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U.S. Climate Protests Shift to Blocking Keystone XL Pipeline Approval

Bill McKibben and allies say the proposed tar sands pipeline — which was barely on their radar a year ago — could galvanize U.S. action on climate

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 27, 2011
Bill McKibben

WASHINGTON—Conservationists are still fuming about President Obama's continued lack of follow-through on his promise to affix solar panels to the White House roof.

For now, however, they're willing to give him a pass on what they recognize would be mostly a symbolic gesture.

But a summons for civil disobedience at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this summer indicates they are unwilling to be anywhere near as lenient about a lightning rod of a proposed pipeline. It's known as the Keystone XL and it could pump millions more barrels of heavy crude from Alberta, Canada's oil sands mines to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast if the federal government greenlights it.

"It was an enormous boost when Obama the candidate told us that the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal on his watch," author and activist Bill McKibben told SolveClimate News in an interview from his Vermont home.

"We remember that he asked his supporters to keep pressuring him so he would do the right things. This is the kind of moment he must have meant. So we're going to try."

The founder of the advocacy organization collaborated with 10 other Canadian and American like-minded luminaries — including author and farmer Wendell Berry, actor Danny Glover and NASA climate scientist James Hansen — to issue a three-page plea for support.

Droughts to Threaten Renewable Energy and Gas Plans, Study Warns

A U.S. think tank says water-reliant technologies could be hampered by increasing drought in parts of the world — and production is faltering already

By Suzanne Goldenberg,

Jun 27, 2011
BrightSource Energy’s Solar Energy Development Center in Israel’s Negev Desert.

The development of new renewable energy technologies and other expanding sources of energy such as shale gas will be limited by the availability of water in some regions of the world, according to by a U.S. think tank.

The study shows the reliance on large amounts of water to create biofuels and run solar thermal energy and hydraulic fracturing — a technique for extracting gas from unconventional geological formations underground — means droughts could hamper their deployment.

"Water consumption is going up dramatically. We are introducing all kinds of technology to reduce the carbon impact of energy, without doing anything to reduce its impact on water," Michele Wucker, co-author of the report, told a seminar at the , a think tank in Washington.

The study, estimating the water consumption of conventional and , found even so-called clean energy solutions use vast amounts of water.

NJ Legislators Working to Block Christie's Carbon Market Exit

State lawmakers have moved five bills in an attempt to stop Gov. Christie's planned year-end RGGI withdrawal

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 24, 2011
New Jersey State Legislature

New Jersey Democrats are pushing a series of bills that would sideline Republican Gov. Chris Christie's plans to withdraw the state from the U.S. Northeast's carbon market.

Legislators admit that the governor would likely veto the measures if they land on his desk. But the sponsors remain hopeful that their bills, which try to limit Christie's power on the issue, could at least influence future lawsuits or other enforcement actions over the state's participation in the (RGGI).

The legislation "absolutely clears up any ambiguity of [Christie] being able to pull us out unilaterally," John McKeon, chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, told SolveClimate News.

Christie vowed at a to pull New Jersey out of RGGI by year's end. The initiative of 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states caps CO2 emissions from power plants and auctions off carbon allowances to fund statewide clean energy efforts.

"RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment," Christie said in transcripts provided to SolveClimate News by the governor's office.

Local media reported that Christie administration officials did not think the new bills would keep New Jersey from exiting the program. A spokesperson for Christie did not respond to requests for comments by deadline.

Japan's Post-Quake Solar Power Dream Alluring for Investors

If PM Naoto Kan's solar rooftop scheme goes ahead, it would create a market for roughly $260 billion of solar panel production and installation

By Risa Maeda and Leonora Walet,

Jun 24, 2011
Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister

It's an unlikely dream for Japan's beleaguered government but one that the worst nuclear accident in 25 years has made more alluring: an urban landscape topped with gleaming solar panels powering a nuclear-free economy.

Solar is one of the power sources the government of the world's third-largest economy is focusing on after the March earthquake and tsunami shattered Tokyo's nuclear-dependent energy policy.

Energy captured directly from the sun costs more than from imported fossil fuels, and would add to the already daunting reconstruction bill the country faces.

To unleash a potential hundreds of billions of dollars of private investment in solar Japan needs a coherent national energy policy to include a generous feed-in tariff — a subsidy paid by end-users.

"Energy has become the biggest theme after the earthquake; the most important investment opportunity created after the crisis," said president and chief executive Shuhei Abe at the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit.

"But the government must take action. It must quickly implement a feed-in tariff," said Abe, who manages $300 million worth of assets in the cleantech sector.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, facing criticism over his handling of the crisis and struggling for his political survival, in May announced a plan that would put solar panels on some 10 million roofs by 2030. The announcement cheered investors, but the government has so far failed to follow through.

Historic Anti-Corn Ethanol Amendment Faces Uphill Battle

Almost three-quarters of the Senate approved a measure to end the $6-billion-a-year blenders credit, but its prospects for ultimate passage remain cloudy

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 23, 2011
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

WASHINGTON—Deficit hawks have practically turned sharpened scissors into a fashion accessory on Capitol Hill. What's shocking some and delighting others is the unexpected pairings of legislators willing to share a whetstone this congressional session.

Take ethanol subsidies, for instance.

Just a week ago, the was taken aback and the was downright giddy when almost three-quarters of the Senate , a liberal-leaning California Democrat, and Sen. Tom Coburn, a debt-obsessed Oklahoma Republican.

Senators agreed to save taxpayers an estimated $6 billion annually by voting overwhelmingly to repeal a tax credit on corn ethanol. What's officially known as the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, the VEETC for short, pays 45 cents for each blended gallon.

"Ethanol is the only industry I know of that receives a triple crown of government support: its use is mandated by law, it enjoys protective tariffs and oil companies receive federal subsidies to use it," Feinstein said. "These flawed policies ... must be changed."

, an organization of ethanol producers, reacted to the 73 to 27 vote with a headlined "Senate Votes to Keep OPEC in Charge of U.S. Economy." Meanwhile, the Renewable Fuels Association is adorning city buses in the nation's capital with ads claiming that corn ethanol reduces gas prices by 89 cents per gallon.

Houston Lures Clean Energy Companies Seeking New Home Base

As America's oil capital continues its push to build a greener economy, cleantech innovators are finding a home in an unlikely town

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 22, 2011
Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Houston's Texas-sized push to build a cleaner, more competitive economy is luring alternative energy businesses and giving the nation's oil and gas capital an increasingly green tinge. 

John Higgins, CEO of , said an extra-warm welcome from City Hall last year persuaded him to choose Houston to manufacture the firm's energy-efficient LED lighting.

The development and construction company has been based in Houston for more than 20 years, but NeuTex was looking at cities across the country for its nascent lighting division after deciding to close most of its China-based operations, due partly to rising labor costs.

"Tax breaks weren't real important to us," Higgins told SolveClimate News. "We looked for a team in a city that would embrace energy efficiency and would embrace sustainable technology."

Mayor Annise Parker's office reached out to NeuTex and ensured it could support the firm by championing sustainable building initiatives and giving NeuTex visibility among developers and engineers.

"We thought that if we can be taken seriously in Houston, Texas, then we can be taken seriously anywhere in the world," Higgins said.

Surge in Mississippi River Hydro Proposals Points to Coming Boom

Nearly 100 pre-application documents and proposals have been filed for conventional hydro and alternative hydrokinetic projects along the Mississippi

By Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News

Jun 22, 2011
Hydro Green Energy

One of the nation's untapped reservoirs of energy may turn out to be the Mississippi River.

Energy developers have filed 19 pre-application documents with the (FERC) proposing hydro projects on locks and dams on the northern Mississippi, from Hastings, Minnesota to Cairo, Illinois.

Proposals also have been developed for conventional hydropower on rivers with locks and dams in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa, as well as in other parts of the country.

In addition, more than 74 pre-application proposals have been filed for hydrokinetic energy projects in the southern Mississippi, which call for underwater turbines to be secured with pilings attached to the river's floor. The southern section is more suited to hydrokinetic due to the depth of the water, the swiftness of currents and the lack of dams.

The proposals represent a larger effort by energy developers to seize the opportunity to use hydro in all its forms — from tidal power on coastal rivers to wave energy in the sea — to provide a new source of cleaner power.

House Bill Would Cut Clean Energy and Efficiency Programs by 40 Percent

Appropriations bill puts renewable energy and efficiency funding about $1 billion below current levels, roughly equaling dollars doled out in 2005

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 21, 2011
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.)

WASHINGTON—Even though Republicans have vowed an "all-of-the-above" approach to America's energy future, Democrats are accusing them of clinging to a narrow, antiquated, hydrocarbon-heavy past.

Members of the are furious about a that they claim shortchanges President Obama's efforts at innovation and competition in favor of an addiction to oil, coal and natural gas.

"Now is the worst possible moment to slash funding for the research and development of sustainable energy technologies," coalition member Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said about the $30.6 billion bill that advanced out of the House Appropriations Committee last Wednesday.

"At a time when our economy is already fragile, abandoning scientific research would cause the United States to lose even more high-tech jobs to our foreign competitors."

Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona was the sole Republican who joined 19 Democrats in opposing the bill that passed on a 26-20 vote. The full House will be considering the measure, one of a dozen sweeping federal spending bills, after Independence Day.

On the energy front, this version of the bill snips $1.9 billion from the White House request for investments in energy efficiency research, renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal, fuel-conserving vehicles, weatherization, biomass and other programs. That's more than 40 percent below current funding levels.

CPS Energy to Shut Coal-Fired Plant in Texas, Turn to Renewables

Facing $3 billion in coal plant retrofits, CPS chief executive says: 'We've chosen to invest those dollars today in clean sources that are affordable'

By Eileen O'Grady,

Jun 21, 2011
JT Deely coal station

HOUSTON, Texas—CPS Energy, a municipal utility in San Antonio, Texas, plans to shut its two-unit, 871-megawatt JT Deely coal station by 2018 to avoid spending as much as $3 billion for environmental equipment needed to comply with pending federal regulations, company officials said on Monday.

Late last year, CPS completed a $1 billion, 750-megawatt coal unit at the Calaveras Power Station, where the Deely units have been running since 1977 and 1978.

, the nation's largest city-owned utility supplying both natural gas and electricity, wants to reduce its reliance on fossil-fueled generation and boost its use of renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, to 20 percent, or 1,500 megawatts, by 2020.

"We're estimating that we are avoiding $3 billion of retrofits for a 33-year-old coal plant," said CPS Chief Executive Doyle Beneby. "We've chosen to invest those dollars today in clean sources that are affordable."

Amid Boom, U.S. Solar Industry Fears End of Government Incentives

Recent gains in the U.S. solar market are due largely to support from two federal funding programs that are set to expire this year and next

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 20, 2011
solar thermal

U.S. solar energy installations are poised to double in 2011 for the second year in a row, but the industry could fall short of its lofty, long-term goals for growth if two key federal programs dry up, officials say.

"We are in reach of our goal of installing 10 gigawatts of solar annually by 2015. That's enough to power more than 2 million homes with clean reliable solar energy each and every year," Tom Kimbis, vice president of strategy and external affairs for the (SEIA), told reporters on a conference call.

"But to reach that goal, Congress needs to make the right investments in solar energy," he said.

Around 1,800 megawatts of solar power will be installed in the U.S. this year, up from the 887 megawatts installed in 2010, Shayle Kann, managing director of solar research at , said on the call.

"This is going to be a time when we see enormous changes ... and everything that comes with the maturation of a sector is going to be compressed into a very short period of time over the next year and a half in the U.S.," Kann added.