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U.S. Drops to 3rd in Clean-Energy Investment: Pew

China's fast rise in clean energy is 'not about labor costs' but 'about policy,' says Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Mar 29, 2011
Solar PV module lamination

The United States fell one spot to third place in clean-energy investment last year as the lack of a national energy policy hurt purchases in wind and solar power and other technologies, a report said on Tuesday.

China came in first and Germany second, according to the report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race" by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent, nonprofit group.

In the previous year the United States had fallen from the top spot to second place, behind China.

A comprehensive energy bill died in the Senate last July. Washington also has failed to pass national mandates for utilities to produce minimum amounts of clean power that environmentalists and some analysts say would boost confidence for alternative energy companies to invest in the country.

Southern's Nuclear Expansion Wins Enviro Review

The NRC has issued its final environmental impact statement on Southern's two Georgia reactors. But a U.S. nuclear revival is not yet in the clear

By Tom Doggett, Reuters

Mar 27, 2011
Vogtle Plant Construction

Southern Co passed environmental review for two nuclear reactors it wants to build at its Vogtle nuclear station in Georgia, U.S. regulators said on Friday, but that doesn't mean U.S. nuclear energy is in the clear after the crisis in Japan.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its final environmental impact statement on Southern's reactors, but the NRC must still vote on issuing the license.

Some U.S. lawmakers have been calling for a delay in approving new U.S. nuclear power plants in response to the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power station.

NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko recently told Congress there were no plans to change the agency's schedule because of the problems in Japan.

Jaczko has said the five members of the commission would likely vote during the fourth quarter of this year on Southern's license to build the two reactors.

Michigan County Embraces Giant Wind Farms, Bucking a Trend

Gratiot County is hoping to have three large-scale wind farms within the next few years, at a time when many communities are imposing moratoria

By M. Lisa Weatherford, Midwest Energy News

Mar 22, 2011
Windmills in Michigan

While many communities are imposing moratoria on commercial wind farms, one mid-Michigan county is putting out the welcome mat to not one but potentially three major wind developments.

The first wind farm, a $440 million project with more than 125 turbines, will be up and spinning in Gratiot County by the end of 2011. Close on its heels are two more projects that are in different stages of development and could bring several hundred additional turbines within the next few years.

Gratiot County is a bucolic rural setting where farming is the primary occupation and barns and silos dot the flat landscape for miles. For the most part, these farmers are welcoming the wind development as a means of income, a way to sustain family farms and as a boon to both the local economic and natural environments.

Welcome Mat Still Out for New U.S. Nuclear Plants

Even environmental activists, who say events in Japan provide an opening to change opinions, do not anticipate opposition to new reactors in the Southeast

By Matthew Bigg, Reuters

Mar 20, 2011
Vogtle Plant Construction

ATLANTA—For much of the world, Japan's nuclear crisis has heightened concerns about nuclear power. But in the U.S. Southeast, where the next set of reactors are planned, the concerns are not so great.

Even environmental activists — those with deep-seated reservations about nuclear safety who say events in Japan provide an opening to change opinions — do not anticipate a radical shift.

No reactors have been commissioned in the United States since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in which a reactor suffered a partial meltdown.

The next four are due to come online in Georgia and South Carolina between 2016 and 2019, pending regulatory approval, in a region that is one of the country's most conservative.

As a result, powerful utility companies play an outsized role in shaping public debate and defusing potential opposition from lawmakers, activists said.

Special Report - Mistakes, Misfortune, Meltdown: Japan's Crisis

An examination of Japan's effort to contain its escalating nuclear disaster reveals a series of missteps, bad luck and desperate improvisation

By Kevin Krolicki, Reuters

Mar 17, 2011
Earthquake damage in Wakuya, Japan.

By Thursday morning the last line of defense came down to this: a police water cannon, a helicopter maneuver designed for wildfires and a race against time to get the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant rewired to the grid.

As a crew of about 100 Japanese workers and soldiers battled to keep a string of six nuclear reactors from meltdown just short of a week into Japan's nuclear crisis, the arsenal of weapons at their disposal remained improvised, low-tech and underpowered.

A police riot control truck was hauled in over uneven roads to keep a spray of water on the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors. In the air above, Japan Self-Defense Forces helicopters made runs with baskets of water in a desperate attempt to cool exposed fuel rods believed to have already partly melted down.

Meanwhile, technicians were dashing to complete what amounts to the world's largest extension cord: an electric cable to connect the stricken plant from the north and allow Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the plant, to restart critical water pumps taken out by the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on the afternoon of Friday, March 11.

An examination by Reuters of Japan's effort to contain its escalating nuclear disaster reveals a series of missteps, bad luck and desperate improvisation.

Japan Accident Shows Dilemma Over Nuclear Plant Sites

Crisis exposes dilemma of whether to build reactors on tsunami-prone coasts or inland sites where water supplies are already unreliable from climate change

Alister Doyle, Reuters

Mar 15, 2011
Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant

Japan's nuclear accident exposes the dilemma of whether to build power plants on tsunami-prone coasts or inland sites where water supplies are unreliable, a problem likely to be aggravated by climate change, experts say.

Many of the world's 442 nuclear power reactors are by the sea, rather than by lakes or rivers, to ensure vast water supplies for cooling fuel rods in emergencies like that at the Fukushima plant on Japan's east coast.

"It's quite a conundrum," said Ian Jackson, a nuclear energy fellow at Chatham House in Britain. "If you are in a geologically stable area, a coastal location is still the best option."

Obama Vows to Dampen Fuel Prices, Calls for Energy Reform

Pres. Obama summoned lawmakers 'to work together' to reduce energy demand and end reliance on oil in order 'to finally secure America's energy future'

By Jeff Mason, Reuters

Mar 11, 2011
President Obama in the Oval Office

WASHINGTON—The United States must reduce its dependence on oil and begin to reform energy policy, President Barack Obama said on Friday, pledging to do all he could to keep gasoline prices low.

Obama, whose prospects for re-election in 2012 may hinge partly on fuel prices and their effect on the economy, said the world could manage oil supply disruptions stemming from unrest in Libya and violence across the Middle East and North Africa.

He said he was prepared to tap U.S. strategic oil reserves quickly if necessary, though he declined to say what price oil would have to hit in order to trigger such intervention.

The White House has emphasized repeatedly that Obama is aware of the strain that rising fuel prices place on Americans' budgets. The White House rejects criticism from Republicans that its policies have led to less domestic oil production — a theme that may surface in the 2012 campaign.

Water Checks Deficient at Canada Oil Sands: Report

An Alberta government-sponsored scientific panel has backed claims that oil sands development is polluting waterways, and urges more stringent monitoring

By Jeffrey Jones, Reuters

Mar 10, 2011
oil sands mining Sunco

CALGARY, ALBERTA—A government-sponsored scientific committee studying water monitoring in Canada's oil sands has backed assertions that multibillion-dollar energy developments are polluting waterways and it urges more stringent oversight.

The report by the independent scientists, appointed by Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, said an incendiary study by water ecologists last year appeared to be right in its contention that toxic substances downstream from the developments do not occur naturally.

An industry-funded body had long said heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic aromatic compounds, or PACs, found in the Athabasca River watershed north of Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta, occurred naturally as bitumen leached into the river.

EU Commission Report Urges 25% Carbon Emissions Cut by 2020

Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate change commissioner, fended off intense pressure from lobbyists who opposed raising the target from 20 percent

By Fiona Harvey, Guardian

Mar 8, 2011
EU climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard

Europe's climate chief has beaten off intense lobbying from businesses to secure a key victory in the battle over greenhouse gas targets.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate change commissioner, published on Tuesday afternoon her long-awaited report into how the EU can toughen its climate targets in a cost-effective manner, with a proposal that the EU could raise its current targets on emissions cuts from 20 percent emissions cuts to 25 percent cuts by 2020.

Despite pressure from business groups to remove the proposal, and retain a clear commitment to stick at the lower 20 percent target, it remained in the final draft of the "roadmap to 2050," seen by the Guardian ahead of publication.

Decades After Spill, Exxon Valdez Case Back in Court

An Alaska environmentalist is seeking to persuade a federal judge to compel Exxon to pay an unpaid $92 million claim, plus another $23 million in interest

By Yereth Rosen, Reuters

Mar 6, 2011
oil spill cleanup Exxon Valdez
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA— More than two decades after the Exxon Valdez supertanker struck a reef and unleashed the nation's biggest tanker spill, a lingering legal dispute about the disaster was back in court on Friday.

At issue in a U.S. District Court hearing in Anchorage is an unpaid $92 million claim by the U.S. Justice Department and the state of Alaska for what they consider long-term environmental damage unexpected at the time of the grounding.

The claim was made five years ago under a special "reopener" provision of the governments' 1991 civil settlement with Exxon, in which the oil company paid $900 million.

That money was paid over a decade into a trust account that funds environmental restoration projects and scientific work.

But persisting environmental impacts prompted the federal and state governments to present the reopener bill to Exxon Mobil, Exxon Corp's successor.