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January 31, 2008

Renewables to Get Another Chance in Congress?

This week, the Senate is doing some tinkering with the recently proposed economic incentive package put forth by the House leadership and President Bush. More specifically, this tinkering would extend the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) for another year and would extend the solar investment tax credit. The Senate Finance Committee also included energy efficiency incentives to the package. Hopefully, these amendments will not be left by the wayside as they were late last year.


Caucusing on Giga Tuesday? Watch This Video

I'm sorry, but I really don't want two days in one week officially referred to as 'super.' This Sunday, I am hoping that the New England Patriots will beat the N.Y. Giants in the NFL's 'Super Bowl.' Then, just two days later, 20+ states will hold their presidential caucuses & primaries on what is often referred to as 'Super Tuesday.' But, because so many states have moved up their primary dates to attract more attention and increase voter participation, this will be the largest Super Tuesday ever, leading some pundits to refer to it as 'Super Duper Tuesday' or, even worse, 'Tsunami Tuesday.'

Personally, I think 'Tsunami Tuesday' has its obvious drawbacks. And I think 'Super Tuesday' is kind of played. I do not have a problem with days being super. However, labeling them super before they have even happened, just sets us up for disappointment. What if they aren't super at all? Alas, I concede that a name would be useful. My favorite? Giga Tuesday.

So, on Giga Tuesday 2008, I will be joining my neighbors in an exurban enclave of Larimer County, CO. I do not expect there to be a tremendous number of people, which is all the more reason for me to sharpen my micropolitical skills. And as a politologist, I am really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, my first choice has recently dropped out of the race, leaving me as officially undecided (though unofficially, decided). While I did not expect him to win, his platform had very strong environmental policy.

Want to know more about what the heck you are supposed to do in a caucus? Watch this clever, short and simple video that lays out the order of operations, what is expected of you, and what you should expect of the caucus.[Note: this video is produced by the Obama folks for the Colorado Caucus, but is applicable for any of Giga Tuesday's caucuses.

Map Key:
Blue denotes Democratic-only caucuses (3), Red denotes Republican-only state conventions (2), and Purple represents states holding elections for both parties

Map Source: Wikipedia

January 29, 2008

Dept.of Energy Pulls Support for Future-Gen and 'Clean Coal' Project

Dave Roberts at Grist just reported on this ginormous story. The Department of Energy has just announced that they are pulling the plug on the proposed Future-Gen test plant in Illinois. Future-Gen is all about 'clean coal'. And the biggest arguments from clean coal's supporters is that it coal is cheap. Why was Future-Gen shelved? It is too expensive! Where is 'clean coal' now?

read more | digg story

Photo: RealNeo

The State of the Union is Strong(ish)

President George W. Bush delivered his final State of the Union Address last night [text of speech]. One of the best assessments of the address came from columnist E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and a regular on NPR's All Things Considered. He said something along the lines of, "Whatever the opposite of the word 'ambitious' is, this speech was that."

I would tend to agree with that assessment. All in all, it was a pretty modest speech from a president who has little political capital to spend.

But because I was predisposed, I was unable to watch the address live. So, being the nerd that I am, I TiVo'ed it instead. And let me tell you, the TiVo is absolutely made for the State of the Union Address.

January 28, 2008

Denver council to ease turbine, solar restrictions

Good to see the city of Denver being proactive about potential land use planning conflicts and micro renewable installations. Although the AWEA does not seem terribly excited about the proposal, saying that it is unnecessarily restrictive on wind turbine heights.

read more | digg story

January 25, 2008

Hoosier Daddy? Big Coal

As plans for new coal-fired power plants are being canceled at unprecedented rates, and the possibility of a carbon tax looms large on the American horizon, state legislatures are scrambling to come up with proposals to spur new types of energy development that will not contribute to the planet's rising GHG problem. And in Indiana, despite a recent poll suggesting that 73 percent of Hoosier-state residents were in favor of HB1112, a bill that would have required investor-owned utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2018, it did not make it out of Committee on Thursday. The Indiana House Commerce, Energy and Utilities Committee defeated the bill by a vote of 8-3. By itself, that does not sound like good news. However, upon further inspection, it turns out that this bill may be better off dead anyway. Why? Coal.

Indiana's energy portfolio is 95 percent dependent on coal. HB1112 was the first time for renewable energy legislation to be voted on in Indiana that did not include incentives for coal. The bill was scuttled in committee because the Chair (also the bill's sponsor), refused to hear amendments that would include incentives for the elusive technologies of 'clean coal.' Rep. Dave Crooks (D-Washington) said, "My desire was that if we're going to debate a renewable energy bill in this state it needs to be a pure renewable bill." Crooks failed to garner the support of his vice-chair, Rep. Kreg Battles (D-Vincennes) who said, "I've made it very clear that I will support renewables, but I don't want to put clean coal at a disadvantage."

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council said the vote would have been a 'golden opportunity' for Indiana to send a message to out-of-state investors that Indiana was open for renewable energy business. "Sadly that welcome message was not sent," said Kharbanda.

I understand why environmental groups would want a renewable energy standard in Indiana, but I am surprised they are crying so loudly about the defeat of this particular one. First off, a 10% renewable energy standard is rather paltry. Second, there is no such thing as clean coal. There are, however, plenty of other clean technologies that do need investors and policy support. Coal's heyday is near its end. And I applaud Rep. Crooks for taking a stand against Big Coal.

Crooks indicated that it is still possible for a renewable energy bill to be revived this session, but that it was not very likely.

Inside Indiana Business
Indianapolis Star
Photo: j3net via flickr

January 24, 2008

Edwards Stumps on Clean, Renewable Populism

Enjoy this very short video of Presidential hopeful, John Edwards stumping in LA about two weeks ago. In my view, John Edwards has the strongest ecopolitical platform of any of the candidates. He is the only one gutsy enough to call for a moratorium on any new coal-fired power plants. The question that raises, however, is will that matter in the end? And if so, how?

I am considering caucusing for Edwards in Colorado on the Feb. 5th. If he doesn't get the required 15% in the first preference poll, I'll have to realign with another candidate (but not without letting my fellow precinct members why I chose Edwards). A piece of advice to the candidates' strategists and advisors: Pay attention to the Western vote (not just CA).

If any Democrat wants to do well in the purple states of the mountain west, they must start talking about issues that westerners care about (i.e. energy and enviro issues). If, come election time, the Democratic nominee is not talking about these issues, they will not catch the swing voters, indies, and Republicans who are considering casting a vote for a Democrat. How do you think Gov. Bill Ritter (D) got elected in CO? Three words: New Energy Economy.

January 23, 2008

Pine Beetle Epidemic Grows 1500% in Larimer Co., CO in 2007

If you have traveled to Colorado any time recently, (and certainly if you live here), you may have noticed something a little peculiar about some of the pine trees. If you haven't had such a privilege, let me just tell you: there are acres upon acres of red pine trees. Why? The state's lodgepole pine forests have been hit by an unprecedented pine beetle outbreak.

Once restricted to five high country counties along the Continental Divide, the mountain pine beetle epidemic in Colorado has spread to the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and is on a path to wipe out virtually all of the state's lodgepole pine forests in the next 3-5 years. Several years of moderate to severe drought has weakened the trees, and a lack of sustained cold temperatures has prevented any significant kill-off. Fortunately, the preferred food for the pine beetle, lodgepole pines, do not really grow below 6000 feet, so much of the ponderosa, pinon and juniper forests in the foothills will be safe. But that is no comfort for mountain-town residents where the pine beetles have reached epic proportions, because the dead and dying trees could be a significant source of fuel for catastrophic wildfire events. Read more...

January 18, 2008

Kansas Coal Proponents Try New Strategy for Power Plant

First, they became involved in the only American case, thus far, of a coal-fired power plant being denied a permit based upon the negative impact of its carbon dioxide emissions. Then they cried foul and filed a lawsuit. Right around the same time, they produced a series of ads with Peabody Coal suggesting that Kansas legislators were playing into the hands of people like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now, according to a report in DeSmogBlog, Sunflower Electric has joined forces with the several other co-ops, the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO among others, to form a group that seems poised to fight the state of Kansas' October decision to deny the permit of two coal-fired electricity generators. And apparently the group's flashy new website is registered directly to Sunflower Electric Power Corporation.

According to the website:

The Alliance for Sound Energy Policy is a statewide, non-partisan organization committed to balancing our growing energy needs with environmental stewardship while encouraging the development of a comprehensive energy strategy that provides an affordable, reliable, and diverse energy portfolio for Kansas' future."

But a quick run through of the website content and the organization's list of members reveals a severe shortage of those who might be called "environmental stewards." Members on that list are:

  • Central & Western Kansas Building & Construction Trades Council
  • Finney County Board of Commissioners
  • Kansas AFL-CIO
  • Kansas Chamber of Commerce
  • Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc.
  • Kansas Farm Bureau
  • Kansas IBEW Local 304
  • Lane-Scott Electric Cooperative, Inc.
  • Midwest Energy Inc.
  • Pioneer Electric Cooperative, Inc.
  • Prairie Land Electric Cooperative, Inc.
  • Sunflower Electric Power Corporation
  • Victory Electric Cooperative Association, Inc.
  • Western Cooperative Electric Association, Inc.
  • Wheatland Electric Cooperative, Inc.

If the above list doesn't do much to ease your concerns about the ecopolitics of the new organization, perhaps a snippet from their recent press release will:

"The diversity of our coalition makes the Alliance for Sound Energy Policy a credible voice in the debate over balancing our growing electricity demand with our need to protect the environment."
Oh, now I get it. Simply saying that you are diverse, means that you are diverse. I feel much better now [note sarcasm].

Photo: Courtesy of simplerich via flickr

January 16, 2008

Xcel Energy Diversifying its Renewables Portfolio

Next to gold, one of the safest investments in a sluggish economy is a good utility. Oxymoron? Maybe. But Xcel Energy is doing their part to clean up the image of electric utilities by becoming the biggest producer of wind power in the United States.

Recently named to the
Dow Jones Sustainability Index for North America for the second year in a row, Minneapolis based Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL), gave itself a pat on the back recently for its environmental efforts over the past year. Despite the company's original hesitance with renewable energy standards in Minnesota and Colorado, it wisely changed course and repositioned itself as one of the greenest investor-owned utilities in the U.S. Xcel is the United States' largest windpower provider.
By 2020, Xcel expects to supply 30 percent of its customer's electricity needs with renewable resources.

Even though Xcel is known for its aggressive development of wind, it has not shied away from developing other renewable projects, as evidenced by the 22 Minnesota projects that will receive nearly $23 million from its Minnesota Renewable Development Fund.
Interesting projects in the works across the company's eight-state service area include a Colorado biomass plant that uses pine bark beetle tree waste to produce more than 4 megawatts of power; a 3 megawatt cogeneration plant in Minnesota utilizing methane produced as a byproduct of sugar beet processing; and an 8.2 megawatt Solar Plant in the San Luis Valley of Colorado.

January 14, 2008

Feds Give Thumbs-up to Cape Wind

According to the 718-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released today by the Minerals Management Service, the proposed wind farm would have little lasting impact on wildlife, navigation and tourism - claims that Cape Wind supporters have been making since the project was proposed seven years ago.


Audio: Mitt Romney on the Enviroment

This week's Living on Earth has a good story about Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his environmental policies. Now I don't know much about Romney's enviropolitics, except for the fact that while Governor of Massachusetts, he made national headlines with his opposition to Cape Wind, the proposed offshore wind energy project off the coast of Cape Cod. It wasn't so much that his position on Cape Wind was headline-worthy in itself, but rather, that he and Senator Ted Kennedy(D-MA) were on the same side of the issue (but that post will have to wait).

Including the forum that Living on Earth hosted last fall, the radio program is covering all of the presidential candidates' stances on environmental issues. If you are not familiar with Living on Earth, I highly recommend it, especially for its rather sharp political takes. Also, Grist has compiled the candidates' views on climate and energy issues into a single handy resource with lots of links.

Photo: Fecke

January 12, 2008

Video: World's First Manure-Fired Ethanol Plant

January 11, 2008

Colorado: The 2008 State of the Green State Address

Denver - For the second year in a row, Colorado environmental leaders were delighted to learn that green issues were one of the central themes of Governor Bill Ritter's State of the State Address. Considering that the Governor, as well as both houses of the legislature are held by the Democrats, my guess is that he will get most or all of his environmental agenda passed.
In addition to covering renewable energy, natural resources, energy efficiency and carbon proposals, the Governor also announced the winners of the first ever Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards. I was very happy to see that one of Fort Collins' hometown heroes, New Belgium Brewery brought home the prize in the large business category. (If a brewery can make you feel
good about yourself for buying a beer, they might just have a customer for life :)

Excerpts and more from the Colorado State of the State Address:

  • "In 2007, we saw nearly 650 megawatts of wind farms built on Colorado's Eastern Plains -- enough energy to power nearly 250,000 homes."
  • "Vestas Blades picked Colorado for its first North American wind blade manufacturing plant. This means hundreds of new jobs for Colorado. Thanks to companies like Vestas, Ascent Solar and Abengoa, thanks to world-class research institutions, the next generation of new-energy technology is being developed right here in Colorado."
Summary of Governor Ritter's latest proposals for Colorado's New Energy Economy
  • Pass a net-metering law would allow homeowners and businesses to earn credits on their energy bill by selling power back to the grid.
  • Initiate a "Go Solar" program would require utilities to give homeowners a rebate when they purchase solar power equipment.
  • Create a Colorado Carbon Fund that would assist with the financing of various GHG emission reduction efforts. The fund would be financed with voluntary contributions.

Complete text of speech
Politics West

MMS Establishes Offshore Wind Guidelines (sort of)

January 11, 2007

The U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) has formally established an interim adaptive management program called the Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Program to regulate the development of offshore wind projects on the outer continental shelf. The new program puts forth 52 "best management practices to minimize potential adverse impacts of future projects" but has no impact on the imminent decision in the proposed Cape Wind project.

In a bit of bureaucratic reorganization, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized MMS to regulate offshore wind development, thus pulling the carpet out from under Cape Wind, America's first proposed offshore wind energy project. The proposal was awaiting final approval in 2005 when Sen. Edward Kennedy was able to place a moratorium on offshore wind development until the permitting process was relocated out of the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers and into the jurisdiction of the MMS, an arm of the Department of the Interior that deals primarily with offshore oil and gas leases.

Photo: Danish Windpower Association (

January 5, 2008

WFC Unveils Climate Change Policy Toolkit

The World Future Council has just rolled out their new PACT website at The very cool new site will serve as an online community for the diffusion of climate relevant policy knowledge. According to Miguel Mendonça at the World Future Council, PACT is a free online resource designed to speed up the exchange and utilization of best policy practices to mitigate the dangers of climate change.

The first policy domain covered by the PACT concerns Feed-in Tariffs (FITs), which are used to cheaply and rapidly accelerate the deployment of renewable energy installations. The site offers a means of assisting legislators and advocates with the initial development of, or improvements to, a FIT law for their country or region. These draft laws can be developed by lawyers and used for local debate, and the site offers the user legal text for each of the core elements of a good FIT.

The FIT policy mechanism is now in place in 47 countries, states and provinces around the world, with the greatest success coming in Germany and Spain. A major benefit of the spread of FITs is that they bring many more players into the energy production market, including homeowners, small businesses, cooperatives, farmers and businesses. The decentralization of energy production that occurs as a result of a healthy FIT is challenging the traditional dominance of utility-scale energy generation and transmission. FITs are often politically popular amongst the masses, but less so with the utilities and corporations that stand to lose out on the revenue. Other than one bill introduced in Michigan, powerful interests in the U.S. have, thus far, all but quashed any discussion of FITs. American lawmakers are preferring instead to go with the renewables portfolio standard (RPS or RES), which mandates minimum levels of electricity utilities must supply from renewable sources.