Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fighting global warming with CIA? Boston Globe

Hope for Cap-and-Trade? Washington Post

Hope for Cap-and-Trade?
Washington Post

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

American flags not welcome at oil astroturf rally; Iraq & Afgahnistan veterans denounce 'Oil Dependence Tour'

Posted: 21 Aug 2009 05:44 AM PDT

Wonk Room details the unpatriotic Astroturf rallies.

At a "grassroots" rally organized by the American Petroleum Institute in Houston on Tuesday, activists bearing American flags were turned away. Oil company employees were bused in to the "Energy Citizens" gathering to hear billionaire Drayton McLane Jr. attack President Barack Obama's clean energy agenda as an economy-destroying energy tax. However, grassroots tea-party activists told Public Citizen Texas that they and their American flags were refused entry to the company picnic:

ACTIVIST: They said, "We won't let you have an American flag either." They said they won't let you have this, and then the guy touched this, the American flag.

ANOTHER ACTIVIST: I got an email from Freedomworks saying, "Come, it's free, free food," doodah doodah. And then I get here and they say, "Well, it's against fire code to let people in the door." And then, they let all these people in. Granted, one of the people was Drayton McLane. He's got more money than God, so, I guess…

Watch it:

The activists explained that they were invited by Dick Armey's Astroturf organization Freedomworks, one of the participating organizations in the new Energy Citizens coalition.. While the activists were locked out, employees of the public corporations Chevron, Anadarko Energy, Halliburton, ConocoPhillips, and others were "invited to participate" and bused to the event on company time.

At the company picnic, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane defended his billionaire lifestyle, saying, "We need to preserve this way of life." Inheriting much of his wealth, McLane made billions by selling his grocery business to Wal-Mart. In January 2008, McLane received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service for showing a "deep concern for the common good beyond the bottom line." National Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Harry Alford, who recently accused Barbara Boxer of racism, was also a featured speaker.

Grist has details on the veterans organizing against these "oil dependence rallies":

A new coalition of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is hoping to counter the oil industry–backed "Energy Citizens" rallies with its own call to pass a climate bill and end dependence on fossil fuels.

Under the name of Operation Free, the group aims to rally other vets to the cause. "We're a coalition of leading veterans and national security organizations who recognize that climate change is a major threat, and support fast, bold action," reads its website. "It is time for Americans to rise to the challenge, and we're taking on the fight."

In a call with reporters on Thursday, Operation Free members argued that dependence on foreign energy sources and threats posed by climate change put American military personnel and national security at risk.

"As a former U.S. Army captain and a veteran of Iraq, I understand firsthand how our dependence on foreign oil is a threat to national security," said Jon Powers, chief operating officer at the Truman National Security Project, a sponsor of Operation Free. "We're looking to Washington to take this threat seriously and come up with policy that reduces the threat to national security."

Maine State Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx, an Iraq War veteran and Operation Free's campaign coordinator, said that his time in Iraq made him realize the hazards of being dependent on other nations and on a single major energy source like oil. He criticized the American Petroleum Institute, which is organizing the "Energy Citizens" rallies: "It is really disheartening how a front group is watering down any meaningful debate," he said.. "The Energy Citizens is making America less secure."

Operation Free's first major event will be in Washington, D.C.., on Sept. 9 and 10, when 100 veterans will come to the capital to lobby for a Senate climate and energy bill. The group is also spreading its message through the internet and in-person outreach, as well as through partnerships with national security organizations and other nonprofits.

The Operation Free website uses military terminology to try to engage support. "Mission: Secure America with Renewable Energy," declares the site, asking volunteers to "enlist" in the cause and "deploy in support of Operation Free."  Each page prominently features a photo of a hand holding a gun with an oil fire burning in the distance.

Kevin Jones, an Iraq veteran, student at the University of Missouri, and vice president of the Mizzou Student Veterans Association, said he would see oil and fuel trucks in Iraq "lined up, one right after another." "It's disheartening to know that we're so dependent on a source like that," said Jones. "There are brand new, renewable sources available right here."

Operation Free is supported by the the National Security Initiative,, VetPAC, and the Truman National Security Project.

Joe Klein on the GOP: "How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? … How can you maintain the illusion of journalistic impartiality when one of the political parties has jumped the shark?"

Posted: 20 Aug 2009 03:25 PM PDT

[I'd love readers answers to the two headline questions posed by Klein. ]

death panels illo

When I get back from vacation, I'll blog at length about what the White House's dreadful messaging on health care says about the likelihood they'll improve their dreadful messaging on the climate and clean energy bill.

But Time magazine's Joe Klein — a generally moderate/centrist columnist — has written perhaps the definitive piece on what the health reform "debate" says about the Republican establishment, in a piece titled, "The GOP Has Become a Party of Nihilists."  As Wikipedia explains:

Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not exist, and subsequently there are no moral values with which to uphold a rule or to logically prefer one action over another.

I have previously made this point about the willful immorality of beltway conservatives/Republicans on climate change:

Klein shows it is a broader phenomenon.  I'll excerpt him at length since the GOP scorched-earth strategy on healthcare certainly foreshadows the fall debate we'll see on climate:

… Given the heinous dust that's been raised, it seems likely that end-of-life counseling will be dropped from the health-reform legislation. But that's a small point, compared with the larger issue that has clouded this summer:  How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? And another question: How can you maintain the illusion of journalistic impartiality when one of the political parties has jumped the shark?

I'm not going to try. I've written countless "Democrats in Disarray" stories over the years and been critical of the left on numerous issues in the past. This year, the liberal insistence on a marginally relevant public option has been a tactical mistake that has enabled the right's "government takeover" disinformation jihad. There have been times when Democrats have run demagogic scare campaigns on issues like Social Security and Medicare. There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees' unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances. But these are policy differences, matters of substance. The most liberal members of the Democratic caucus — Senator Russ Feingold in the Senate, Representative Dennis Kucinich in the House, to name two — are honorable public servants who make their arguments based on facts. They don't retail outright lies. Hyperbole and distortion certainly exist on the left, but they are a minor chord in the Democratic Party..

It is a very different story among Republicans. To be sure, there are honorable conservatives, trying to do the right thing. There is a legitimate, if wildly improbable, fear that Obama's plan will start a process that will end with a health-care system entirely controlled by the government. There are conservatives — Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Mike Pence, among many others — who make their arguments based on facts. But they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal. The philosophically supple party that existed as recently as George H.W. Bush's presidency has been obliterated.. The party's putative intellectuals — people like the Weekly Standard's William Kristol — are prosaic tacticians who make precious few substantive arguments but oppose health-care reform mostly because passage would help Barack Obama's political prospects. In 1993, when the Clintons tried health-care reform, the Republican John Chafee offered a creative (in fact, superior) alternative — which Kristol quashed with his famous "Don't Help Clinton" fax to the troops. There is no Republican health-care alternative in 2009. The same people who rail against a government takeover of health care tried to enforce a government takeover of Terri Schiavo's end-of-life decisions. And when Palin floated the "death panel" canard, the number of prominent Republicans who rose up to call her out could be counted on one hand.

A striking example of the prevailing cravenness was Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has authored end-of-life counseling provisions and told the Washington Post that comparing such counseling to euthanasia was nuts — but then quickly retreated when he realized that he had sided with the reality-based community against his Rush Limbaugh-led party. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for President according to most polls, actually created a universal-health-care plan in Massachusetts that looks very much like the proposed Obamacare, but he spends much of his time trying to fudge the similarities and was AWOL on the "death panels." Why are these men so reluctant to be rational in public?

An argument can be made that this is nothing new. Dwight Eisenhower tiptoed around Joe McCarthy. Obama reminded an audience in Colorado that opponents of Social Security in the 1930s "said that everybody was going to have to wear dog tags and that this was a plot for the government to keep track of everybody … These struggles have always boiled down to a contest between hope and fear." True enough. There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction — often a powerful faction — of the Republican Party, but they didn't run it. The neofascist Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience in the 1930s, but he didn't have the power to control and silence the elected leaders of the party that Limbaugh — who, if not the party's leader, is certainly the most powerful Republican extant — does now. Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce to Senator McCarthy when he said, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?

This is a difficult situation for the President. Cynicism about government is always easy, even if it now seems apparent that it was government action — by both Obama and, yes, George W. Bush — that prevented a reprise of the Great Depression. I watched Obama as he traveled the Rocky Mountain West, holding health-care forums, trying to lance the boil by eliciting questions from the irrational minority that had pulverized the public forums held by lesser pols. He would search the crowds for a first-class nutter who might challenge him on "death panels," but he was constantly disappointed. In Colorado, he locked in on an angry-looking fellow in a teal T shirt — but the guy's fury was directed at the right-wing disinformation campaign. Obama seemed to sag. He had to bring up the "death panels" himself.

This may tell us something about the actual state of play on health care: the nutters are a tiny minority; the Republicans are curling themselves into a tight, white, extremist bubble — but there may be enough of them raising dust to render creative public policy impossible. Some righteous anger seems called for, but that's not Obama's style. He will have to come up with something, though — and he will have to do it without the tiniest scintilla of help from the Republican Party.

Same goes for actual state of play on climate change, except failure on that legislation will bring all of humanity GOP-style annihilation and a literally scorched Earth.

[For readers of the post-"Happy Days" generation, "jumped the shark" denoted the point "at which the characters or plot veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline."]

Related Posts:

The AP gets the bark beetle story right

Posted: 20 Aug 2009 01:23 PM PDT

What a pleasure it is to see a first-rate story on one of the major impacts of human-caused climate change in recent years, "Beetles, wildfire: Double threat in warming world."  Even the photo caption is spot on:

As far as the eye can see, it's all infested," forester Rob Legare said, looking out over the thick woods of the Alsek River valley. The spruce bark beetle, 6 millimeters (.25 inch) long, has devastated the forests of southwest Yukon, aided by warmer summers that speed up its reproductive process and warmer winters that don't kill off beetle larvae as in the past. Scientists warn that global warming will spur insect infestations and wildfires in the world's northern forests.

We've had a number of bad national stories (from the supposedly liberal media!):

Whereas the local, conservative media got the story right:

Of course, the journal Nature understands the science, as a 2008 article made clear: "Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change." So does the Canadian media: "Climate-Driven Pest Devours Canada's Forests."

Here's what the AP reports:

"As far as the eye can see, it's all infested," forester Rob Legare said, looking out over the thick woods of the Alsek River valley.

Beetles and fire, twin plagues, are consuming northern forests in what scientists say is a preview of the future, in a century growing warmer, as the land grows drier, trees grow weaker and pests, abetted by milder winters, grow stronger.

Dying, burning forests would then only add to the warming.

It's here in the sub-Arctic and Arctic — in Alaska, across Siberia, in northernmost Europe, and in the Yukon and elsewhere in northern Canada — that Earth's climate is changing most rapidly. While average temperatures globally rose 0.74 degrees Celsius (1.3 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past century, the far north experienced warming at twice that rate or greater.

In Russia's frigid east, some average temperatures have risen more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with midwinter mercury spiking even higher. And "eight of the last 10 summers have been extreme wildfire seasons in Siberia," American researcher Amber J. Soja pointed out by telephone from central Siberia.

Along with shrinking the polar ice cap and thawing permafrost, scientists say, the warming of the Arctic threatens to turn boreal forest — the vast cover of spruce, pine and other conifers blanketing these high latitudes — into less of a crucial "sink" absorbing carbon dioxide and more of a source, as megatons of that greenhouse gas rise from dead, burning and decaying wood.

American forest ecologist Scott Green worries about a "domino effect."

"These things may occur simultaneously," said the researcher from the University of Northern British Columbia. "If the bark beetles kill the trees, you'll have lots of dead, dry wood that will create a really, really hot fire, and then sometimes you don't get trees regenerating on the site."

Dominoes may already be falling in western North America.

From Colorado to Washington state, an unprecedented, years-long epidemic of mountain pine beetle has killed 2.6 million hectares (6.5 million acres) of forest. The insect has struck even more devastatingly to the north, in British Columbia, where clouds of beetles have laid waste to 14 million hectares (35 million acres) — twice the area of Ireland. It is expected to kill 80 percent of the Canadian province's lodgepole pines before it's finished.

Farther north, in the Yukon, the pine beetle isn't endemic — yet. Here it's the spruce bark beetle that has eaten its way through 400,000 hectares (1 million acres) of woodland, and even more in neighboring Alaska, in a 15-year-old epidemic unmatched in its longevity and extent.

"It's a fingerprint of climate change," Aynslie Ogden, senior researcher for the Yukon Forest Management Branch, said in Whitehorse, the territorial capital. "The intensity and severity and magnitude of the infestation is outside the normal."

Hiking through the wild and beetle-ravaged Alsek valley, Legare, the Yukon agency's forest health expert, explained how the 7.5-millimeter (quarter-inch) insect does its damage.

"Usually the female bores into the tree first, followed by the male, and then they mate and they both excavate a main egg gallery which runs parallel to the wood grain," he said.

The hatched larvae, just beneath the outer bark, then feed via perpendicular galleries they bore around the tree, cutting off nutrients moving through the phloem and killing the plant. Its needles turn reddish, later gray, and eventually wind topples the dead wood.

Winter spells of minus-40-Celsius (minus-40-Fahrenheit) temperatures once killed off larvae, but those deep freezes now occur less often. And warmer summers enable some beetles to complete their reproductive cycle in one year instead of two, speeding up population growth.

Years of summer drought, meanwhile, weakened the spruces' ability to extrude sticky pitch, to trap and expel beetles. Because the snow-streaked peaks of the 5,000-meter-high (15,000-foot-high) St. Elias range blocks moisture from the Pacific, a mere 250 millimeters (10 inches) of precipitation falls each year. Even a slight shortfall stresses the trees.

The Yukon has experienced smaller, briefer beetle outbreaks in the past, fed by patches of fallen trees left by road construction. But "what makes this infestation different" is that climate change is a primary cause, said Legare.

As he spoke, smoke from dozens of fires, some nearby in the Yukon, some in distant Alaska, wafted over a landscape already bleak with dead forest.

In an authoritative 2007 assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U..N.-sponsored scientific network, cited multiple studies linking the spread of wildfires to warmer, drier conditions.

This June, in the latest such study, as early flames flared in California's wildfire season, Harvard scientists said the area burned in the U.S. West could increase by 50 percent by the 2050s, even under the best-case warming scenario projected by the IPCC.

In Siberia, "fire has been increasing, and there's an earlier fire season," Soja, of the U.S. National Institute of Aerospace, reported from the Sukachev Institute of Forestry in Krasnoyarsk. "For most of Siberia, temperatures are increasing more than in North America."

In Canada, area burned is double what it was in the 1970s, despite greater firefighting capacity and some recent favorable weather, said Mike Flannigan, a fire researcher for the Canadian Forest Service.

He cited three key reasons: warmer temperatures are drying the forests, lengthening the fire season and generating more lightning, cause of the worst wilderness fires.

Flannigan worries, too, that future fires smoldering through the carbon-heavy peatlands that undergird much of the boreal region would pour unparalleled amounts of carbon dioxide, the main global-warming gas, into the skies, feeding an unstoppable cycle.

"The bottom line is if you get more fire, you get more emissions, which contributes to further warming, which contributes to more fires," he said in an interview from Ontario.

"The concern is that things may happen more rapidly than we anticipate. Even our most pessimistic scenarios may not be pessimistic enough."

Back here in smoky gray southwest Yukon, where things are happening, the 1,400 native Champagne-Aishihik people feel it most. The stricken forest's fallen trees are keeping them from traditional fur-trapping rounds, the streams seem warmer without thick cover overhead, and the fishing is off.

Their oral tradition tells of great change in the past, said the group's land manager, Graham Boyd. "They're now wondering what changed to have had this happen."

What's changed extends beyond Champagne-Aishihik lands to the rest of the Yukon, where forester Legare in his travels finds other insects — the northern spruce engraver, the aspen leaf miner, the willow miner — gaining an upper hand in unusual places in unexpected ways.

"Weird things, unprecedented things are happening," he said.

Over the top of the world in Siberia, they're girding for an upsurge in the highly destructive Siberian moth, a caterpillar that devours forests of pine, spruce, fir and larch.

"The moth loves warm and dry, and that's what's happening," said Nadezda M. Tchebakova, Soja's Siberian research partner. At the same time, she said from Krasnoyarsk, "the frequency and severity of fires should increase."

As the Yukon warms and burns, its foresters hope for at least an early warning on one immediate threat, the mountain pine beetle. They have set traps at the British Columbia border to alert them if the non-native insect moves northward.

"The Yukon pines probably don't have natural defenses. They may be uniquely susceptible to this pest," said ecologist Green. "Then you'll have the potential for fires in large areas of dead trees. With the needles still on them, they literally explode with fire."

Of her Yukon woodlands, Ogden said, "It's the right forest, the right climate type, and we expect the climate to warm. My sense is it" — the pine beetle — "is almost inevitable."

Kudos to the AP.

As Nature noted last year:

Insect outbreaks such as this represent an important mechanism by which climate change may undermine the ability of northern forests to take up and store atmospheric carbon, and such impacts should be accounted for in large-scale modelling analyses….

"The beetle will eat itself out of house and home, and the population will eventually collapse."

Hmm. "Eat itself out of house and home." Does the bark beetle sound like any other species we know? Finally, the species formerly known as homo sapiens sapiens is no longer alone in its self-destructive quest to destroy its habitat.

"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

Related Posts:

Peaking Duck: Beijing's Growing Appetite for Climate Action

Posted: 20 Aug 2009 10:34 AM PDT

CAP's Julian Wong has a follow up to "China softens climate rhetoric, commits to emissions peak (again), shows flexibility on Western reductions."  In the photo, Chinese Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission Xie Zhenhua shakes hands with Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher look on.

China's climate change envoy, Yu Qingtai, made headlines when he declared in a news conference earlier this month that "there is no one in the world who is more keen than us to see China reach its emissions peak as early as possible."

Now all eyes are focused on the United States and China—the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters—with just four months to go to the U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen, where nations will negotiate a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Attendees at the most recent round of U.N.. climate talks in Bonn, Germany may have left the meetings with a pessimistic sense that we're a long way off from a global agreement. But interesting developments are unfolding in China outside of these U.N. meetings that bring a more hopeful message.

China already committed in a declaration last month with 15 other large emitting countries at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Italy to peak global and national emissions "as soon as possible." That provision lacks a precise timetable and is laden with the caveat that of the "overriding priorities of developing countries," but it is the statement of intent that the Chinese are clearly taking seriously.

Then just last week, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, one of the more prominent government think tanks, published an extensive 900-page report that has gained notable attention in both the Chinese and Western press for advocating the notion that China can feasibly aim to peak its carbon emissions by 2030. The report is advisory in nature and by no means represents official policy, but it is the latest in a series of overtures by prominent Chinese academicians to set emissions peaking pathways. Hu Angang, a public policy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a prominent policy adviser for the Chinese government, has also advocated for China to aim for peaking carbon emissions in 2030. He Jiankun, deputy head of the State Council's Expert Panel on Climate Change Policy, has projected that China's emissions are more likely to peak at 2035. Additionally, a different report by CAS released earlier this year called for peaking between 2030 and 2040.

Setting the timing of emissions peaking alone without considering the trajectory of the emissions pathway—especially the height of the peak—may not be helpful in determining whether such measures go as far as the climate science requires. But the broader significance of such discussions at the top-levels of the Chinese government, especially at this critical juncture in the run up to Copenhagen, should not be missed. China's willingness to be a constructive player in the international climate change negotiation process is there; it just needs to be acknowledged and encouraged.

China's willingness is not just talk, but is backed up by concrete actions. We have discussed previously many of the actions China is taking, including its current five-year plan that boasts some of the most ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy targets in the world. And today, the Climate Group has launched a report entitled "China's Clean Revolution II: Opportunities for a Low Carbon Future" that provides a similarly compelling narrative of how China, despite the current global economic downturn, is making hefty investments to accelerate a tectonic shift from grey to green in sectors such as transportation, industrial energy efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal, and urban design. The transition won't be easy, nor will it happen overnight, but there should be little doubt about the Chinese leadership's intent and resolve to reorient its carbon-intensive economy toward a more sustainable path.

China may announce its next five-year plan as early as this year, and many expect that it will contain even stronger commitments and perhaps incorporate some measure of carbon reductions in the form of benchmarks for reducing carbon intensity. China's State Council, led by Premier Wen Jiabao, last week laid down the objective of incorporating climate change considerations into "the medium and long-term development strategies and plans of government at every level." Also, Sun Qin, the vice chief of the National Energy Administration said he expects the government to complete a comprehensive plan for new and low-carbon energy development by the end of the year. A low-carbon strategy will be a central thread in China's ongoing economic development strategy.

China is also hinting at increased flexibility in the negotiation process. Su Wei, director-general of the climate change office within the National Development and Reform Commission, China's main economic planning agency, has signaled a change in tone, saying, "China will not continue growing emissions without limit or insist that all nations must have the same per-capita emissions. If we did that, this earth would be ruined." China maintains its hard line that developed countries are historically responsible for climate change, but climate envoy Yu has also backed off somewhat from China's previous demands that all developed countries commit to 40 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2020, saying that, "[a] concrete figure has to be decided by the negotiations; we will get a result in Copenhagen."

All these developments in China are encouraging considering also that South Korea and Mexico, two other non-Annex I countries—developing countries as defined in the U.N. climate treaty process—recently indicated a willingness to enact carbon emissions caps for 2020. This underscores the need for reciprocal action from the United States.

The United States Congress must first move swiftly to enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation to show its own commitment to climate action. We should also properly acknowledge the progress that China and other countries have made in mitigating climate change. One way which we at the Center for American Progress have articulated before is the "carbon caps equivalents" approach, which would quantify the unilateral domestic green measures undertaken by, for example, China, in terms of the effective emissions reductions that such measures yield, and then aggregate those reductions into a single figure that can be compared to proposed emissions reductions targets of other countries

The United States must build upon the modest but significant milestones of U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu's visit to Beijing, where the foundations for a joint research center on clean energy were laid, and the recent Strategic & Economic Dialogue in Washington, D.C., where both countries agreed formally for the first time to engage each other on climate change.

The United States must muster political and financial resources to engage China on the joint acceleration of clean-energy technology development and deployment. Such a bilateral effort will send a message to the rest of the world that the two largest emitters are ready to rise to the challenge and lead the way forward towards a global agreement in Copenhagen.

Julian L. Wong is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.  This post was first published here.

In hot water: World sets ocean temperature record The Associated Press

A New, More CO2-Absorbent Algae Strain? New York Times

Setback for Enhanced Geothermal Energy MIT Technology Review

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NRDC Action Fund goes on offense against opponents of climate action Grist Magazine

IBM-Sponsored Report: Utilities Not Ready For Climate Change Wall Street Journal

Climate Progress

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Climate Progress

Antarctica's Pine Island glacier and its implications for business strategy and the Great Disruption

Posted: 20 Aug 2009 05:53 AM PDT

You may remember Paul Gilding, former executive director of Greenpeace International, from Tom Friedman's Ponzi scheme column (see here and NPR interview here).  I asked him for a post, and he has offered up this recent post from his website (– a good follow up to Large Antarctic glacier thinning 4 times faster than it was 10 years ago: "Nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this glacier").

In my work with companies around the world, one of my key messages is that business strategy needs to be based on science. The logic is simple. Whereas most future planning involves an array of complicated and interrelated uncertainties – like technology shifts, political moods, consumer behaviour, competitor actions – science is delightfully predictable. That's the thing about physics and biology, the rules were written long ago.

Furthermore, climate science is deeply relevant and material to most businesses and to all economies. Therefore this week's report (see here for BBC summary) that the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica was melting 4 times faster than it was just 10 years ago, and is now dropping at 16 metres per year, should strike fear into the hearts of oil company executives and bring delight to the CFOs of electric car companies like Better Place (yes, such is the perverse logic of climate science in the business community).

Why is it so significant?

Despite the extraordinary increase in political focus and public attention on climate change, the real financial impact to date on the business community is marginal in most sectors. There is a lot of talk about emerging public expectations, furious lobbying on new government policy and certainly plenty of earnest commentary about corporate commitment, but nothing that really engages the CFO yet. Pine Island Glacier and similar developments could change all that.

As I argue in my Great Disruption writing and talks (see here for relevant links), human history shows we rarely respond to major threats until we declare it a crisis. This doesn't have to be an actual physical crisis, it can easily just be a shift in perception – where, apparently suddenly, something on the edges of the mainstream leaps on to centre stage.

This is what will happen on climate change. The great weight of evidence that climate change is accelerating will break through the public consciousness and political leaders will suddenly have to deal with high expectations of action.

So that brings us back to Pine Island, one of the world's largest glaciers. Just ten years ago, the best science said the Pine Island Glacier would melt in around 600 years, now they think it's about 100 years. (What will be the forecast in 5 years time?) It's not that this particular glacier is a key tipping point, though its melting could alone trigger sea level rise of 25-30 cm. The problem is that it's just the latest in countless stories about glaciers and other ice stores melting much faster than expected. (See here for a well referenced overview of this from New Scientist "Sea level rise: It's worse than we thought" and here for a recent article "Why it's even worse than we feared" by Newsweek's science editor, on the increasingly desperate warnings by leading scientists.)

So how will governments respond when the public suddenly comes to accept that we now face the potential for 1 – 2 metres of sea level rise this century? And what does this mean for business strategy?

Governments will do two things. Firstly they will panic about the global economic impact of a huge amount of residential, commercial and industrial infrastructure facing medium term damage or total loss and short-term collapse in value. Imagine for example if all affected housing, airports, ports, power stations and tourist developments were suddenly devalued by 25% for the risk of sea level rise.

Secondly governments will actually take action to cut emissions to reduce this economic risk. This is where it will get really interesting. Let's take just one example, the auto and oil industries. They face a perfect storm of risk and transformational change when the inevitable sudden shift occurs in the political landscape..

This perfect economic storm already has a number of winds gathering speed. Firstly of course is the heavy government action to protect and boost the global auto industry with tax breaks, direct investment and loans.. Secondly, electric cars, long sidelined as a marginal technology strategy are emerging as a serious global contender, driven by the success of petrol electric hybrids and responses like GM's Volt. Thirdly is the acceptance of high oil prices being the norm, with peak oil a matter of when not whether. Fourthly and most significantly is the reluctant acceptance by the global auto industry of climate change as a game changer. The new assumption is that zero CO2 personal transport is inevitable, just a matter of when and with what technology.

So what would be a simple, politically popular, economically beneficial and environmentally significant action that governments could take if they were suddenly under pressure to act? How about using their leverage over the auto industry, taxes, standards and good old-fashioned political leadership to drive the auto industry towards an electric future, driven only by renewable power. Such a policy position, in the context of a global crisis on a scale commensurate to a war footing, would virtually overnight (i.e. a decade or so) transform the oil and auto industries. The politics and economics stack up very well, with massive job creation and new infrastructure needs along with powerful national and consumer economic benefits. (One of the leading disruptive contenders in the space, Better Place, claims per km running costs for electric cars are up to 70% cheaper, even allowing for amortised battery costs.)

The numbers at stake are staggering. Global oil trade in 2008 was around $3 trillion. The US alone sent $440 billion off shore for its oil, much to the delight of Middle Eastern oil exporters. Even little Australia spends about A$20 billion per year on retail petrol sales. Imagine the consequences of these numbers dropping by 25% or 50% with a focused government effort. Imagine the economic consequences of disruptive electric car companies like Better Place or China's BYD taking this market away from the oil giants!

Seem far-fetched? Think again. Change at this scale is absolutely possible, in fact I believe an inevitable consequence of the science. In fact the good news for society and the bad news for any business not thinking this way, is that we've done it before. To quote Lester Brown from his excellent book Plan B 3.0 where he compares our current challenge to the real world experience in WWII. "The shift from producing cars to planes, tanks, and guns was accomplished within a matter of months. One of the keys to this extraordinarily rapid restructuring was a ban on the sale of cars, a ban that lasted nearly three years.."

So if your company isn't monitoring the Pine Island Glacier very closely, I suggest your business strategy and your company may soon be under water. The Great Disruption is well underway.

YouTube, Sinclair prove Anthony Watts knows as much about copyright laws as about climate science

Posted: 19 Aug 2009 12:42 PM PDT

When we last left our favorite former TV weatherman, he was offering the 'inanity defense' for his effort to censor Peter Sinclair's Climate Denial "Crock of the Week" video.

The man behind the top anti-scientific website WattsUpWithThat regularly defames top climate scientists and pushes the most seemingly detailed but ultimately nonsensical analyses (see here) — yet he could not even be bothered to spend one minute googling "copyright laws" or "fair use."  The result:   Not only did he publish the most embarrassing, torturous and self-revealing  defense of censorship ever seen on the blogosphere but, YouTube has now (inevitably) sided with Sinclair and reposted the original video:

Sinclair explained to me the process for reinstatement on YouTube — and thanked Watts for the publicity boom — in an email:

In July, as part of my "Climate Denial Crock of the Week" video series, ( I published a piece that criticized and parodied the work of well known climate denier Anthony Watts, and his "" project.

On July 26,  Watts made what I regard as an improper "DMCA" claim against the video, and had it removed from YouTube.

The DMCA, (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), was originally intended to  protect copyright owners from internet abuse, but has been occasionally used improperly, notoriously by authoritarian religious groups and cults, in order to restrain criticism and free speech on the internet.

After some investigation of related cases and obtaining additional opinions as to relevant copyright law, I confirmed my original belief that my videos in no way violate copyright law, especially in light of the principles of critical review, parody, and  transformational use of material.

In accordance with established YouTube guidelines, I filed a "counternotice",  affirming that, "under penalty of perjury, that I  have a good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of a mistake or misidentification of the material to be removed  or disabled."

As of today, I have received the following confirmation from YouTube:

"In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we've completed processing your counter-notification regarding your video:

This content has been restored and your account will not be penalized."

I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude to YouTube, to all those who advised and supported me in this effort, and most especially, to Anthony Watts and, for providing invaluable exposure to my video series, and greatly increasing my traffic and visibility.

WattsUpWithThat who regularly defames top

Carbon polluters launch another PR campaign — FACES of Coal — seriously!

Posted: 19 Aug 2009 11:41 AM PDT's not enough for the coal lobby to hire a top GOP voter-fraud company to run massive "grassroots" efforts to undermine climate and clean energy action.

Now Ken Ward, Jr., the best journalist in West Virginia, reports today:

This afternoon, the coal industry is launching yet another public relations campaign — this one billing itself as "an alliance of people from all walks of life who have joined forces to educate the general public and lawmakers about the importance of coal and coal mining to our local and national economies."

This group is calling itself the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, which creates the nice abbreviation, FACES of Coal. The group is having a kick-off press event this afternoon at the offices of the Charleston Area Alliance, a regional chamber of commerce group.

The FACES of coal?  This acronym must be the work of real "Mad" Men, perhaps the genius who came up with Frosty the Coalman, Clean Coal Night, Deck the Halls with Clean Coal.   I'm guessing they figured it was better than their first choice, the Federation for Everyone's Coal, Energy and Security.

Still, does the industry understand what people associate with "faces of coal"?

Here is the rest of Ward's piece:

Among those I'm told are taking place in today's event are West Virginia state Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, Vivian Parsons, executive director of the County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia, and Rick Rice, president of Mountain State Steam Inc. in Buckhannon.

This group joins the Friends of Coal, Citizens for Coal, and the West Virginia Coal Association –  not to mention those fine letter-faking folks at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy (Five more fake constituent letters to Congress, written by the ACCCE's PR outfit, have been discovered, congressional investigators announced yesterday) — as well as the National Mining Association and who knows how many other industry front groups out there … oh yeah, don't forget the new organization Friends of America.

The coal industry has all the friends that money can buy.

Related Posts:

Warren Buffett: "Doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society."

Posted: 19 Aug 2009 11:07 AM PDT, the NYT op-ed by the sage of Omaha, "The Greenback Effect," is almost entirely about our economic crisis.  Still, it's nice that one of our top economic gurus  understands global warming is nonlinear — and thinks enough people might understand that point so he can use it as a springboard for discussing monetary policy:

IN nature, every action has consequences, a phenomenon called the butterfly effect. These consequences, moreover, are not necessarily proportional. For example, doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society.  Realizing this, the world properly worries about greenhouse emissions.

[Yes, Buffett may be confusing CO2 emissions with CO2 concentrations -- join the club -- but it's impossible to tell from this short hit.]

The butterfly effect reaches into the financial world as well. Here, the United States is spewing a potentially damaging substance into our economy — greenback emissions.

The article's final mention of climate impacts is, however, quite lame:

Unchecked carbon emissions will likely cause icebergs to melt. Unchecked greenback emissions will certainly cause the purchasing power of currency to melt. The dollar's destiny lies with Congress.

Note 1 to  Buffett:   Likely???  What do you think is already happening?

Note 2 to  Buffett:  It is land-based ice that humanity needs to worry about, not sea-based icebergs.  Kind of  surprising actually that the editorial page editor of the NYT let that one go by.  "Icebergs" should have been replaced by "glaciers" or "ice sheets."  I suppose this just shows that even the most sophisticated opinion makers don't really understand the basics of this issue.

Still, it's a start for Buffett, who hasn't been known for sagacity on this issue:

    Gas Industry Girds to Fight in the Senate Over Climate Wall Street Journal

    We are all from Wise County Grist Magazine

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Progressive work is HARD. Repug work is EASY. Why? Ever build a sand castle?

    Ever build a sand castle?  It COSTS hours, and hours, right?  That it is enjoyable is besides the point.

    Ever watch someone destroy another's sand castle?  Takes seconds, costs them nothing and gives them an opium high, for nothing!

    But that's only part of it.  Rethuglicans, and their mob of mercenaries, aside from being sand castle destroyers by personality (disorder) ARE Thugs, ARE the Mob, ARE Mercenaries - it is how they make their Living!  Really!  They don't create wealth, they steal it through bullying, intimidation, cheating, cronyism....  EASY!  Profession:  Sand Castle Destroyer - and Paid for it.

    Progressives (if there WERE True Progressives) bear two HUGE COSTS (although to the True Progressives, hmmm, remember the Joy of BUILDING a Sand Castle?):  1.  The orders-of-magnitude-greater-effort/cost-of-building/creating, and 2. THE PERSONAL FINANCIAL OPPORTUNITY COST!  Rethugs are PRIMARILY motivated toward ill gotten $$$ Financial Gains (Corp favors at all levels, the "rape and pillage" awarded the hordes....  Progressives that Stay-the-Coarse FACE $$$ FINANCIAL PENALTIES / COSTS!!!! 
    A.  Opportunity costs - hey, they could join the Rethugs and get $$$ returns on their time! 
    B.  Unrewarded $$$ Time!  
    C.  Penalties - the Rethug bullies will take it out on you, retribution, for opposing!!! 

    You get the idea.

    This is a profound, fundamental difference that has a huge discouraging impact on Progressive investment (on BEING a True Progressive), in part because it goes on unrecognized. 

    Oh, would I that someone smart(s) would give visibility to this massive differential.

    BP and Shell warned to halt campaign against US climate change bill

    Methane Seeps From the Arctic Seabed, Spooking Climate Scientists Discover Magazine

    Oil industry's bait and switch San Francisco Chronicle

    Oil industry's bait and switch
    San Francisco Chronicle

    Mining industry not impressed by renewable energy targets ABC Online

    Study: Global warming worst in Western Europe USA Today

    Climate Progress

    Climate Progress

    NSIDC: Record low Arctic ice extent unlikely in 2009

    Posted: 19 Aug 2009 05:06 AM PDT

    The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports:

    During the first half of August, Arctic ice extent declined more slowly than during the same period in 2007 and 2008. The slower decline is primarily due to a recent atmospheric circulation pattern, which transported ice toward the Siberian coast and discouraged export of ice out of the Arctic Ocean. It is now unlikely that 2009 will see a record low extent, but the minimum summer ice extent will still be much lower than the 1979 to 2000 average.

    graph with months on x axis and extent on y axis

    "The graph [click to enlarge] shows daily sea ice extent as of August 17, 2009. The solid light blue line indicates 2009; the solid dark blue line shows 2008; the dashed green line shows 2007; and the solid gray line indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data."

    Since the 2009 arctic extent AREA seem to be close to 2008 levels, which set the record for minimum ice VOLUME, it is too soon to say whether 2009 will set a volume record (see "Will we see record low Arctic ice VOLUME this year?").

    It remains as clear as ever that the Arctic ice isn't going to recover, and we are headed for ice free summers in the foreseeable future:

    Rep. Markey reveals 5 more forged astroturf letters

    Posted: 18 Aug 2009 01:13 PM PDT

    Via Think Progress:

    bonnerlogosmallLast month, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) announced a congressional investigation of the DC lobbying firm Bonner & Associates. The firm, which has a long history of astroturfing, was caught forging anti-clean energy reform letters — purportedly from groups representing women and people of color — to Congress. Coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy was eventually revealed to be Bonner's client in the anti-clean energy campaign. Now, more forged letters have been uncovered.

    Today, Markey revealed five new letters, and dozens more may be out there. According to a statement from Markey's office, the faked letters came from "elderly services and senior centers" and were sent to Democratic Reps. Tom Periello (VA), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), and Christopher Carney (PA):

    The five letters revealed today brings the total number of fraudulent letters to 13, now representing 9 different community groups. Letters released today were staged to look like they were sent by groups representing senior citizen services like the non-profit Erie Center on Health & Aging. Previous letters already made public were from the Charlottesville-based NAACP, Creciendo Juntos, a hispanic advocacy organization, the Jefferson Area Board on Aging, and the American Association of University Women. […]

    "We've seen fear-mongering with our nation's senior citizens with health care, and now we're seeing fraud-mongering with senior citizens on clean energy," said Chairman Markey. "Lately, democratic debate has been deceptively debased by fake facts and harsh rhetoric. We must return to an honest discussion of the issues, and ensure that this sort of campaign does not further poison the well of trustworthy debate."

    Between the five new forged letters and last week's leaked memo revealing that the American Petroleum Institute will be manufacturing "Energy Citizen" rallies to oppose clean energy reform, it is clear that the energy industry is willing to go to any lengths in their efforts to halt clean energy reform.

    Update Progressive Media has a video taking a look at the extreme measures the coal industry is willing to employ to stop the clean energy bill. Watch it here.

    The dynamic duo: Hybrid solar/gas plants provide low-cost, low-carbon power when needed

    Posted: 18 Aug 2009 10:49 AM PDT

    Many people expressed interest in the hybrid concentrated solar and natural gas plants discussed here:  Game changer 3: New natural gas supplies — great for low-cost climate action, bad for coal.  So I asked guest blogger, Craig A. Severance, to do some research, and the result is below (first published here).  Severance is co-author of "The Economics of Nuclear and Coal Power" (Praeger 1976) and a former Assistant to the Chairman and to Commerce Counsel, Iowa State Commerce Commission.  He recently did one of the most detailed cost analyses publically available on new nukes (see "Exclusive analysis: The staggering cost of new nuclear power").

    By far the largest source of safe, clean energy that will never run out  (i.e. renewable energy) available in the United States is the sunlight falling on the unused deserts of the Southwest.  This attractive source of energy produces no nuclear waste, no carbon dioxide or mercury emissions, and none is imported from foreign countries.

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy enough sunlght falls in just the unused, nonsensitive areas of our SW deserts to generate over twice the total kWh's now consumed in the entire U.S..

    SW Solar Now. In June, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opened up 24 of  the SW's sunniest areas on Bureau of Land Management lands in six  states to begin leasing for installation of up to 100,000 MW of solar power plants. (See here for article on the Interior Department announcement).  The first plants could be operating within 3 to 4 years in these ideal locations, which were chosen for maximum clear sunny days and minimal impact on the environment or other land uses.

    Sun Doesn't Shine All the Time. Although the SW sunshine resource is enormous and largely untapped, critics of solar energy routinely note the sun does not shine all the time.  The implication is that power is needed all the time, and since the sun is not always available, solar opponents say it would be foolish to invest in generating electricity from the sun.

    Grid Can Use Solar. Utilizing solar electricity when the sun does shine is not really a major problem for the electric grid, until the percentage of power generated by solar reaches high percentages.  This is because roughly 50% of the electrical capacity on the grid consists of load-following power plants (chiefly natural gas and hydroelectric), which can quickly reduce power output when a renewable resource such as solar or wind is available, and increase output when needed.  The ability of the grid to absorb a high percentage of  power from renewables has been documented by the U.S. Department of Energy and was discussed in my article "The Wind does NOT Blow Only 1/3 of the Time" here.

    The output from a solar power plant also fits very well with the times when  power is most needed.  Most utilities see increased demand for electricity during daylight hours, with peak demands occurring on hot sunny days when a solar power plant produces well.  By the same token, less power is needed at night.

    It is generally agreed, however, that extending the percentage of  our electricity generated by renewable power sources above 20-30% will require means to better regulate the grid (see "Smart Grid" article here),  more efficiently supplement renewable power, or store it for later use.

    Solar Thermal Offers More Choices.  Solar photovoltaics (PV) require storage of their electrical energy output to extend their use into evening and cloudy hours.  Methods the electric grid can use to store electrical energy include batteries, flywheels, pumped hydro or compressed air energy storage.

    The "other" kind of solar power – Solar Thermal power — offers more choices to integrate with the grid to provide reliable power.

    Instead of directly converting the sun's rays into electricity, Solar Thermal plants use mirrored surfaces to concentrate sunlight to produce high temperatures. This is why they are also called Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) Plants.

    The high temperatures are used to boil water to produce superheated steam to generate electricity.   This different technology means there are now three different ways that Solar Thermal power plants can provide power when the sun is not shining:

    1.   Integrate a back-up source of heat (e.g. natural gas) to produce steam.
    2.   Produce excess solar heat during the day, and store that heat.
    3.   Grid storage of electrical energy (as with PV or wind).

    This expansion of choices means that a Solar Thermal plant can function as a reliable source of "24/7″ power to the electrical grid.

    Steam Generators Most Common Source of Electricity. The key to generating electricity for a century has been to produce high temperatures to heat water, superheat the steam (so it will not condense into water droplets inside the steam turbine and damage the blades), and then run this superheated steam past blades in a steam turbine to spin those blades to run a generator.  After the steam passes through the turbine it is then cooled, and the water is re-used.

    This same basic process is used in coal, oil, and most natural gas power plants.  Even today's nuclear power plants are just "a fancy way to heat water".

    Concentrating Sunshine to Produce Steam.
    Different Solar Thermal companies use different means to concentrate sunlight.  They each cite their own advantages:

    Troughs. Solar trough companies such as Skyfuel use long  "trough" collectors (see picture at top, and immediately below) which rotate east-west during the day, to focus sunlight on tubes carrying hot oils.  The hot oils then pass through a heat exchanger, to heat water into superheated steam.

    Source: Skyfuel (Note trough rotates east to west as day progresses).

    Trough supporters point to the long track record of the technology, including some 25 years of continuous production at the SEGS plants in Southern California, which has established clear performance and cost histories.  Skyfuel's key innovation is to develop a highly reflective coating film known as ReflecTech(TM) which eliminates the need for expensive curved glass mirrors for the troughs.

    Flat Mirrors Focusing on Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector. Another "line" approach is typified by Ausra.  In this approach, flat mirrors are ground-mounted and turn to concentrate reflected sunlight upward to a Compact Llinear Fresnel Reflector, which concentrates the sunlight onto a pipe carrying water which is turned into superheated steam (see figure from Ausra).

    Ausra notes its technology saves costs by requring no curved mirrors, and does not use oil-to-water heat exhangers, as it uses water directly.  Ausra's mirrors are also tightly packed together, harvesting more sunlight per acre of ground.  Ausra CEO Bob Fishman has said, "We can get twice as much steam per acre as power tower and twice as much as trough."

    Solar Power Towers. A radically different approach is the solar power tower, typified by Brightsource Energy and start-up eSolar. With the solar power tower, the solar field consists of tens of thousands of flat mirrors, each mounted with a 2-axis tracking motor to tilt the mirror in three dimensions to focus intense amounts of sunlight on a boiler mounted on the top of a tower.  Superheated steam is produced in the boiler, and is fed to a ground-mounted steam turbine to generate power.  See Brightsource Energy picture at top [right], and concept drawing below:

    Proponents of the Solar Power Tower approach argue it has miles less piping and pumping, and the largest towers can operate at higher steam temperatures for better operating efficiency.  They also claim higher kWh output on an annual basis because their mirrors can tilt upward to catch the lower sun in the wintertime.

    Steam Plants in the Desert? While some locations may offer special opportunities to use water cooling, most solar thermal plants will be built with dry cooling. Keely Wachs of Brightsource Energy notes, "For our 410 MW Ivanpah site, the use of dry-cooling technology will reduce the projects' overall water usage by 90%, from 1000 acre/ft to a little less than 100 acre/ft annually. 100 acre/ft is roughly the equivalent of 300 homes' annual water usage.  So we are producing enough energy to power 140,000 homes, while using 300 homes worth of water."

    [See also "The secret to low-water-use, high-efficiency concentrating solar power".]

    Hybrid Solar/Gas: One Power Plant With One Steam Turbine. Because Solar Thermal power plants produce superheated steam to generate electricity in a steam turbine, they can be designed to share the same steam turbine generator as a conventional natural gas power plant.    See, for instance, the schematic from Solar Thermal firm Ausra, below:

    Instead of relying upon a separate power plant miles down the road to guarantee grid reliability to generate electricity when the solar plant cools off,  just one plant can be built, with two sources of heat — sunlight and natural gas.

    This saves on construction costs because only one steam turbine is needed instead of two.  Also, much of the ancillary equipment such as controls, pumps, valves, etc. are not duplicated.  Perhaps most importantly, duplicate sets of transmission lines are avoided.

    Operating costs can be saved with just one team of workers, running one power plant, instead of needing two sets of skilled staff.

    Finally, fuel costs for the natural gas component of operations may be saved by smoothly combining the two heat sources, gradually increasing natural gas use as the solar resource cools.  This is expected to be more operationally efficient than ramping up and down a separate natural gas power plant.

    This "hybridization" of solar thermal and natural gas power plants is an economical "bridge technology" approach to immediately reach fully dispatchable solar plants, providing "firm power" available to meet utility needs —  whether or not the sun is shining.

    Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas "Load Following" Plants. In the ideal super-sunny locations in the desert Southwest where Solar Thermal plants are being erected, it is expected they will generate from solar, roughly 25-30% of the total kWh's they could generate if they were able to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.  This percentage is referred to as a "Capacity Factor".   (That's actually very good, when you consider how many hours per day the sun shines.)

    Most natural gas power plants in the U.S. actually are under-utilized, operated at an average of only 42% Capacity Factor.  This is because they typically serve a "load-following" function, turned on only when needed, during the higher-demand parts of the day and year.  When demand for power drops to minimum levels, they are turned off because "Base Load" power plants designed to run all the time, are already running all the time to provide this minimum ("base load") demand.  Most "Base Load" power plants are coal or nuclear plants.

    If a "hybrid" solar/natural gas plant were also operated as a "Load Following Plant", it  might also be needed only 42% of year-round time.  However, if 30% of year-round time it's energy came from sunshine, the percentage of energy supplied by sunshine could be very high – 30% over 42% — or about 70% or more of the energy supplied.

    This is good news for those seeking to cut fossil fuel emissions from power plants.  Solar power could cut fossil fuel use (and hence CO2 emissions) by load-following power plants by roughly 2/3 compared to current patterns of operation for these plants.

    Economics of Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas "Load Following" Plants. The relatively low annual use of a "Load Following" plant has traditionally favored power plants with low initial construction costs.  Low construction costs are important when you don't use it very much.

    A  Combined Cycle Gas Turbine power plant today costs roughly $1,100/kW – $1,500/kW to build, one of the cheapest power plant options.  However, unlike sunshine, natural gas isn't free, so total generation costs (at $7/MMBtu gas) are likely to be around 11 cents/kWh for a new natural gas "Load Following" plant in the first year of operation.  (WIth no specific "carbon penalty" for fossil fuel.)

    Costs for Solar Thermal plants are becoming known as several have already been completed.  The Nevada One plant completed in 2007 was built for roughly $3,600/kW of capacity, using older trough technology with curved glass mirrors.  With technology advancements, new proposals are now being estimated at lower costs..  For instance, planned 20 MW plants in Algeria and Morrocco were recently estimated as costing only $2,500/kW to build.

    Since a Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas plant will not cost as much to build as two separate plants, these cost ranges imply total generation costs of a Hybrid Solar Thermal/Natural Gas "Load Following" plant may run approximately 13 cents/kWh (after today's 30% Federal Tax Credit for solar, and assuming $7/MMBtu natural gas), in the first year of operation.  Since roughly 2/3 of the Hybrid "Load Following" plant's "fuel" is sunshine, the Solar Hybrid plant has a powerful hedge against future increases in fuel costs, including increases driven by "carbon penalties" on CO2 emissions.

    What happens when the 30% Solar Tax Credit expires in 2017?  Solar Thermal companies argue that during this time mass production of the mirrors and other components of CSP plants will bring down costs.  At the same time, fossil fuel prices and carbon penalties may increase.

    Possible Costs for Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas "Baseload" Plants. Operating the same plant as a "Baseload" plant  can lower overall generation costs/kWh because the same capital cost is spread over more kWh output per year.

    A new natural gas power plant operated as a "Baseload" plant, for instance, may cost roughly 9 cents/kWh total generation costs, lower than when the same power plant is used only about half as much in "Load Following" mode.

    Operating a Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas plant as a "Baseload" plant will spread its total capital costs over more kWh's per year, however the extra generation would come entirely from burning more natural gas.  WIth the same assumptions as above but with more usage, a Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas might have total generation costs/kWh of roughly 10 cents/kWh (with no specific Carbon Penalty).

    Note the two choices (each seen as One Power Plant) are near parity in total generation costs, but the Solar Hybrid plant would have less exposure to long-term increases in fossil fuel prices and carbon penalties.

    The Solar Hybrid plant can also eventually further reduce its fossil fuel use by adding storage.

    Adding Solar Storage. As natural gas prices rise,  Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas power plants can raise the percentage of energy from sunshine by storing excess solar energy generated during daylight hours.

    Storing heat instead of electricity can be very physically efficient.  For instance, Skyfuel notes that heat can be stored, then used later, with a 90% efficiency of heat recovered.

    Adding storage isn't cheap, however.

    First, it generally will require increasing the size of the solar field so that more heat is generated during the day than would be used to generate steam during the day.  Next, this extra heat would be stored in a heat storage fluid, such as molten salts.  This requires heat exchangers and heat storage tanks for the molten salts.

    Hybridization with natural gas will make sense in a great many cases to start, and storage can be added incrementally as years go by, and it becomes important to reduce natural gas usage.

    Skyfuel's William Felsher notes, "The optionality is there.  You can add storage and more collectors to increase Capacity Factor later."  With Solar Thermal's modular technology, "enhancements can be made incrementally."

    Adding Solar to Existing Power Plants. With growth in demand flat or even negative, many utilities may currently have no need to build totally new power plants.  However, adding solar to an existing power plant can help the utility meet Renewable Portfolio Standards and gain valuable operating experience with Solar Thermal.

    One economical way to achieve a hybrid solar/natural gas power plant is to add a solar thermal collection field to an existing natural gas combined cycle power plant.   The solar field of mirrors, lines, or troughs (or a small Solar Power Tower) would feed superheated steam into the existing steam cycles used by the power plant to generate power, as a supplemental heat source.  Typically no new land is needed and transmission connections are already in place.

    Savings of fuel consumption typically in the range of 10-15% may be achieved with a small solar addition.   Skyfuel's FuelSaver(TM) program  encourages utilities to add typically 5 – 50 MW of solar power to existing power plants, to reduce fossil fuel use and gain valuable experience with Solar Thermal power.  Ausra is also encouraging solar retrofits, after reducing coal usage at an existing power plant in Australia.

    A Solid Choice for Utilities. Utility managers seeking to add carbon-reduced firm electricity generation can now look to Solar Thermal as a viable choice.  Decades of experience have proven the technology, and recent advances are reducing its cost.

    American and overseas companies have operating power plants, and are competing for utility RFP's on utility terms that protect utilities from massive cost overruns.  Announced projects for Solar Thermal plants in the U.S. already total over 6,000 MW.

    The desert is blooming with power.

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