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Posts Tagged ‘united states department of energy’

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated the global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide soared by six percent in 2010, the biggest single year increase on record and a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined

The world pumped about 564 million more tons of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, and extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the increase in emissions last year.

Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8 percent in 2010 with India and China’s increased use of coal contributing to those emission increases.  And while broader economic improvements in poor countries has been bringing living improvements to the people of those countries, doing it with increasing reliance on coal is imperiling the world.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on global warming, using different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution.  At that time the IPCC said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution.  The latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst case projections from the climate panel. Those forecast global temperatures rising between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century with the best estimate at 7.5 degrees.

Even though global warming skeptics have attacked the climate change panel as being too alarmist, most climate scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative. The IPCC’s worst case scenario was only about in the middle of what MIT calculated are likely scenarios.

One bright spot is the developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8 percent below 1990 levels. The U.S. did not ratify the agreement.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, now it’s probably less than 50 percent.  The real challenge will be to get buy in from the developing world.  If we don’t, the problem will only get worse . . . and well . . . see yesterday’s blog.

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California solar energy company Solyndra had its offices raided  last week by federal agents as part of an ongoing investigation into their bankruptcy and federal loan guarantees they’d received form the Department of Energy. Some critics have cried foul, trying to show how federal money spent on emerging technology is a waste. Others  have tried to disparage solar energy itself, trying to show the industry is not ready for prime time. In fact, these allegations couldn’t be further from the truth.

However, it does bring up important questions about the Obama administration, ethics, and the influence of campaign contributions. This is entirely a self-inflicted wound, a bone-headed mistake if not an ethical problem, and is the type of landmine the White House needs to avoid. There is another, similar trap they need to avoid touching in the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, where Big Oil’s big money tendrils and the revolving door are even more frightening than those from Solyndra.

The first charge against Solyndra is the wastefulness of the federal loan guarantees that it received and the loan guarantee program in general.  Well, if solar was the only industry getting this aid, that might be something. But given the incredibly large amounts given in federal subsidies to fossil fuels compared to solar, that is not the case. Indeed, direct subsidies for nuclear in recent energy legislation adds up to over 13 billion (that’s with a b, kids) and recent loan guarantees for nuclear construction are over $60 billion, $18 billion of which have already been allocated in Georgia.  This amounts to a pre-emptive bailout of the nuclear industry, especially since the CBO estimates those loans will have a 50% default rate.

Other critics have gone after Solyndra because they say solar isn’t ready for prime time– while, in fact, it shows the opposite. Solyndra was pioneering a new method of making photovoltaic cells and got buried under the onslaught of cheap solar imports from China.  Their process, which you can see below, courtesy BusinessWire, is very different from traditional photvoltaic arrays.

Their technology just didn’t get cheap quickly enough compared to traditional PV manufacturing, largely from Chinese imports. But in the silver lining to that otherwise not as nice cloud, those same cheap Chinese imports have meant a huge boon to American manufacturing who provide many of the materials and heavy equipment needed to manufacture PV.

Meanwhile, because of that change, solar has reached grid parity in terms of its costs.  Grid parity means that the cost of producing electricity through a pv cell is less than or equal to the average cost of electricity.  Other companies are making huge solar breakthroughs. Solyndra, unfortunately, was not one of them. But this is market economics, and this is what we expect, nay, desire from our entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy, undeterred, has announced two more loan guarantee programs for solar innovation. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense is getting on the solar train, too, with a Solar City program that will provide clean energy to the homes of 160,000 of our troops and their families. I can’t think of a better way to commemorate 9/11 than with true energy independence being given to some of the most deserving among us.  Now, let’s just do it for all of our military, veterans, firefighters, police officers, teachers, and other public servants. But 160,000 homes to start with is pretty darn nice.

But why Solyndra is troublesome is because it appears undue influence may have been exerted to get them these loan guarantees.  One of Solyndra’s top investors was also a bundler for the Obama campaign responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations.  A commitment to the highest ethical standards that the Obama Administration guaranteed when they took office meant they should have done extra due diligence on giving any loan guarantees to anyone with any sort of money connection to the White House. Every i dotted, every t crossed– special treatment, but special treatment to insure they weren’t receiving funds because of political donations. Indeed, they should have been held to a much higher standard than their peers.

This is an entirely self-inflicted wound on the part of the Obama Administration. It should have been avoided, and questions not only the ethics of those in charge but the rationality. Surely they should have seen this coming.

If they didn’t, here’s a warning sign for you: Keystone XL. The pipeline, proposed by Canadian company Transcanada, would bring the world’s dirtiest oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in the Houston area along the Texas Gulf Coast. They are currently doing their best to get the pipeline approved, including a slick PR campaign, push-polling in areas around where the pipeline would be and promising jobs if the pipeline is built, and using Washington’s revolving door of lobbyists, staff, and political consultants. Dirty money, dirty campaign, dirty tactics, dirty ethics. In fact, knowing that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be the final decider on whether the State Department issues the permit or not, Transcanada hired her former campaign operative Paul Elliot to be their chief lobbyist, among other hires with ties to the Obama campaign and administration.

Clinton and Obama approving Keystone XL would be another avoidable landmine for the White House. Unfortunately, this landmine has much more dire consequences if approved, as it would signal both Business as Usual in Washington with Big Oil getting their way, the end of any veneer of ethics or being serious about campaign finance by the Obama Administration, and. . .oh, “game over” for the planet because of runaway climate change.  More on this later.

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Seal of the United States Department of Energy.

Image via Wikipedia

Public Citizen today urged a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) task force to prioritize the safety of water resources at contamination risk from hydraulic fracturing. Among the solutions Public Citizen proposed is repeal of the various exemptions the natural gas industry has received from federal environmental laws; the denial of drilling companies’ “proprietary” right to keep secret the identity of toxic materials they inject underground and an emphasis on improved outreach to affected communities.

The DOE’s Natural Gas Subcommittee should enact procedures to prevent water contamination around abandoned fracking wells, which has happened as fracking fluid and other contaminants have seeped into the groundwater. The public needs to be protected from chemically compromised water.

Just as worrisome, the hydraulic fracturing industry is exempted from elements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. The subcommittee should persuade Congress to repeal these special exemptions, which limit the federal government’s ability to ensure that protection of water resources is prioritized.

The subcommittee also should make every effort to include the input of the people whose lives will be affected by fracking policies, instead of holding 75 percent of the public meetings in Washington, D.C. The public needs a voice in policies that will have an enormous impact on their homes, their water and their safety.

The DOE subcommittee and Congress should work together to ensure the health and safety of the public and the environment.

To read the comments sent to the DOE, visit: http://www.citizen.org/documents/DOEfrackingComments8.15.2011.pdf.

This is a reprint of a Statement from Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

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US Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu

US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Chu may play a role in sorting out the entangled mess of misinformation and spin about the environmental impacts of gas drilling.

U.S. gas producers are looking to ramp up industrialization in rural areas outside of some of the nation’s largest cities.  Secretary Chu has indicated that the White House has charged the DOE with helping to develop this industry, but in an environmentally responsible way, but no one knows what that looks like at this point.

The Obama administration enforcement of the Clean Air Act is pushing the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants out of the nation’s electricity fleet. That means tapping and burning trillions of cubic feet of newly booked gas reserves is quickly becoming a de facto energy policy in the absence of federal policies designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and gas producers are hoping that gas will replace the coal burners.

Because of these “game changing” new gas discoveries near population centers in Pennsylvania, Texas and New York  have entered the public consciousness through environmental lenses, and the EPA coming under siege because of their new rulemaking on air quality, the DOE is looking to play a larger role.

U.S. energy debate around this industry is dominated by a fear that extracting this gas through “fracking” is too invasive and fouls air and water.

Impacted States and U.S. EPA have been searching for a balance that allows companies to expand their drilling operations, while government agencies craft policy that addresses public concern about contaminating water aquifers, toxic waste pits and air pollution.

The nation’s massive shale and tight gas reservoirs are spread across the Northeast; in the upper Midwest; under Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas; and north into the Rocky Mountain region.

In May, Chu appointed an Energy Advisory Board subcommittee on natural gas, led by former CIA director John Deutch and which includes Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

EPA is the other federal agency looking at the environmental impact of drilling for huge volumes of shale gas, but EPA doesn’t plan to release its initial findings until 2012 at the earliest. Chu’s panel plans to have recommendations on the table in the next few weeks.

Where DOE’s report will fit into the broader array of  investigations into the environmental pitfalls of the gas boom is hard to say.  Regardless, DOE’s authority is limited. Land and water management tied to gas production on private and state lands is left to state and local regulators.

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Yesterday, Public Citizen spoke before the Department of Energy subcommittee tasked with natural gas drilling and outlined the key steps needed to properly oversee the process of fracking. We are calling on the subcommittee to recommend closure of many loopholes that create regulatory exemptions for fracking.

Please join us in urging the DOE to regulate this risky process by signing on to our public comments.

Click here to read our earlier post about environmental advocacy around “fracking” at the national level

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The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced $27 million in projects to advance solar development and manufacturing through its SunShot Initiative whose goal is to achieve cost competitive solar energy by 2020.

The hope is that the SunShot initiative can reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75 percent so that they are cost competitive at large scale with other forms of energy, without subsidies, before the end of the decade.  This level of cost reduction would make the cost of solar roughly $1 a watt – which would correspond to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour – spurring the broad deployment of solar energy systems across the country and, at these price points, helping regain American economic competitiveness in the global market for solar photovoltaics.

The SunShot program builds on the legacy of President Kennedy’s 1960s “moon shot” goal, which laid out a plan to regain the country’s lead in the space race and land a man on the moon. The program hopes to aggressively drive innovations in the ways that solar systems are conceived, designed, manufactured and installed.

In addition to investing in improvements in cell technologies and manufacturing, the SunShot initiative will also focus on steps to streamline and digitize local permitting processes that will reduce installation and permitting costs. To achieve the SunShot goal of reducing the total installed cost of large scale solar electricity by about 75 percent, DOE will be working closely with partners in government, industry, research laboratories and academic institutions across the country.

For more information and to follow the initiative’s progress, visit the SunShot Initiative webpage.

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Energy interests of all sizes are poised to defend their share of tax breaks, loan guarantees and other financial incentives amid calls to slash spending both at the state and the federal level.

Concerned that debt-obsession at the federal and state will translate into real cuts, industry groups and their lobbyists are preparing for what amounts to an all-out war, pitting energy resource against energy resource. Their battles should prove to be daunting given that there will probably be no sacred cows when it comes to cutting the billions of dollars in assistance that the government hands out every year.

In his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, Obama cracked a smile as he said, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own,” repeating the call he’s made the past two years for the elimination of billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies.

While that alone would not be enough to cause the industry to break their stride, rumblings from house Republicans lining up their own targets, are probably giving the industry pause. The conservative Republican Study Committee recently outlined $2.5 trillion in spending, tax breaks and subsidies it wants to see cut over the next decade, including billions of dollars in Energy Department research, vehicle, fuels, weatherization and energy efficiency programs.

With so many battlefronts ahead, energy businesses trying to map out investments are probably sweating bullets trying to figure out how to make the case for pending large capital outlays (say for instance – the billions of dollars needed to build a new nuclear power plant which won’t see a return on investment for a decade).

Hoping they will be spared, we can expect energy lobbyists to push back with warnings that messing with the status quo will force lay offs and halt projects that are helping get the economy back on its feet.  

Still, even in a state with as intimate a relationship with the energy industry as Texas, you can’t get blood from a stone.  In the face of a massive budget deficit this legislative session and a constitutionally required balanced budget, you can bet Texas will be looking hard at every dollar it spends and every dollar of revenue it gives up.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission TLLRWDCC will meet in Midland, Texas a week from Saturday (November 13th) to reconsider adopting a rule that was withdrawn in July that would allow for export of low-level radioactive waste for management and disposal from facilities outside of the Texas Compact, this will be followed by a host of generator petitions to ship low-level radioactive waste to Texas facilities.  For those that have been following our blogs on this, that means to the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in Andrews County out in West Texas.  The Compact Commission will receive public comment, discuss and take formal action, as appropriate, on items on the agenda below until it adjourns.

November 13, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Center for Energy and Economic Diversification
1400 Farm-To-Market Road 1788 N
Midland, Texas.

To see the proposed rule, click here.
To see the proposed additions to the draft rule from Compact Commision chair, Mike Ford, click here.

TEXAS LOW-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE DISPOSAL COMPACT COMMISSION AGENDA (more…)

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Constellation Energy Group Inc. said last week it was pulling out of talks on a $7.5 billion loan guarantee to build a reactor at its Calvert Cliffs facility in Maryland.  Constellation Energy Group’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Wallace told the Energy Department that they felt the estimated $880 million the company would have to pay the Treasury Department was “shockingly high”.

Still, that’s only 12% of the loan guarantee, and only 7% of the estimated (pre-financed) cost of building a nuclear plant.  Compare that to low-risk lender qualifications for buying a home in this country and it doesn’t seem so shockingly high.  Traditionally lenders required a down payment of at least 20% of the home’s purchase price for a home mortgage, and to qualify for owner-builder construction loans, the down payment can be up to 30 percent of the requested loan amount.  Seems to me the industry is getting a better break than the American public right now.

A senior energy and environment analyst for a Milwaukee-based brokerage whined that the administration is offering terms no better than Constellation could get from private investors, yet we are not seeing private investors lining up to get a piece of this action-especially considering that these projects are projected to have a 50% loan default rate.

If the administration must support a nuclear renaissance, it is irresponsible of them to not consider limiting the risk that taxpayers will be stuck with should a nuclear utility default, and the Office of Management and Budget is doing just that by requiring these fees.

Constellation’s decision probably places NRG Energy Inc., a Princeton, New Jersey-based power producer, in the lead for the next loan-guarantee award.  However, if the fees are this large, it might be a victory that NRG and its partners will also not necessarily want, dooming that project too.

NRG is seeking a guarantee to add two units at its South Texas power plant in Matagorda County.  The company is also seeking to secure Japanese government financing, but that is also contingent upon the project securing the US loan guarantee.  Perhaps this is a project that needs to be doomed.  Clearly the building of nuclear plants are so high risk that the private sector appears unwilling to take on that risk, without the US government (read US taxpayer) bearing the brunt of the risk.  If they put it up to a vote, I certainly wouldn’t vote to put my money into such a high risk project, would you?

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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In last week’s Oak Hill Gazette, State Senator Jeff Wentworth wrote a guest article profiling the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program.  Next month, from April 16-25, Texas residents can get a rebate to buy up to two energy efficient appliances including refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, hot water heaters, clothes washers, and both room and central air conditioners. Check out the article for more information, and stay posted to Texas Vox for continued updates on the program.

Conserve energy and save money
Jeff Wentworth, State Senator, District 25

Texans who believe in saving money and conserving energy will have the opportunity to do both when they purchase an appliance through the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program, April 16-25.

Appliances that qualify for the rebate include refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, hot water heaters, clothes washers, air source heat pumps and both room and central air conditioners. In addition to money received through a rebate, Energy Star appliances use less energy and less water than most older appliances, saving consumers money each month on their utility bills.

Participants must be Texas residents. They must replace an old appliance with a new, energy-efficient model that they purchase in-store from a Texas retailer between April 16 and April 25 to receive a mail-in rebate. State rebates, including an additional $75 for recycling the old appliance, may be combined with other rebates and incentives offered by manufacturers and retailers and with federal tax credits. Each household is eligible for up to two appliance rebates, as long as they are for two different types of appliances. (more…)

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