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With Tax Credit in Doubt, Wind Industry Ponders if It Can Stand on Its Own

Some fear the momentum that has been building in the U.S. wind sector could come to a halt if the tax credit is allowed to expire at the end of next year.

By Drew Kerr, Midwest Energy News

Sep 27, 2011
Wind farm in Ruthton, Minnesota

Minnesota wind developer Dan Juhl has seen the scenario before.

The wind production tax credit—seen as a key incentive to bringing new wind energy projects online—nears its expiration date, expires without legislative action and then comes barreling back, reviving the industry after a period of stagnation.

It's a sequence of events that has played out three times in the last decade, most recently in 2003, and is unfolding again today. The current tax credit, which provides developers with 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity produced from utility-scale wind turbines, is set to expire at the end of 2012.

Industry officials have called for a long-term extension, but so far no action has been taken. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently said he was "not confident" it would pass given the mood in Washington, and wind energy proponents said they would not hazard to guess at its fate.

You would think that Juhl, the chairman and chief executive at Juhl Wind Inc., would be carefully tracking the issue. His company is behind four of the 15 new wind energy projects expected to come online before 2012, and has longer-term ambitions.

But Juhl said he no longer relies on the whims of Congress when thinking about the future. The need for alternative energy, he said, is simply too strong to be tempered by tax policy, he said. And besides, the tax credit has always returned.

IEA Says Carbon Capture and Storage Plans Have Lost Momentum Worldwide

Projects to capture CO2 emissions and bury them are finding it hard to secure funds due to a weak global economy and the lack of carbon pricing.

By Jonathan Watts, Guardian

Sep 25, 2011
Vattenfall Carbon capture and storage facility in Scwarze pumpe, Germany

The financial crisis and fading government support for climate action have seriously eroded global plans to capture and store carbon, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned last week.

Sequestration—the depositing of greenhouse gases underground rather than into the atmosphere—was supposed to account for a fifth of the world's emissions reductions under the agency's roadmap for keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

But delegates including the U.S. energy secretary, Steven Chu, heard at a meeting, held in Beijing, that the global temperature is on course to rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius, due to poor progress both on carbon capture and storage, and on acceptance of a carbon price and other carbon-cutting efforts.

IEA deputy executive director, Richard Jones, told the meeting, hosted by the Washington-based Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, that this would wreak havoc on human well-being. He added that time was running out to avoid this scenario because of slow progress on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

"Every year that passes makes it more difficult," Jones said. "With current policies, CCS will have a hard time [being] deployed ... There is less of a global push for climate action, and tighter government finances."

Sand Mining Emerges as Another Gas Fracking Threat in the U.S.

According to environmentalists and residents of affected areas, sand mining processes used in fracking pose a threat to air and water quality.

By Anna Driver, Reuters

Sep 21, 2011
Aerial view of a frac sand mining operation in Wisconsin

HOUSTON, Texas—Fracking, the latest craze in the quest to produce oil and gas, has been blamed for environmental problems ranging from flammable tap water to minor earthquakes. Now a new risk is emerging: sand mining.

To squeeze hydrocarbons out of shale through hydraulic fracturing of the rock—the process known as fracking—producers need to pump an enormous amount of sand and other materials into the ground.

Obtaining the sand for this requires removing the top layer of earth over a sandstone deposit and using heavy equipment and large amounts of water to produce the fine grains.

According to some environmentalists and residents of affected areas, sand mining poses a threat to air and water quality.

Facing a shortage of the sand needed in fracking, oil and gas producer EOG Resources Inc got into this mining business to secure scare supplies and bring down costs.

But the company is facing big opposition to an operation planned in North Texas.

More Americans Believe World Is Warming, New Reuters/Ipsos Poll Shows

Some 15 percent of U.S. voters now see global warming as their main concern, meaning it could be an important issue in next year's election, says analyst

Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Sep 16, 2011
mage of Arctic sea ice taken July 12, 2011, courtesy of NASA

More Americans than last year believe the world is warming and the change is likely influenced by the Republican presidential debates, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Thursday.

The percentage of Americans who believe the Earth has been warming rose to 83 percent from 75 percent last year in the poll conducted Sept 8-12.

Republican presidential candidates, aside from Jon Huntsman, have mostly blasted the idea that emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human actions are warming the planet.

The current front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry, has accused scientists of manipulating climate data while Michele Bachmann has said climate change is a hoax.

As Americans watch Republicans debate the issue, they are forced to mull over what they think about global warming, said Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University.

And what they think is also influenced by reports this year that global temperatures in 2010 were tied with 2005 to be the warmest year since the 1880s.

"That is exactly the kind of situation that will provoke the public to think about the issue in a way that they haven't before," Krosnick said about news reports on the Republicans denying climate change science.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rule to Miss Deadline, Says EPA Chief

On the heels of Pres. Obama's decision to scrap smog standards, EPA says it will miss its Sept. 30 deadline to propose greenhouse gas rules for utilities

By Reuters

Sep 15, 2011
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

The Environmental Protection Agency will miss an end-of-month target for proposing greenhouse gas regulations for power plants, the head of the EPA said on Wednesday.

The administration of President Barack Obama is under pressure from business to cut environmental regulation that critics say is hurting the economy, and last week Obama backtracked on smog plans.

The EPA is working on plans to limit greenhouse gases from power plants and oil refineries, and it had been targeting releasing some utility-focused proposals on September 30.

"Greenhouse gases for power plants is first on the docket," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said on the sidelines of an event in San Francisco. "Although we are not going to make the date at the end of the month, we are still working and will be shortly announcing a new schedule."

Japan Plans Floating Wind Turbines for Tsunami-Stricken Fukushima Coast

A Japanese trade ministry official said his nation would develop wind turbines to use off its Pacific Coast as it rethinks nuclear powerr

By Yoko Kubota, Reuters

Sep 13, 2011
Sweden’s Lillgrund offshore wind farm lies in the Öresund Sound between Malmö an

Japan will join the race to develop floating wind turbines to use in deepwater off its tsunami-stricken northern Pacific coast as it rethinks energy sources after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It aims to outpace the leaders in the sector in Europe, trade ministry official Masanori Sato said on Tuesday.

"In order to take lead in offshore wind power, we want domestic studies and developments to take place and manufacturers to boost capabilities," said Sato.

"From the viewpoint of supporting reconstruction and promoting wind power, we believe it is good to pursue research and development for offshore wind farms," he said.

In the next five years, Japan plans to spend 10 to 20 billion yen ($130 to $260 million) to install six or more floating turbines off the northeast coast. It will work with firms including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries, Sato said.

Globally, Norway leads the way on floating turbines with a 2009 pilot project while other countries including Britain and Portugal have studied the technology.

Japan is compiling a third emergency budget likely to be more than 10 trillion yen ($130 billion) to rebuild its northeastern coast after the earthquake and tsunami hit in March, leaving 20,000 dead or missing and triggering the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Last month its parliament enacted a bill to promote investment in renewables.

Switch from Coal to Natural Gas Won't Slow Global Warming, Study Says

Using more natural gas for fuel could produce leaks of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than CO2, new research finds

By Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters

Sep 11, 2011
New Pacific Corp Natural Gas fired power generating plant in Lindon.

Relying more on natural gas than on coal would not significantly slow down the effects of climate change, even though direct carbon dioxide emissions would be less, a new study has found.

Burning coal emits far more climate-warming carbon dioxide than natural gas does, but it also releases lots of sulfates and other particles that block incoming sunlight and help cool the Earth, according to a study to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Change Letters in October.

Using more natural gas for fuel could also produce leaks of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, study author Tom Wigley said in a statement.

"Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem," said Wigley, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges," he said.

A global, partial shift from coal to natural gas would speed up global warming slightly through at least 2050, even with no methane leaks from natural gas operations. If there were substantial methane leaks, the acceleration of climate change would continue through as late as 2140, according to Wigley's computer simulations.

Susan White to Lead InsideClimate News as Executive Editor

Concurrently, the news organization is changing its name to InsideClimate News

By InsideClimate News

Sep 6, 2011
Susan White

New York, N.Y.—September 6, 2011—SolveClimate News announced today that Susan White, formerly a senior editor at the investigative nonprofit ProPublica, will lead its newsroom in the newly created position of Executive Editor. Concurrent with her appointment, the news organization is changing its name to InsideClimate News, to better reflect the investigative mission it will pursue under her leadership.

White was the first senior editor hired by ProPublica when it started operating in 2008, and she helped edit the project that brought ProPublica its first Pulitzer Prize in 2010, about a New Orleans hospital stranded by flooding during Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, when she was working for The San Diego Union-Tribune, she was an editor on the Pulitzer Prize-winning reports that sent former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to prison for bribery. She also edited a project on immigration that was a 2004 Pulitzer finalist.

"We're thrilled that Susan is bringing her much-admired talent, experience and humanity here," said David Sassoon, founder and publisher of InsideClimate News. "In conversations spanning many months, we found a strong fit, and we're looking forward to making important contributions to the public understanding of energy and climate change, two of the defining issues of our time."

White edited ProPublica's coverage of natural gas drilling, which won a George Polk Award and other national honors. Two of the projects she edited for ProPublica are being honored with first place awards this year from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Prior to her three years at ProPublica, White was the Union-Tribune's writing coach, U.S.-Mexico border editor and enterprise editor.

Amid EV Hype, Backers of Natural Gas Cars Vie for Federal Support

Natural gas companies and other proponents are calling for a level playing field in terms of government subsidies for alternative vehicles

By Kari Lydersen, Midwest Energy News

Sep 1, 2011
Fueling a CNG-powered Honda Civic in Los Angeles

Electric vehicles are on a roll, with charging stations popping up in cities nationwide, federal subsidies for car buyers and much anticipation around the rollout of new cars.

But proponents of another type of vehicle say they are quietly laying the groundwork for an alternative to the electric car, and they wish they were getting more attention and federal support.

Vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel emit about a quarter less carbon dioxide than gasoline engines and very low levels of compounds harmful to public health. Filling up on natural gas currently costs about one fourth to one half as much as traditional gasoline per mile driven. Fueling a natural gas vehicle can take only five to 10 minutes, compared to up to eight hours to recharge an electric car, and vehicles can go much farther on a tank of CNG than an electric battery.

So natural gas companies and other proponents—including energy mogul T. Boone Pickens—are calling for a "level playing field" in terms of government subsidies and urging consumers and automakers to consider natural gas vehicles.

But while the fuel for CNG vehicles may be cheap, the infrastructure is not. It can cost more than $1 million to install a commercial natural gas fueling station, whereas an electric car can plug into a standard household outlet. Even a 480-volt fast-charging station, which can charge a Nissan Leaf's battery in under an hour, costs about $20,000.

Republican Nebraska Governor Asks Obama to Nix Keystone Pipeline

The State Department should deny the permit on the grounds that the pipeline could put the Ogallala Aquifer at risk, the governor says

Aug 31, 2011

Nebraska's governor urged U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday to block TransCanada's planned Keystone oil pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, saying it could hurt a regional water source.

The State Department could issue a presidential permit for the $7 billion project, which would boost U.S. dependence on Canada's controversial oil sands. Momentum for Keystone picked up last week after the department said the project would have only limited impact on the environment.

The State Department should deny the permit on the grounds that the line could put the Ogallala Aquifer at risk, the Midwestern state's governor, Dave Heineman, said in a letter to the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The aquifer in Nebraska is a main source of water for farmlands in the Midwest.

The State Department said in last week's environmental review that an oil spill from the line would affect a limited area in Nebraska's Sand Hills region, which is part of the High Plains aquifer.

Heineman said he does not oppose pipelines in general, but disagreed about the risks.

"This resource is the lifeblood of Nebraska's agriculture industry," he said in the letter. "I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will potentially have detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska's economy."

Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns echoed Heineman's request. "The proposed route is the wrong route. It's clear to me, after traveling throughout the state, that most Nebraskans agree a better route is needed," Johanns said in a release.