leavitt, who was nominated — and eventually confirmed — to be the U.S. EPA administrator (Greenwire, Oct. 1, 2003).

Across Capitol Hill, House Republicans earlier this year considered a number of different approaches to stall consideration of that climate bill, including forcing the clerk of the Energy and Commerce Committee to read the entire bill aloud.

Anticipating such a move, Democrats hired a speed reader. But Republicans instead opted for a more political campaign that forced moderate and conservative Democrats to take votes on dozens of amendments that attempted to link the proposal to higher unemployment and more expensive energy bills. GOP campaign operatives sent out press releases to reporters in the Democrats' districts immediately after each vote.

Voinovich yesterday shrugged off the prospect of political red meat. "You should have the best intelligence in front of you," he said.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he hoped the GOP lawmakers would ultimately back down from their boycott threat if they were promised a more complete study before the floor debate, which is widely expected to come early next year.

"Certainly by the time all these bills are merged, and by the time we get to the floor, I think there's ample time for EPA to finish the work they've already begun," Carper said. "Hopefully, whatever our Republican friends feel like they need in terms of modeling, they'll have it by the time the bill has come to the floor."

At Solar Conference, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Sees Tide Turning

In a barn-burning speech Wednesday at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, Calif., Robert F. Kennedy Jr., sounded a bit like a green Gordon Gecko.

"We are in process of overthrowing the incumbents in a $1.3 trillion industry," said Mr. Kennedy, a veteran environmental activist, in a full-throated attack on one of his longtime foes, the coal industry. "We are going to democratize the energy industry and take it away from the incumbents."

This year, Mr. Kennedy joined VantagePoint Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley firm that specializes in green technology investments — including several with solar start-ups.

After his speech, Mr. Kennedy retired to a Starbucks to huddle with the chief executive of BrightSource Energy, a VantagePoint-backed solar power plant builder, and then sat down for an interview with Green Inc.

"There's been a coalescence of interests between the environmental and business communities," said Mr. Kennedy. "For me, fighting the bad guys has been a David and Goliath battle for many years, because they have all the money on their side. This changes the odds for us," he said. "Now we have industry on our side. We have our own industry."

Mr. Kennedy pointed to the roughly 22,000 attendees of the solar conference — people "who are going to make money from rational environmental laws," he said — and noted that "the boom in green technology in this country, we've never seen anything like this before."

As a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Mr. Kennedy has focused on clean water and fighting mountaintop mining. At VantagePoint, he works with start-ups like Ostara, which transforms municipal wastewater into fertilizer, and energy-related companies like BrightSource and Premium Power, which makes batteries for utilities and wind and solar farms.

He also speaks the venture-capital lingo, studding his conversation with references to "the strengths of management teams and capital structures." But Mr. Kennedy, who in his speech called his involvement with green technology "the most subversive thing I've done," said he hadn't hung up his briefs.

"I'm still suing people," he said. "I have 40 cases right now in litigation. I'm still doing advocacy on Capitol Hill."

The rabble-rousing tone of his speech reflected a new aggressiveness on the part of the solar industry, whose leadership this week took on the oil and gas industry and called for renewable energy advocates to bankroll a new lobbying campaign in Washington.

EU leaders seek to break deadlock on climate aid

Trying to forge a united stand on climate change, the 27-nation European Union considered a new proposal Friday that would let poorer eastern members pay less into a climate change aid fund than the bloc's leading countries.

EU leaders opened a final day of summit talks Friday trying to accommodate nine eastern EU members hard hit by the global financial crisis. The members — including Hungary and Poland — made it clear that their crisis-stretched budgets had little extra money to support a fund to help developing nations cope with global warming.

The nine demanded concessions so the EU could reach a united deal on climate aid ahead of the December U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen.

After Thursday's talks deadlocked, diplomats worked into the night to present a new draft that shields poorer member states better. The watered-down draft was obtained by The Associated Press.

"We understand the legitimate concerns of eastern members while of course understanding everybody has to contribute," said Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Germany was confident the 27 nations would emerge from the summit united.

"I am very optimistic that we will have good results and that we will come to good results together," said Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

The new draft said countries had the option of paying "their fair share" into the climate change fund.

U.N. Climate Chief Says Money for Poorer Nations Is Key to Copenhagen

The head of the United Nations climate office said Wednesday that richer nations must pledge funds to poorer nations to make progress on a new agreement to curb global warming this year.

"Finance is the key to a deal in Copenhagen," said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, who was referring to the Danish capital where a global climate summit takes place in December. "Money, in fact, is the oil that encourages commitment and drives action," he said in a conference call with journalists.

European Union nations are divided over whether to come forward first with a pledge of public money to unlock stalled negotiations. Mr. de Boer's comments appeared partly aimed at pushing nations like Germany and Poland to settle differences over the matter and to allow European leaders to put money on the table by the end of this week.

But the battle over funding within the E.U. reflects the broader difficulties in reaching agreements on what Mr. de Boer termed "four essentials" that would make up a global deal. Those essentials include finance, emissions cuts by rich countries, pledges by poorer countries to reduce the rate of growth of their emissions and a structure to monitor those commitments.

In the realm of finance, a number of poorer countries are demanding that richer nations collectively pay hundreds of billions of dollars each year to help them cope with an already changing climate.

Mr. de Boer said he had been encouraged by a call from Britain on the E.U. to contribute funds from public sources totaling about $15 billion annually.

But he said that "the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand — all industrialized countries need to provide clarity on the financial support that they are willing and able to provide," and he stressed that "until they do that, it is impossible, or almost impossible, to expect developing countries to make significant moves either."

Mr. de Boer acknowledged that it would be "physically impossible, under any scenario" to complete a comprehensive climate treaty in Copenhagen. But he said the meeting of more than 190 nations "must see the end of negotiation and the beginning of technical process to work out all the details."

Chinese manufacturer in $1.5 billion U.S. wind project

Chinese wind turbine manufacturer A-Power Energy Geneneration Systems (APWR.O) said it was building along with U.S. companies a $1.5 billion wind farm project in West Texas.

Construction of the wind farm, one of the largest wind development projects in the United States, would be funded by Chinese banks, the company said in a joint statement.

Policies supporting the environment are boosting clean energy investment in the United States, with U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this year pushing for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to promote innovation and investment in renewable energy.

The wind farm project will have a capacity of 600 megawatts, enough to supply electricity to 180,000 Texas homes.

A-Power, China's largest provider of distributed power generation systems in China, is supplying the wind turbines for the project, the company said, with delivery expected in March 2010.

A-Power's partners in the project are U.S. Renewable Energy Group, an asset management firm, and Cielo Wind Power, a wind developer based in Austin, Texas.

The companies will be developing the wind farm across 36,000 acres, with the project expected to create hundreds of jobs, it said.

German Energy Giants Eager for US Green Transformation

Many climate change activists have been disappointed with the administration of US President Barack Obama so far. But German energy giants are ecstatic. With US money flowing into alternative energies, companies from this side of the Atlantic are eager to get their share.

When it comes to climate change — particularly the ongoing efforts to create a scheme to combat global warming by the early-December climate summit in Copenhagen — pessimism is pervasive. Few expect a deal to be reached this year. News earlier this week that US President Barack Obama might skip the event entirely is seen as little more than icing on the cake of gloom.

But not everyone is disheartened. Back in February, Obama pledged $70 billion (€47 billion) in tax credits, grants and loan guarantees to transform the United States into a green powerhouse. And this autumn a climate bill is circulating through the Senate that, if passed, could mandate that up to 20 percent of electricity come from renewables by 2020. News of the pledged and potential spending has Germany's green energy giants lining up for hand-outs.

"We are participating very actively in the application process of the stimulus program," Dr. Michael Weinhold, chief technology officer of Siemens energy sector told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It has been and is a big market opportunity for us."

"Pump Life into the Market"

After dipping their toes into the US renewable energy market a few years ago, Germany's largest energy players are now increasing their investments, even as renewable energy sales in the US have slowed under the weight of the financial crisis. The hope is that a potential climate change bill in the Senate and billions in stimulus money aimed at building a clean energy sector in the US will pump life into the market.

"The US has enormous growth potential," Frank Mastiaux, head of the Climate & Renewables division at German energy giant E.on, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It's not the most attractive market in terms of revenue, but markets change," he adds.

To that end, E.on invested $1 billion to build the largest wind farm in the world with 627 wind turbines in Roscoe, Texas, which opened this month. E.on has also opened two other wind farms in recent weeks, both in Texas, representing 600 additional megawatts of clean energy. That will bring the total capacity in the United States to over 1,700 megawatts, or more than half of the company's total wind energy capacity worldwide. In terms of the impact to its bottom line, the US market is becoming more important to the company everyday, Mastiaux says.

$2.2 Billion Allotted for Clean Energy Bonds

The Treasury Department announced on Tuesday the allocation of $2.2 billion in clean renewable energy bonds to 805 public power companies and cooperatives nationwide.

The program will help energy developers access lower cost credit and encourage clean renewable energy production, Neal Wolin, a Treasury deputy secretary said in a news release.

The department sorted through more than 1,000 applications from companies and cooperatives clamoring to get what is essentially a highly subsidized loan.

Because the bonds are tax credit bonds, the companies do not pay full interest on them. Instead, the federal government provides the bondholder with a tax credit that covers 70 percent of the interest earned.

California and Washington made out well, with public power providers in those two states receiving about $600 million of the total. More information on who got what can be found here.

Most of the allocated money will go toward solar projects, as well as wind, hydropower and biomass projects.

Clean Renewable Energy Bonds were introduced through the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The act allows the Treasury to allocate the bonds, and in turn, electric cooperatives and public power systems to issue the bonds to investors.

This latest allocation is funded by the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was passed this year.