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New York City Is Latest to Launch Solar Mapping Tool for Building Owners

The 3-D maps enable any building owner to go online and find out how much sunlight hits their roofs

By Brian Kell, SolveClimate News

Jun 15, 2011
NYC Solar Mapping

Successful marketing often involves putting a product's facts — literally — at customers' fingertips.

That seems to be the philosophy that city officials have brought to their online solar mapping services — and the results have been far reaching, they say.

Since March 2008, when San Francisco first put its map a click away from interested citizens, solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in the city have tripled, from 700 to 2,100 this year.

"[It] is the main solar outreach tool used in San Francisco," said Danielle Murray, the city's renewable energy program manager.

That may be so, but many observers say the City by the Bay's rooftop solar boom has been largely driven by California's tiered rate system, in which electricity bills rise as people use more power. And, according to Murray, the solar map has averaged a less-than-arresting 70 hits a day since debuting — though she insists this figure belies the project's impact.

Seventeen other U.S. cities and the German city of Osnabrük have published solar maps on the Web since San Francisco's site went live, enabling home and building owners to assess the potential of their roofs to generate clean electricity.

The map combines aerial images with calculators and other features to provide owners with facts and figures needed when considering whether to purchase a PV system, such as the pitch of the roof and the amount of shade cast by neighboring buildings.

Most of the maps were developed by Critigen, a technology consultancy based in Greenwood Village, Co., and were partly funded by the Department of Energy's Solar America Communities Program.

NYC Map Will Be the Biggest

The map of New York City, the biggest so far in terms of quantity of data and geographic area surveyed, is scheduled to go live on June 16, during the fifth annual New York Solar Summit.

For the Ethanol Industry, a Delicate Political Balance

An ethanol tax credit costs about $5 billion annually and is set to expire this year if Congress does not extend it

Kevin Dobbs, Midwest Energy News

Jun 14, 2011
corn field with tractor

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Jeff Broin, the chief executive of ethanol production giant Poet LLC, says that if one looks out 20 years and envisions a U.S. market permeated with ethanol-blended fuel products, the country's dependence on imported oil "could easily go away."

And while the ethanol industry is moving toward a position that seems to accept an inevitable end to direct tax credits, government support in other forms, Broin and others say, remains necessary to foster that vision of the future.

Electrical Fire Knocks Out Spent Fuel Cooling at Nebraska Nuke Plant

Workers restored cooling in about 90 minutes, and plant officials said the temperature in the pool only increased by two degrees

By John Sullivan, ProPublica

Jun 10, 2011
Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station

A fire in an electrical switch room on Tuesday briefly knocked out cooling for a pool holding spent nuclear fuel at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant outside Omaha, Neb., plant officials said.

The safety of deep pools used to store used radioactive fuel at nuclear plants has been an issue since the accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant in March. If the cooling water a pool is lost, the used nuclear fuel could catch fire and release radiation.

As ProPublica reported earlier, fire safety is a continuing concern at the country's 104 commercial reactors, as is the volume of spent fuel piling up at plants.

Officials at Fort Calhoun said the situation at their plant came nowhere near to Fukushima's. They said it would have taken 88 hours for the heat produced by the fuel to boil away the cooling water.

Fukushima Plant May Have Suffered Worst-Case 'Melt-Through'

Fuel rods have probably breached containment vessels — a more serious scenario than core meltdown — according to a new report by Japanese authorities

Justin McCurry, Guardian

Jun 8, 2011
Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan

Molten nuclear fuel in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is likely to have burned through pressure vessels, not just the cores, Japan has said in a report in which it also acknowledges it was unprepared for an accident of the severity of Fukushima.

It is the first time Japanese authorities have admitted the possibility that the fuel suffered "melt-through" — a more serious scenario than a core meltdown.

The report, which is to be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said fuel rods in reactors No 1, 2 and 3 had probably not only melted, but also breached their inner containment vessels and accumulated in the outer steel containment vessels.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), says it believes the molten fuel is being cooled by water that has built up in the bottom of the three reactor buildings.

The report includes an apology to the international community for the nuclear crisis — the world's worst since Chernobyl in 1986 — and expresses "remorse that this accident has raised concerns around the world about the safety of nuclear power generation."

The prime minister, Naoto Kan, said: "Above all, it is most important to inform the international community with thorough transparency in order for us to regain its confidence in Japan."

Midwest Convenience Stores Out in Front on Electric Car Charging

Kwik Trip is installing electric car charging stations at stores in three Midwestern states. But will the effort be anything more than a symbolic gesture?

By Kari Lydersen, Midwest Energy News

Jun 7, 2011

A Midwest convenience store chain is installing electric vehicle charging stations in three states. But will the stations — essentially standard household outlets with a sign attached — really make a difference?

The family-owned Kwik Trip chain is installing the stations at all its new stores, a total of 25 so far in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. But the outlets only provide 110 volts. Charging up at that voltage for the few minutes it takes to grab coffee and use the bathroom would barely get someone out of the parking lot and down the block.

Charging for an hour might allow a typical electric vehicle to run three to five miles.

Kwik Trip officials and electric vehicle proponents acknowledge the limitations, but say the charging stations are a significant symbolic move and also lay the groundwork for more powerful charging stations in the future.

With the infrastructure laid for 110-volt stations, Kwik Trip spokesman Dave Ring said the company can more easily upgrade the stations to higher voltage if demand increases.

New York Assembly Extends Fracking Ban for Another Year

The NYS Assembly passed a one-year ban on new drilling permits that would run through June 1, 2012, replacing the current ban set to expire this summer

By Dan Wiessner, Reuters

Jun 7, 2011
Speaker Sheldon Silver

ALBANY, New York—The New York State Assembly on Monday passed a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a method of natural gas drilling already under a temporary ban in the state due to concerns that it might pollute drinking water.

The moratorium on new drilling permits would run through June 1, 2012, replacing the current ban set to expire later this summer, when state environmental officials are expected to release a report on potential hazards of "hydrofracking."

The measure must also pass the Republican-controlled state Senate to become law.

Opponents say fracking, which involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into rock to release the gas trapped inside, pollutes water and air.

Industry officials say opponents have exaggerated the environmental impact, while economic benefits to the state would be significant. New York is home to a large piece of the Marcellus Shale, a massive formation believed to be one of the richest natural gas deposits on the planet.

Japan Failed to Heed Warnings About Tsunami Risk at Nuclear Plants, IAEA Says

A new IAEA report says Tepco ignored tsunami hazard warnings by its own scientists, while urging the nuclear industry to review natural disaster risks

Justin McCurry, Guardian

Jun 1, 2011
Map of Radiation Measurements by Greenpeace

TOKYO, Japan—International nuclear inspectors have criticized the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for failing to prepare for a tsunami of the size that slammed into the facility on March 11, sparking the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

In a preliminary report issued on Wednesday, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) had underestimated the risk of a giant tsunami, and urged authorities to closely monitor the health of plant workers and members of the public.

The team, led by Britain's chief nuclear safety official, Mike Weightman, said lack of preparedness had contributed to the crisis at Fukushima, where workers are still trying to restore cooling systems to reactors, three of which suffered meltdowns soon after they were struck by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 14-meter tsunami.

Weightman dismissed speculation that the earthquake had caused substantial damage before the tsunami arrived. "In terms of the cause it is clear — the direct cause was a tsunami, associated with an earthquake, of tremendous size," he told reporters.

The three-page report said Tepco had failed to heed warnings by government experts and its own scientists of the possibility of waves big enough to breach the plant's 5.7-meter protective wall. "We had a playbook, but it didn't work," said Tatsujiro Suzuki, the vice chairman of Japan's Atomic Energy Commission.

Popular Oil Recovery Method Comes Under Fire for Heavy Water Use

Secondary oil recovery via water flooding requires an average of 8 gallons of water for every gallon of crude that's recovered

By Jeff Kart, Midwest Energy News

May 31, 2011
Oil Recovery

A common method of extracting oil by injecting large amounts of water into old wells is coming under scrutiny by Michigan environmental groups.

The technique, known as water flooding, has been around for decades. But like many non-conventional means of oil recovery, it is becoming more economically viable as prices rise, and there is little information on exactly how much water is being traded for the oil that's produced.

Energy extraction is placing increasing pressure on the nation's water supply, according to a new report by the nonprofit World Policy Institute.

The report, "The Water-Energy Nexus," explains how traditional and alternative energy technologies are consuming a rising amount of water per unit of energy. While agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of water consumption in the United States, energy production consumes most of the remaining 20 percent.

"The competition between water and energy needs represents a critical business, security and environmental issue, but it has not yet received the attention that it deserves," Diana Glassman, one of the report's authors, said in a statement.

Analysis: India Takes Unique Path to Lower Carbon Emissions

The world's third-largest carbon polluter is betting big on two market-based trading schemes to encourage energy efficiency and green power

By Krittivas Mukherjee, Reuters

May 30, 2011
Ramagundam Super Thermal Power Station

With four times the population of the United States, an economy growing 8 to 9 percent a year and surging energy demand, India's race to become an economic power has propelled it to No. 3 in the list of top carbon polluters.  

India's greenhouse gas emissions will keep rising as it tries to lift millions out of poverty and connect nearly half a billion people to electricity grids. But it is also trying to curb emissions growth in a unique way, fearing the impacts of climate change and spiraling energy costs.

The government is betting big on two market-based trading schemes to encourage energy efficiency and green power across the country of 1.2 billion people, sidestepping emissions trading schemes that have poisoned political debate in the United States and Australia.

"The policy roadmap India is adopting to curb emissions is innovative — something that will make industries look at making efficiency the centerpiece rather than some step that follows an ineffective carrot and stick policy," said Srinivas Krishnaswamy, CEO of green policy consultants Vasudha India.

In the world's first such national market-based mechanism, called Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT), India is starting a mandatory scheme that sets benchmark efficiency levels for 563 big polluters, from power plants to steel mills and cement plants, that account for 54 percent of the country's energy consumption.

Chevron Facing Shareholder Pressure Over Huge Amazon Pollution Fine

Oil giant is criticized by some shareholders for a 'take no prisoner' attitude to an $18.6 billion fine that an Ecuadorean judge levied against the company

Felicity Carus, Guardian

May 25, 2011

Chevron bosses are facing shareholders for the first time since the company was fined a total of $18 billion by a court in Ecuador over contamination from oil extraction in the Amazon. California's largest oil company is coming under increasing pressure from institutional investors and long-term shareholders who are gathering at the annual general meeting at Chevron's HQ in San Ramon, near San Francisco.

A judge ruled in February this year that the company was liable to pay $8.6 billion in damages, mostly to decontaminate polluted soil. The judge also awarded $860,000 to plaintiffs and a further $8.6 billion in punitive damages. Chevron has appealed the decision, which amounts to the largest award in corporate history, exceeded only by BP's $20 billion compensation fund after the Gulf oil spill.

Chevron's earnings were $6.2 billion in the first quarter of 2011, up from $4.6 billion last year.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund — which manages $150 billion of state government pensions — has filed a resolution calling on Chevron to appoint an independent board member with environmental expertise.

Pat Doherty, director of corporate governance at the New York State office of the state comptroller, said: "The fact that Chevron didn't have someone with this expertise on the board probably helped contribute to the problem. We're suggesting that Chevron's take no prisoner approach has arguably also made things worse."