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Dave Levitan's articles

Defining 'Subsidy': The Difficulties in Rolling Back Fossil Fuel Aid

U.S. Push for Subsidy Reform Faces Seen and Unseen Obstacles

Apr 26, 2010

One of the most important steps in transitioning the world away from a fossil fuel-based energy system is to scale back government subsidies for the oil and coal industries around the globe. This is easier said than done, and not only because the dirty energy lobbies are good at what they do. Before the world can roll back the half trillion dollars of fossil fuel subsidies, we need to be able to find them.

A recent series of reports from the Global Subsidies Initiative — a part of the International Institute for Sustainable Development — shines a spotlight on the nebulous nature of fossil fuel subsidies and just how difficult it will be to reform them.

Will Extending the Ethanol Tax Credit Slow Progress Toward Advanced Biofuels?

Industry Argues Jobs Will Be Lost Without It

Apr 25, 2010

The federal tax credit for ethanol is among the most controversial energy- or environment-related policies in the country. The volume on all sides of the issue is increasing, with some shouting down ethanol’s claim to lower greenhouse gas emissions, others touting the tax credit’s job-creation capabilities and still others lamenting the diversion of farmland for fuel.

Now, Congress will soon weigh in. Several senators have introduced legislation that would extend the tax credit through 2015. If the bill fails, the credit will expire at the end of this year.

U.S. Powers Up on Solar as Manufacturing and Installation Costs Fall

2 Years of Price Declines Have Spurred Demand for Photovoltaics

Apr 22, 2010

Germany and Spain might still dwarf the United States in installed solar power capacity, but after a year in which U.S. capacity jumped past 2,000 megawatts and photovoltaic costs continued to fall, there is hope for the growing solar industry.

The Solar Energy Industries Association released its 2009 year in review last week and reported that the U.S. installed 481 MW of photovoltaic and concentrating solar power, enough to power about 80,000 homes. That's up 37 percent from the 351 MW installed in 2008. Revenues in the solar industry grew 36 percent last year, in spite of the recession.

Perhaps the biggest driver of the solar industry was the falling price of photovoltaic modules.

Fears of Radar Interference Threaten Oregon Wind Farm, but Solutions Exist

Software and Hardware Upgrades Can Eliminate the Problems

Apr 19, 2010

Wind turbines can reach hundreds of feet into the air, but the effects of their spinning blades can extend much farther than that.

In a rehashing of a continuing concern, the Pentagon and the Federal Aviation Administration are threatening to block the construction of what would be the country’s largest wind farm because of a potential for the turbines to interfere with nearby radar systems’ ability to track airplanes.

Picking Winners: Obama Budget Shifts Tax Incentives Toward Renewables

In spite of the popularity of the idea of market-driven innovation, one of the most effective tools the United States has in its arsenal to spur growth of a given sector is the tax credit or subsidy.

The energy sector is no exception. The Obama administration’s 2011 budget proposal includes a number of provisions involving taxes and credits that are designed to increase manufacturing of renewable energy technology, reduce some heavy benefits currently awarded to oil, gas and coal industries, and create much needed jobs.

Weed to Wonder Fuel? Jatropha Draws Biofuel Investors — and Questions

The Plants Can Grow on Marginal Land, But Will Marginal Land Be Used?

Apr 13, 2010

In the world of biofuels, the pattern is familiar: Concerns grow over one crop’s impacts or overhyped potential, and another then appears to take its place with promises of planet-saving prowess.

The latest savior is jatropha, a drought-resistant and hardy plant that supposedly can deliver high energy yields on marginal land and eliminate concerns about food competing with fuel for farmland.

Only a few large-scale jatropha projects have begun around the world, but their potential is drawing investors' attention. U.S. automaker General Motors just announced a five-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and India’s Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute to demonstrate the commercial viability of jatropha as a biofuel feedstock.

What L.A. Could Learn from Ontario as It Stumbles Toward a Solar Feed-In Tariff

Current Los Angeles Proposals Won't Attract Enough Installations, Report Finds

Apr 12, 2010

The sun is usually shining on the Los Angeles area, but harnessing its energy in an economically viable way is proving hard to accomplish.

A new study from the Los Angeles Business Council and the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, shows why various proposed versions of a solar power incentive known as a feed-in tariff, or FiT, will struggle to get off the ground in the city, and it lays out some different ideas of how to turn that abundant sunshine into usable and affordable electricity.

One place Los Angeles could look for guidance is Ontario, where the new FiT approved six months ago has already received over 2,200 applications for solar projects. The Ontario plan holds promise for overcoming the high upfront cost of solar, but it also poses a challenge for a city like Los Angeles.

U.S. Wind Industry Bullish on Offshore Potential, but Breakthrough Needed

12 Projects In Development, But First Offshore Turbine Has Yet to Spin

Apr 8, 2010

The American Wind Energy Association released its annual report on the industry Thursday, highlighting impressive growth of wind installations and manufacturing in 2009 despite the economic slowdown.

More than 10,000 megawatts of wind power was installed across the United States last year, raising the total installed capacity to over 35,000 MW — about 1.8 percent of all electricity generated in the country. Manufacturing of wind turbines is also picking up steam, with the industry now supporting about 85,000 U.S. jobs in more than 200 facilities. China is gaining ground quickly, but for now, the U.S. remains the biggest user of wind power in the world.

One subsector of the wind industry is still trying to power up, though, and that is offshore wind.

Cities Push Back as EPA Begins Study of Fracking's Impact on Water

Philadelphia Moved to Ban Fracking in Its Watershed, Pittsburgh Sees Problems

Apr 7, 2010

The Environmental Protection Agency’s science advisors meet today to begin studying the impacts on drinking water of the gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing.

While the gas industry argues that the chemical-infused technique is perfectly safe and vital to reaching vast gas supplies, concerns about its potential impact on water supplies is spreading outward from New York, where an environmental review process has held up gas drilling in parts of the Marcellus Shale, a gas-rich formation that underlies several states including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

The city of Philadelphia is also now attempting to block gas drilling near the Delaware River watershed, which supplies about half of the city’s tap water.

Study: Ethanol Mandate Creates 10% Chance of a Corn Price Spike

Bad Weather + Biofuel Demand Could Rapidly Double Prices

Apr 6, 2010

The prices of corn and other foods sit on the edge of a knife. Thanks to federally mandated ethanol standards, food prices could spike dramatically if drought or bad weather shrinks the U.S. corn yield this year, and the country lacks a good policy mechanism to handle such an event.

A report from two economists at the University of Illinois found that if the corn belt sees bad weather of the sort that has about a 10 percent chance of happening in any given year, the price of a bushel of corn could rise to $7 from about $3.50 today. The reverberations of such an event would be felt throughout food markets in the country, and, if history repeats itself, around the world.