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Climate Change Threatens Southwest's Iconic Joshua Trees

A pair of new scientific studies suggests that the specialized desert Joshua tree cannot keep pace with the rate of warming

By Bruce Dorminey, Climate Central

Jul 3, 2011
Joshua Tree National Park

Three hours east of Malibu, the Pacific Coast Highway and everything that is L.A., a small multitude of Joshua trees stand sentinel over a desolate corner of Mojave high desert. They look as if they've been on this incredibly arid, lonely hillslope forever. But, trouble is, will they still be here tomorrow? 

Research ecologists are still trying to answer just how climate change will affect the Joshua tree's numbers, range and habitat.

They do know that over the millenia, the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) has evolved to thrive in the dry and hot Southwestern desert conditions and barren soils that a less specialized plant species could not tolerate.

Now, two recent papers detailing future climate scenarios for Joshua Tree National Park and the Joshua tree's natural range are projecting tough times for this venerable Southwest icon. 

REDD Forest Rescue Funding Caught in UN Carbon Feud, Study Warns

To survive, REDD will likely need investment to flow from a functioning international carbon market — which, outside the EU, is in a perilous state

By Fiona Harvey, Guardian

Jul 1, 2011
Timber from Indonesia

The world's forests are in greater danger than ever, as a United Nations mechanism intended to generate funding for their protection is unlikely to produce sizeable sums "for the foreseeable future," according to new research.

The research came as a prominent UK businessman called for an annual round of international talks devoted solely to forestry, in order to keep the world's remaining forests standing and with the goal of ending deforestation entirely by 2020.

"It's time for a reality check. There is a danger that we are sleep walking to disaster," said Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher, the retail group.

The REDD mechanism — standing for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — has been the cornerstone of international policy on forests for several years. In the past year, the first projects using the mechanism have started to come forward.

At the core of the mechanism is carbon trading — saving forests will generate carbon credits, which can be counted towards emissions-cutting targets.

But nearly all of the money so far devoted to REDD has come from governments, and is limited as most rich country governments are unwilling to spend more on overseas development. As a result, the mechanism is unlikely to do much to reduce deforestation, according to the study from IdeaCarbon, called Assessing the Financial Flows for REDD.

Australia Closes In on National Carbon Trading Deal

If agreed by parliament later this year, the emissions market would be only the second national scheme outside Europe, following the lead of New Zealand

By Rob Taylor, Reuters

Jun 30, 2011
A coal-fired power plant in Victoria, Australia

CANBERRA—Australia's government, fighting a slump in popularity over plans to price carbon, said on Thursday it was determined to start emissions trading as soon as possible after reports it had agreed on a 2015 deadline to switch from a carbon tax.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose support is at record lows due to opposition to a carbon price and voter concern about rising living costs, said she was determined to make as short as possible a shift to a carbon market.

"An emissions trading scheme is the best way of cutting carbon pollution and making sure that we tackle climate change. It is the cheapest way," Gillard told reporters, promising to overcome opposition to one of the most controversial reforms of the A$1.3 trillion economy in decades.

Gillard's minority Labor government wants to impose a tax on carbon emissions from mid-2012 before transitioning to a carbon-trading system, under which the nation's 1,000 biggest polluters will need to buy carbon permits on an open market.

If agreed by parliament later this year, the emissions market would be only the second national scheme outside Europe, following the lead of neighboring New Zealand.

High-Stakes Wind Farm Drama in Minnesota Enters Final Act

Minnesota regulators will likely give their final say this week on the state's highest-profile and hardest-fought battle over wind turbine placement

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

Jun 29, 2011
rural Goodhue County

Update (June 30): The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has granted a conditional site permit to a subsidiary of T. Boone Pickens' Mesa Power Group to build its controversial $179 million, 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County, after months of testimony. 

Two fronts have collided before Minnesota utility regulators, and now, observers on both sides are waiting to see which way the wind will blow in what's been the state's highest-profile and hardest-fought battle over wind turbine placement.

The proposed $179 million, 78-megawatt Goodhue Wind project would consist of 50 turbines spanning about 32,000 acres of farm land an hour's drive southeast of the Twin Cities. The developer is a subsidiary of Mesa Power Group, which is owned by Texas oil-and-gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens.

Last October, about a year after the developer applied for site permits, Goodhue County adopted a setback ordinance that bans wind turbines within 10 rotor diameters — about half a mile in this case — of any non-participating neighboring home. That's in stark contrast with state law in Minnesota, which generally requires setbacks between 750 and 1,500 feet based on noise and other factors.

The local ordinance grew out of grassroots opposition from a group of county residents who fear the turbines will upset their quality of life. The developer, which has partnered with about 200 other local property owners, says the project can't go through under the local setback rules.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is likely to give its final say on the matter Thursday after months of testimony and discussion. Its decision will be the first major test of a 2007 amendment that gave counties limited authority to adopt more stringent wind setbacks than those spelled out in state law.

Droughts to Threaten Renewable Energy and Gas Plans, Study Warns

A think tank says water-reliant energy technologies could be hampered by increasing drought in parts of the world — and production is faltering already

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Jun 27, 2011
BrightSource Energy’s Solar Energy Development Center in Israel’s Negev Desert.

The development of new renewable energy technologies and other expanding sources of energy such as shale gas will be limited by the availability of water in some regions of the world, according to research by a U.S. think tank.

The study shows the reliance on large amounts of water to create biofuels and run solar thermal energy and hydraulic fracturing — a technique for extracting gas from unconventional geological formations underground — means droughts could hamper their deployment.

"Water consumption is going up dramatically. We are introducing all kinds of technology to reduce the carbon impact of energy, without doing anything to reduce its impact on water," Michele Wucker, co-author of the report, told a seminar at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington.

The study, estimating the water consumption of conventional and renewable energy, found even so-called clean energy solutions use vast amounts of water.

Surge in Mississippi River Hydro Proposals Points to Coming Boom

Nearly 100 pre-application documents and proposals have been filed for conventional hydro and alternative hydrokinetic projects along the Mississippi

By Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News

Jun 22, 2011
Hydro Green Energy

One of the nation's untapped reservoirs of energy may turn out to be the Mississippi River.

Energy developers have filed 19 pre-application documents with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proposing hydro projects on locks and dams on the northern Mississippi, from Hastings, Minnesota to Cairo, Illinois.

Proposals also have been developed for conventional hydropower on rivers with locks and dams in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa, as well as in other parts of the country.

In addition, more than 74 pre-application proposals have been filed for hydrokinetic energy projects in the southern Mississippi, which call for underwater turbines to be secured with pilings attached to the river's floor. The southern section is more suited to hydrokinetic due to the depth of the water, the swiftness of currents and the lack of dams.

The proposals represent a larger effort by energy developers to seize the opportunity to use hydro in all its forms — from tidal power on coastal rivers to wave energy in the sea — to provide a new source of cleaner power.

CPS Energy to Shut Coal-Fired Plant in Texas, Turn to Renewables

Facing $3 billion in coal plant retrofits, CPS chief executive says: 'We've chosen to invest those dollars today in clean sources that are affordable'

By Eileen O'Grady, Reuters

Jun 21, 2011
JT Deely coal station

HOUSTON, Texas—CPS Energy, a municipal utility in San Antonio, Texas, plans to shut its two-unit, 871-megawatt JT Deely coal station by 2018 to avoid spending as much as $3 billion for environmental equipment needed to comply with pending federal regulations, company officials said on Monday.

Late last year, CPS completed a $1 billion, 750-megawatt coal unit at the Calaveras Power Station, where the Deely units have been running since 1977 and 1978.

CPS Energy, the nation's largest city-owned utility supplying both natural gas and electricity, wants to reduce its reliance on fossil-fueled generation and boost its use of renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, to 20 percent, or 1,500 megawatts, by 2020.

"We're estimating that we are avoiding $3 billion of retrofits for a 33-year-old coal plant," said CPS Chief Executive Doyle Beneby. "We've chosen to invest those dollars today in clean sources that are affordable."

Bonn Climate Talks End with No Agreement on Kyoto, Finance

The United Nations climate chief defended the UN on Friday against charges that the Bonn talks were painfully slow and convoluted

By John Vidal, Guardian

Jun 17, 2011
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC

Two weeks of tense global climate talks wrapped up on Friday, with countries insisting they had made progress on technical issues but accepting they were still nowhere near agreement in the three key areas of finance, greenhouse gas emission cuts and the future of the Kyoto protocol.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat, defended the UN against charges by non-governmental groups that the talks were painfully slow and convoluted, saying the economic crisis in Europe and elsewhere was making it harder to make progress.

"Climate [change talks] are the most important negotiations the world has ever seen, but governments, business and civil society cannot solve it [climate] in one meeting. Countries are being very creative, exploring all options," she said at the close of the conference in Bonn.

Figueres warned that there could a gap between commitment periods for the Kyoto Protocol, the only global treaty legally binding rich countries to cut emissions — the first phase of which ends in 2012. "Governments can double their efforts and come forward with middle ground solutions and options which are acceptable to all sides," she said.

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.