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December 31, 2007

2007 in Green News (revised)

It's that time of year when media outlets (including some blogs) bombard us with their rankings of the top stories of the year. In stead of adding another to the lists of rankings, I am just providing a few links (in no particular order) to a few of the green lists and bests-of, for the year 2007.

1.Preston Koerner over at Jetson Green has compiled a comprehensive collection of the Ultimate Green News Year in Review for 2007. The links are divided into 6 subcategories ranging from Cleantech to Politics to Business and to Architecture.

2. According to an article in the Fort Collins (CO) Coloradoan, the top business story in Northern Colorado this year is Larimer County's embracing of the New Energy Economy. The article sites the news that Vestas Wind and AVA Solar will bring 1200 renewable energy jobs to the region by completing the construction of their new manufacturing facilities.

3. David Wigder takes a look back at some empirical data to show the recent upswing in attention to green marketing in 2007.

4. TreeHugger put together a list of their top 10 posts of the year, which includes some that are humorous, some that are serious, and some that are just a little curious.

5. Finally, the good people at Grist put together two lists. The first, from David Roberts and Lisa Hymas runs down the top 15 green stories of 2007, which is thoughtful and well put together (and which cites the backlash against coal as the number one story and the number one enemy of the human race). The second, a Best of Grist List put together by Sarah van Schagen and Sarah K. Burkhalter takes a more whimsical approach to green trends, pop culture, and material goods.

6. I would be remiss to not include two very worthy compilations at the Climate & Energy Project blog. There is some very good information on advances (and retreats) in net-metering in the states and there is also a collection of wind updates from 2007 that has lots of neat links.

Enjoy and have a happy and safe New Year!

Photo: New Vestas plant construction in Windsor, CO- David Persons/ Windsor Beacon Library

December 23, 2007

Just when you thought the coast was clear - more Lomborg.

An E&E Publishing Service

Climate: Skeptical enviro Bjorn Lomborg discusses post-Kyoto roadmap, calls Kyoto "feel good strategy" (Wednesday, December 12, 2007)

OnPoint, 12/12/2007As the international community convenes in Bali to create a roadmap for post-Kyoto climate discussions, how successful will a new climate treaty be at reducing emissions and decreasing the impacts of climate change? During today's OnPoint, Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg explains why he believes Kyoto is a "feel good strategy". He also explains why the international community should be focusing on funding R&D for alternative technologies and adaptation measures, rather than emphasizing an emissions-reduction treaty. Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" and "Cool It--The Skeptical Environmentalists Guide to Global Warming," gives his views on the Stern review on the economic impacts of climate change and assesses the current climate discussions in Bali.

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December 19, 2007

Small Wind Remains in Farm Bill

Renewable energy advocates are clearly disappointed with the recently passed version of the 2007 energy bill. Yes, there is an important increase in auto fuel efficiency, but considering that CAFE hasn't been upped in nearly 30 years, I don't think Congress should be patting themselves on the back too hard for that one. However, a little piece of renewable energy legislation may have sneaked into the farm bill without too many Republicans noticing, and it just might have a chance of getting passed into law.

The version of the farm bill passed by the Senate on Friday contains a small wind tax provision - the first in more than 20 years. The provision is a 30% investment tax credit (up to $4,000) for the installation of small wind systems. The credit is available for farmers, small businesses and homeowners for new wind systems up to 10 kw. This may be another piece of evidence of a farm bill in energy bill's clothing.

The tax-credit has remained a part of the farm bill despite an attempt to scuttle it. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and others defeated an amendment sponsored by Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would have limited the small wind investment tax credit to farmers and small businesses, thus excluding owners of rural residential property and commercial property suitable for small wind from taking advantage of what has traditionally been viewed as a burden. It comes as no surprise to see Sen. Alexander championing the anti-wind cause once again. The Senator from Tennessee has been surprisingly outspoken about wind energy policy in the U.S., even going as far as suggesting that it ruins mountaintops (to say nothing of the practice of 'mountaintop removal' in TN and other coal-heavy states). It is also interesting to note that Alexander owns property on Nantucket Island in MA, not far at all from the proposed Cape Wind project. Coincidence?! I think not.

I suppose I shouldn't be trumpeting this small victory too loudly, President Bush hasn't signed the bill into law yet, so I suppose there is also a chance that the small tax credit will get axed from the bill just like all of the other renewable energy legislation.

December 13, 2007

Show me the deliberation...please!

After surfacing for some air in the last two weeks, the elusive energy bill has again disappeared into the murky depths of Senatorial politics. Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate has not become the deliberative institution it was designed to be. We see hearings on C-SPAN with lots of questions being asked, and a few being answered. We see flip charts and bar graphs and fancy posters being presented. We see Senators come to the floor with their aides (and sometimes with the help of their aides) to deliver policy speeches to an audience that consists mostly of administrative staff, security guards, pages, and sometimes even some lucky tourists. Real deliberation does not happen on the Senate floor, although bargaining might. And that usually happens when the C-SPAN mics are off.

The right for Senators to filibuster was designed so that debate could continue until a consensus was reached. Usually, now that does not mean debate and deliberation, that means deal-making, mutual back-scratching and overt bargaining. The filibuster is now used as a threat, rather than as an opportunity for substantive back-and-forth. Basically the filibuster now translates as: "I refuse to debate about this and there is nothing that can get me to change my mind." Once again, we can thank James Madison for the institutional incrementalism that pervades and can sometimes cripple American lawmaking.

I appreciate people having conviction about their principles, but why is it that flexibility, contingency and pragmatism are not considered principles worthy of conviction? Regardless of those structural flaws in the system, right now it's the only one we got.

After the Senate voted against cloture on the motion to agree to the House amendments last Friday, we have been seeing a very calculated game of political 'chicken.' The President all along has said he would veto any bill that singles out the oil industry and revokes substantial tax credits to big oil. But does he mean it? Probably yes. Despite the threat, Senate Democrats decided to push ahead with the bill, however, as many guessed would happen, the renewable energy standard was trimmed off to improve the bill's hopes of passage. At this point, it is unclear whether Democrats have the necessary 60 votes to prevent a filibuster and move forward with a vote on the bill.

My concern is that this is one of those instances where President Bush will show his 'conviction' by not passing any bill that repeals the billions of dollars to big oil subsidies. Maybe the President will surprise, in fact I hope he will surprise me. So I will hope that the President will show the rest of the world what a democracy in action looks like by passing the laws that a bicameral legislature has clearly determined as the will of the people. But the one thing that I have found about George W. Bush over the last 7 years is that he has lots of opportunities to surprise me, and hasn't done so once. With that said, I have carefully selected a few quotes that show the kind of real 'quality' communication that have emanated from our leadership in the last few days concerning the energy legislation.

It's a bill that's not going to become law. - Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)

[The House passed a bill] they knew was unacceptable to the president and had no chance being signed into law. - White House Spokesperson Dana Perino

This is not a good bill, but it can be turned into a great bill. - Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM)

If it goes to the White House, we would hope that common sense would prevail and the president would sign that. – Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

I guess they're trying to guarantee a veto.” – Donald
Stewart, spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

He is impossible, and has been for seven years, to deal with. – Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

December 12, 2007

What are the Alternatives to Electricity Rate Hikes?

Ft. Collins, CO – The electric co-op that serves over 30,000 residential and business customers in rural portions of Larimer, Weld, and Boulder counties in Northeast Colorado, has increased its electricity rates 24 percent over the last three years. But the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association (PVREA) is hardly alone. In response to these un-relenting rate hikes and over-reliance on coal-fired power, the Colorado non-profit group PV-Pioneers, has proposed an alternative plan that would encourage reductions in demand by focusing on energy efficiency and the principle of avoided costs.

The proposed plan suggests that the REA could finance Home Energy Makeovers for members who need them the most, and can afford them least. REAs and co-ops are in a position to make these loans because of their ability to secure no-interest federal loans themselves. The program would allow structural energy efficiency improvements including permanent housing weatherization improvements, replacement of inefficient appliances, or even just the replacement of incandescent with compact fluorescent or LED lighting.

PVREA's current assistance program - like many energy assistance programs across the country - help people pay their bills when they cannot afford to pay themselves. These programs can be incredibly helpful. But the problem is they create little incentive to permanently reduce those bills. They really mask the problem, rather than addressing some of the root causes.

This program is being presented as an alternative to rate increases that PVREA will have to absorb if its wholesale provider, Tri-State G&T continues its search to find somewhere to build a new coal-fired power plant. Just last month, Tri-State made national headlines when they, along with Sunflower Electric of Kansas, were denied an air permit by the Kansas Department of Health for a proposed expansion of the Holcomb coal-fired power plant in Southwestern Kansas.

The PV-Pioneers is a Colorado non-profit group made up of Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association members from Larimer, Weld, and Boulder counties. The group works to keep future rates down, to promote energy efficiency programs and to facilitate the generation of locally abundant renewable energy resources.

December 9, 2007

Global Weirding (part II)

The irony of this photograph will be lost unless you reference the one I took a couple of days ago for a previous post...

And I still haven't found Saturday's newspaper in my driveway.

December 7, 2007

Video: Wind Energy gets no love...(very funny)

I forgot what a great advertisement this is. I put it here so I could find it very easily the next time I need a good laugh... (courtesy of CorporateCitizen07 )

Hopes for Michigan Feed-in Tarriff Fading

Not too much has been heard about Michigan's HB 5218 since it was introduced by Rep. Kathleen Law earlier in this legislative session. HB 5218 was the first proposed legislation containing a 'feed-in tariff' for renewable energy in the U.S. If you don't know, a feed-in tariff or 'fee-schedule' is a policy mechanism which guarantees a premium rate payed to any entity that adds renewable energy to the power grid. Feed-in tariffs have been wildly successful at building the distributed generation of renewable resources very quickly in Germany and Spain -- but not without substantial cost and commitment.

But the latest out of MI is that the proposed tariff because it has not gained the same amount of support as a different bill that would require Michigan get 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015. I think nearly any move toward promoting renewable energy is a move in the right direction - and it is also quite possible that Michigan just wasn't ready for the economic commitment to such an aggressive policy as a feed-in tariff. The point will be moot if the U.S. Senate includes a 15 percent RPS possibly in their version of the bill which may be voted on as early as Saturday. Then again, if President Bush follows through on his veto promise, then Michigan might have something after all.

So what's the deal with feed-in tariffs, and why haven't they caught on in the U.S.? I will suggest that there are two very formidable structural impediments standing in their way:

  1. The modern grid was not built with distributed generation in mind. Distributed generation brings fluctuations in generating capacity that would need to be addressed by making substantial investments in infrastructure.
  2. There are corporate and interests heavily invested in keeping things pretty much as they are. Power providers and utilities are trying to solidify the futures of their enormous corporations by institutionalizing the process by which power is generated, bought, and sold.

Basically what it will take in this country to move to a more decentralized grid is a whole new politics. We need to reassess how to think about electricity generation and distribution in this country. Decentralization of the power grid will be the future of electricity in the United States, the only question is how long it'll take to get us there.

December 4, 2007

Global Weirding

Monday night was one of those nights that I thought my house was going to blow off of its foundation. The wind is hardly uncommon up here. My house is located at an elevation of about 6,000 ft. (kids stuff by CO standards), but it sits on an exposed hillside in the foothills of the Rockies which just gets pounded by the prevailing NW west sweeping down towards the Plains.
Usually after a night like that during the month of December I would expect to wake up and either start a fire in the woodstove or go outside and try to find the newspaper which is somewhere in my driveway under 8" of snow. However today was not your usual day, it was 70 freaking the shade! Now the record for Fort Collins is 70 degrees, but I am located almost a 1000 feet above that. Just to be sure my cheap little thermometer wasn't wrong I crosschecked my data with a rather reliable weather source - a NOAA weather station located on top of Horsetooth Mountain only a half mile away and about 400ft higher. Well it turns out my thermometer may have been a little off after all, the NOAA site said the high was actually 72 degrees!

December 3, 2007

Video: 30 Years of Rhetoric in 3 Minutes

I found this on YouTube - a Barack Obama campaign ad that highlights how politically useful it is for presidents to tout the need for American energy independence.

Obama says he'll bring energy leadership... Somebody needs to.