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New U.S. Institutes Help Tackle Cleantech Workforce Shortage

Training academies are cropping up to steer students and professionals into clean energy industries that lack manpower to match growing opportunities

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 16, 2011

A surge in business for algae-biofuels developer has led to a new but welcome problem: The firm is needing to hire experienced workers but is finding slim pickings.

The San Diego green crude producer typically hires from within the biomedical field. Employees are paid full-time while they train for work in the developer's labs or at its research and development facility and biorefinery in New Mexico.

But Stephen Mayfield, Sapphire Energy co-founder and director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, has a more efficient method in mind.

The algae expert is helping to lead a new post-graduate training program that is building a ready workforce ahead of an anticipated boom in biotechnology development.

Around 100 students are expected to enroll this year in (Educating and Developing Workers for the Green Economy), a public-private partnership that offers industrial and technical certificate programs in biofuels and biotech production, analysis and processing. For now, the initiative does not include ethanol.

A Masters of Advanced Science will be offered next year through the University of California, San Diego for biotech entrepreneurs.

Analysis: U.S. to Be a Top Coal Exporter Again, Thanks to Asia

China, Asia and many countries in the developing world are turning to the U.S. to make up for coal supply shortfalls

By Bruce Nichols and Jackie Cowhig,

May 15, 2011
A coal belt in Seward, Alaska

The United States could vault back into the top rank of coal exporters for good this year thanks to Asia's fuel demand — just as surging gas output and tougher environmental laws threaten mainstay domestic sales.  

Leading U.S. producers, with wallets bulging from high world prices, are jostling to boost their Asian presence. 

 Their only problem is squeezing enough coal through over-stretched ports and railroads, but efforts are underway to open new outlets thanks to surging confidence in the sector.

"We see it as a structural change," said Deck Slone, chief spokesman for , the second largest U.S. producer after Peabody Energy Corp.

Arch has agreed to buy International Coal Co and has opened a Singapore-based subsidiary to boost its export presence.

Analysts say total U.S. coal exports could amount to around 100 million tons (91 million tons) this year, leaving only Australia and Indonesia above it in the world export rankings, and putting it above Russia, Colombia and South Africa.

Ice Melt Will Bring Species Loss, Oil Drilling to Canada’s Hudson Bay, Researchers Suggest

Sea ice volume in the bay will decrease 31% by the 2040s, new research shows, with implications for species survival and new oil industry exploration

Katherine Bagley, SolveClimate News

May 13, 2011
A polar bear in Hudson Bay

Rapidly thinning sea ice on Canada's Hudson Bay will trigger a fast rate of species loss and open new access to commercial shipping and crude oil exploration, the authors of a new study suggest.

The study provides the most comprehensive look yet at how climate change will affect the Texas-sized Hudson Bay, a biologically and economically important inland sea in the country's northeast.

Summer sea surface temperatures will increase 9 degrees Fahrenheit in the southeastern Hudson Bay and 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the central portion before mid-century, spelling disaster for sea ice formation and the polar bears and other wildlife that depend on the ice to survive, according to the study.

The bay's western edge is home to one of the world's largest clusters of polar bears.

The scientists calculate that within 30 years the 316,000-square-mile water body could lose 31 percent of its total volume of ice. Since the 1950s, Canada's average temperatures have been steadily increasing from the rise in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Australia Takes First Step to Harness Its Surging Seas for Energy

Wave energy can theoretically supply up to a third of Australia's energy needs, but whether the technology can succeed remains a question mark

By David Wilson, SolveClimate News

May 13, 2011
CETO pilot plant in Western Australia

SYDNEY, AustraliaAustralia has begun drawing renewable energy from the forbidding waves that pound its abundant coastline, with the nation's first marine power unit that began operation in April.

Developed by Perth-based Carnegie Wave Energy, the stand-alone demonstration piece called Ceto the name of a Greek sea goddess converts motion from the ocean into electricity  through a pump anchored 80 feet undersea off southwestern Australia's coast. It can supply 100 kilowatts of energy, enough to power about 70 homes.

When the ocean waves swell, a high-tech buoy attached to the pump moves with them. The movement powers the machine, which pushes water along a pipeline that runs ashore and drives a hydraulic turbine that generates zero-carbon electricity. Carnegie is planning a farm of 10 to 15 Cetos that will yield roughly 2 megawatts.

Wave energy can theoretically supply up to one-third of Australia's energy needs, according to the company, which invested about $30 million into its technology. But whether widespread adoption will ever be practical is another question.

Fukushima Reactor Has a Hole, Leak Containment Could Take Years

The disclosure by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is the latest indication that the disaster was worse than previously disclosed

By Yoko Kubota and Scott DiSavino, Reuters

May 13, 2011

One of the reactors at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has a hole in its main vessel following a meltdown of fuel rods, leading to a leakage of radioactive water, its operator said on Thursday.

The disclosure by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is the latest indication that the disaster was worse than previously disclosed, making it more difficult to stabilize the plant.

Latest Pair of Oil Accidents Fuel Opposition to Keystone Pipeline Extension

The BP crisis first provoked a closer look at Keystone XL a year ago as environmental security became a national concern

By Stacy Feldman, SolveClimate News

May 12, 2011
Rainbow Pipeline Spill

With reporting by Elizabeth McGowan

With the oil industry under the national spotlight, environmental advocates are pointing to a pair of recent oil spills to bolster their campaign against a much-disputed Alberta-to-Texas tar sands pipeline that could win U.S. approval by the end of the year.

New U.S. Determination Is Seen Emerging in Battle for Arctic Oil

Excitement about the commercial potential of the Arctic has escalated as ice has retreated, making access to oil easier at a time when prices have rocketed

By Terry Macalister,

May 12, 2011
Melting ice in the Arctic

The U.S. government has signaled a new determination to assert its role in Arctic oil and gas exploration by sending secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other ministers to a summit of the region's powers for the first time.

Clinton and the U.S. secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, were both at the biennial meeting in the Greenland capital of Nuuk amid fears by environmentalists of a "carve up" of Arctic resources that could savage a pristine environment.

The political maneuvers came as Britain's Cairn Energy prepares to drill for oil off Greenland while Shell applies to explore for oil off Alaska and BP has done a deal to explore the Russian Arctic. They also came as cables were released by WikiLeaks showing American diplomats talking about the need to assert U.S. influence over political and economic competitors such as China.

Clean Energy Investment 'Bank' Has Bipartisan Support, But No Money

Those championing a green investment agency are hopeful that senators will rearrange enough dollars in the DOE budget, or elsewhere, to make it happen

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 11, 2011
Sen. Jeff Bingaman

WASHINGTON—Two top senators are again toying with the fancy of enhancing the Department of Energy's ability to finance clean energy projects.

Those in the business are certainly eager to embrace the resurrection of what is called the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA).

However, they're jittery that it will emerge as a piece of "all hat and no cattle" legislation if the can't definitively map out where to find an estimated $10 billion in upfront costs.

Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman is talking about having a piece of legislation — likely without accommodations for offsetting the cost — prepared this month. It's possible that the committee could mark it up and vote on it within the next few weeks.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the committee's ranking Republican, is on board with the New Mexico Democrat’s measure. But she's made it clear that the program's cost would have to be balanced via spending reductions elsewhere in the federal budget.

Expectations are that the Senate, where the Democratic caucus has a 53-47 majority, would follow the committee's lead and be receptive to the CEDA measure. But the Republican-dominated House is a different story.

Federal Pollution Laws Drive Chicago-Area Coal Plant Out of Business

Dominion Resources, the plant's owner, says it is planning to generate new power in Indiana through a 750-MW wind farm now under construction

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 11, 2011
The State Line Power Station near Chicago

An 85-year-old coal plant near Chicago is going out of business after new federal air quality rules ultimately made the facility too costly to be worth operating.

The 515-megawatt in Hammond, Ind., will join some 17,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity scheduled for retirement in the next few years, in light of rising coal prices and tighter mercury and air toxics standards proposed by the U.S. EPA.

Richmond, Va.-based told that it had opted not to bid State Line's power capacity in an upcoming auction for the 2014 to 2015 planning period.

"It is really a two-fold response," Dominion spokesperson Dan Genest told SolveClimate News. "The price of natural gas is coming way down, and so the State Line Power Station ... really can't compete in the unregulated energy market against natural gas. So it is not getting run as much as it used to, and we're not making any money on it.

"Given those conditions, it just doesn't make sense for us to invest all of this money in environmental controls for a station that is not operating very much."

He added: "We have said all along that we would operate State Line in full compliance of all environmental regulations safely and economically. So as long as there is an opportunity for us to stay in compliance and do it safely — and make money — then we could continue to operate."

Dominion expects that opportunity to burn out by mid-2014, when EPA's proposed would require the power company to install scrubbers and other pollution control equipment at the plant just 13 miles from downtown Chicago.

A Solar City Tries to Rise in Turkey Despite Lack of Federal Support

Installing PV arrays across one half of one percent of Turkey's landmass could supply the nation's current electrical capacity

By Julia Harte, SolveClimate News

May 10, 2011
Solar House, Antalya, Turkey

ANTALYA, Turkey—Turkey's weak policy support for solar power hasn't stopped the sun-soaked southern city of Antalya from forging ahead with plans to exploit its solar resource — and to encourage other local governments to follow suit.

In April, Antalya opened its long-awaited "Solar House," the first step in its push to become Turkey's first and only solar city.

The environmental education center and renewable energy showcase boasts 24 one-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) panels, among other clean energy solutions such as a windmill and a track that generates power from bicycles.

The model house cost about $600,000 and was 90 percent funded by Turkish companies and 10 percent by the . It will produce and store all the energy it consumes and feed excess power back into the grid — though it won't profit from doing so.

The country's energy authority doesn't yet buy surplus electricity from small producers of solar power. This is partly why the cost of installing solar panels remains prohibitive for nearly all Antalya residents, local observers say.

"We need to show the Turkish people how we can produce solar energy, because it's a very new concept for most Turks," Mustafa Akaydın, the mayor of Antalya, told SolveClimate News in an interview.