This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


Hopes for deal on climate boosted

Hopes for deal on climate boosted
By Fiona Harvey in London
Published: October 16 2009 03:00 | Last updated: October 16 2009 03:00

Developing countries have dropped long-standing demands for access to rich countries' technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions, removing a big obstacle to an international deal on climate change, European officials said yesterday.
Countries such as China and India have pushed for rich countries to grant them free access to lowcarbon technologies ever since the lead-up to the 1997 Kyoto protocol. The demand has been a sticking point in negotiations before this December's climate change summit in Copenhagen with rich countries, arguing that any such move could force private sector companies to give away their intellectual property.
The softening of the developing countries' position comes close to resolving one of the five key elements the United Nations says are necessary for a deal on climate change at Copenhagen this December.
The other elements are: binding targets for mid-term emissions reductions from developed countries; a long-term global emissions target; actions by developing countries to curb their emissions; and financing for developing countries to adapt to the effects of global warming.
One European Union official said the "language of the discourse" on technology transfer had changed in recent weeks. Instead of demanding the transfer of intellectual property, developing countries are now willing to discuss collaborating on the development of low-carbon technologies. Such a scenario would see rich world companies encouraged to co-develop new technology with developing country partners.
Officials within the European Commission, the EU's executive body, confirmed there had been "a broadening" of the terms of the discussion, with "more mutuality" between rich and poor countries. Other non-European officials involved in the talks said there had been agreement on the need for an international plan on technology development, with incentives to encourage private sector investment in developing countries. This could take the form of carbon trading.
In part, the shift reflects the reality of the world economy. The rush of western companies to set up factories building wind turbines and other low-carbon technology has made China one of the biggest exporters of environmental goods.
Ed Miliband, the UK's climate and energy secretary, yesterday praised developing countries such as China and India for instituting domestic measures to curb emissions growth.
But on the biggest sticking point of the negotiations - financial assistance from the rich to the poor nations to help them cut emissions and cope with climate change - Mr Miliband said that agreement would not come until the very end of the negotiations


(Water Management) On-farm water management could increase global crop production by about one fifth; However, even intensive water management on present cropland will not be sufficient to accommodate the food demands of a growing population in a warming world
Harvest And Save Water To Increase Crop Yields, Say Researchers

ScienceDaily (Oct. 14, 2009) — On-farm water management could increase global crop production by about one fifth, a modelling study by German and Swedish researchers indicates. However, even intensive water management on present cropland will not be sufficient to accommodate the food demands of a growing population in a warming world, the scientists report in the current edition ofEnvironmental Research Letters.

See also:
Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Reference "Use of water in agriculture is a key problem for the 21st century: without improvements neither the consequences of climate change will be manageable nor the demand of two or three billion additional people for food be met," says Wolfgang Lucht of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "In this study we therefore investigated whether there are realistic opportunities to close the emerging gap in water supply for agriculture at least partially for many world regions. The results are quite encouraging," adds Lucht.
Today, about 15 million square kilometres, roughly ten percent of the total land surface, is covered by cropland. An earlier study by the researchers suggested that without substantial improvements in water productivity or other measures to increase yields on present cropland, an expansion by about ten million square kilometres would be required if the world population rose to ten billion in 2050 as suggested by the IPCC's SRES A2r scenario. The yearly consumption of freshwater for irrigated and rainfed agriculture would have to be increased by an additional 4500 cubic kilometres from currently 8800 cubic kilometres. "However, in many regions of the world that already face limits of water availability that is not an option," says Dieter Gerten, hydrologist at PIK. "Instead, we need to think of better ways to use the water that is there."
The research team headed by Gerten investigated how additional land and water requirements could be minimized through water management on existing cropland. The study, based on simulations with a vegetation-water model, quantifies the potentials of two water management strategies for increasing crop production: harvesting rainwater for use during dry spells and reducing soil evaporation.
In practice, a vapour shift from unproductive soil evaporation to productive plant transpiration that permits biomass growth can be attained through mulching or applying different tillage systems. Field studies show that soil evaporation can be halved this way. The researchers estimate the potential to increase global crop yield to amount to 2 to 25 percent, depending on management intensity. The highest potentials of more than 20 percent for a moderate management regime lie mainly in semiarid regions such as the Midwestern United States, the Sahel, Southern Africa, and Central Asia.
Rainwater can be harvested by concentrating and storing runoff in ponds, or with the help of dikes or subsurface dams. The water can be redirected to crops in periods of water stress so that the risk of crop failure is reduced. In the current study, water harvesting was simulated to increase global crop yield by 4 to 31 percent, again depending on management intensity. With moderate management intensity, parts of South America and parts of Africa show large potentials of more than 20 percent for increasing crop yield.
The combination of both management strategies would result in a production increase of 7 to 53 percent. Pronounced increases can be achieved mainly in regions where present yields reach less than one tenth of what could theoretically be reached if water supply was unlimited, as in large parts of Africa. Globally, a moderate and feasible management scenario suggests that crop production can be increased by 19 percent, which is comparable with the effect of current irrigation that amounts to 17 percent.
"However, the detrimental effects of climate change could reduce global crop production by almost ten percent by 2050," says Stefanie Rost of PIK. Even if the beneficial effects of the rising atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide on plant growth and the moderate water management scenario were realised, the water available on current cropland would not meet the requirements of a world population of nine or ten billion.
"This evidence poses crucial questions about tradeoffs between future land and water use for irrigated and rainfed agriculture, natural ecosystems and bioenergy," the authors state. They suggest exploring options of more efficient irrigation and expansion of irrigated agriculture, of plant breeding and genetic engineering, and of more effective trade with agricultural products from water-rich to water-poor regions.

Journal reference:
1.        Stefanie Rost, Dieter Gerten, Holger Hoff, Wolfgang Lucht, Malin Falkenmark and Johan Rockström. Global potential to increase crop production through water management in rainfed agricultureEnvironmental Research Letters, 2009; 4 (4): 044002 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/4/044002

(Water Management) Marine plant life holds the secret to preventing global warming

another link between water and climate change

Marine plant life holds the secret to preventing global warming

Mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds, above, cover less than 1 per cent of the world's seabed, but lock away well over half of all carbon to be buried in the ocean floor

Frank Pope, Ocean Correspondent
Life in the ocean has the potential to help to prevent global warming, according to a report published today.
Marine plant life sucks 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, but most of the plankton responsible never reaches the seabed to become a permanent carbon store.
Mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds are a different matter. Although together they cover less than 1 per cent of the world's seabed, they lock away well over half of all carbon to be buried in the ocean floor. They are estimated to store 1,650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year — nearly half of global transport emissions — making them one of the most intense carbon sinks on Earth.
Their capacity to absorb the emissions is under threat, however: the habitats are being lost at a rate of up to 7 per cent a year, up to 15 times faster than the tropical rainforests. A third have already been lost.
Halting their destruction could be one of the easiest ways of reducing future emissions, says report,Blue Carbon, a UN collaboration.
With 50 per cent of the world's population living within 65 miles of the sea, human pressures on nearshore waters are powerful. Since the 1940s, parts of Asia have lost up to 90 per cent of their mangrove forests, robbing both spawning fish and local people of sanctuary from storms.
The salt marshes near estuaries and deltas have suffered a similar fate as they are drained to make room for development. Rich in animal life, they harbour a huge biomass of carbon-fixing vegetation. Seagrass beds often raise the level of the seabed by up to three metres as they bury mats of dead grass but turbid water is threatening their access to sunlight.
"We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion-dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defence, fisheries and water purification services. Now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change," said Achin Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General.
The potential contribution of blue carbon sinks has been ignored up to now, says the report, which was a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Unesco. Accurate figures for the extent of these habitats are hard to obtain, and may be more than twice the lower estimates used in the report.
"The carbon burial capacity of marine vegetated habitats is phenomenal, 180 times greater than the average burial rate in the open ocean," say the authors. As a result they lock away between 50 and 70 per cent of the organic carbon in the ocean.
To protect them the authors suggest that a Blue Carbon Fund be launched to help developing nations to protect the habitats. Oceanic carbon sinks should also be traded in the same fashion as terrestrial forests, they say. Together with the UN's scheme to reduce deforestation, they could deliver up to 25 per cent of emission reductions needed to keep global warming below 2C (36F).
Christian Nellemann, the editor of the report said:"On current trends they [ecosystems] may be all largely lost within a couple of decades."


Energy newsclips for 13 October 2009: Peak oil, Electric vehicles, Airplane and building fuel efficiency, Starbucks and Wind farms.... and more

Peak oil could hit soon, report says
A new report says worldwide production of conventionally extracted oil could peak in the next decade
Press Association, Thursday 8 October 2009 11.16 BST

Peak oil could lead to more investment in the most polluting forms of oil extraction, such as tar sands like these at the Albian Sands mine near Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Photograph: Jeff McIntosh/AP
There is a "significant risk" that global oil production could begin to decline in the next decade, researchers said today.
report by the UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) said worldwide production of conventionally extracted oil could "peak" and go into terminal decline before 2020 – but that the government was not facing up to the risk.
Falls in production will lead to higher and more volatile prices, and could encourage investment in even more polluting fossil fuels, such as tar sands, which "need to stay in the ground" to avoid dangerous climate change as a result of carbon emissions, the researchers said.
The new report said there was too much geological, political and economic uncertainty to predict an exact date for peak oil, which would not lead to a sudden decline but a "bumpy plateau" with a downward trend in extraction.
But Steve Sorrell, chief author of the report, said while those who forecasted an imminent decline had underestimated oil reserves, more positive forecasts suggesting oil production will not peak before 2030 were "at best optimistic and at worst implausible".
The world has used less than half of the planet's conventionally extracted oil, but the remaining resources will be more difficult and expensive to get out of the ground, slowing production and increasing prices of crude.
With exploitation of the world's reserves running at more than 80m barrels a day, even major new discoveries such as the oil fields recently found in the Gulf of Mexico by BPwould only delay a peak by a few days or weeks, the report said.
Robert Gross of UKERC said: "The age of easy and cheap oil is coming to an end. It doesn't suddenly come to an end; obviously it's a gradual change. But we're moving away from easy and cheap oil to increasingly difficult and expensive oil."
The public should expect to see more higher and more volatile petrol costs in the future, with long-distance travel becoming pricier.
Britons should invest in the most energy-efficient vehicles and put pressure on the government to take the issue seriously, the researchers urged. With long time-scales and large investment needed to move away from a reliance on crude oil – particularly in the transport sector, which uses the lion's share of fossil fuel – the report said governments needed to take action now.
Sorrell said the UK government had no contingency plans for oil peaking before 2020, but officials needed to increase and speed up measures already being taken to cut climate emissions, such as improving vehicle fuel efficiency, shifting to electric cars and investing more in public transport.
Though high oil prices could encourage investment in renewables and technological changes, they could also do the same for more polluting and energy-intensive forms of oil. These include tar sands, where extraction of fuel becomes viable when the oil price hits around $70/barrel – its current level – and converting coal to a liquid, which requires a great deal of energy.
"Most of these unconventional resources need to stay in the ground, but [there are] such strong incentives to exploit them," he said.
The consequences in terms of carbon emissions of unconventional sources of oil could be "catastrophic", Gross said.
"The danger is, high oil prices push us into high carbon resources just as much as they might help push us towards renewables. The challenge for policymakers is to make sure, on a global scale, that that isn't the response to more difficult and expensive oil."
A spokesman for the Energy and Climate Change Department said: "Already, our climate change, energy efficiency and energy security policies outlined in the UK low carbon transition plan are not only reducing the UK's carbon emissions, but are consistent with the need to reduce our use of fossil fuels.
"This will help to ease demand for oil in the UK and internationally. In addition, the UK government is investing and supporting research on renewable and clean transport technologies – which is the UK sector that consumes most fossil fuels." © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Green Energy Execs Implore Congress for Sweeping Climate Change Bill
More than one-hundred green-energy company executives went to Washington, D.C.,  this week to urge members of Congress to pass a sweeping climate change bill, reports Mercury News. Clean-tech entrepreneurs and investors believe a bill that includes a cap on carbon emissions will help drive billions of dollars in clean-energy investments and ease the nation's dependence on foreign oil, according to the article.
The investor coalition Ceres and the Clean Economy Network organized this week's fly-in of executives from more than 100 companies, reports the New York Times. Executives met with the Senate's "Gang of 16″ including Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy Director Carol Browner.
In June, the House passed legislation designed to combat global warming, and now the focus has shifted to the Senate, but legislation faces an uphill battle due to regional concerns among senators from oil- and coal-dependent states, reports Mercury News.
The Kerry-Boxer bill calls for a 20 percent reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, while the House-passed bill (H.R. 2454) calls for a 17 percent reduction by 2020, reports the New York Times. Both bills include long-term emissions reductions of 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050.
John Doerr, one of Silicon Valley's best-known venture capitalists, attended these meetings. Doerr and other supporters predict that a cap on carbon emission would trigger a significant shift away from oil and toward solar and wind and batteries, spurring billions in new investments and creating new jobs, reports Mercury News. Opponents call the cap-and-trade system a huge tax increase on energy.
Opponents may be out of luck on this point.
At the Clean Energy Economy Forum in Washington, Commerce Secretary Locke made it very clear that a carbon cap is here to stay, reports the Examiner. Locke said this will send a signal to business in America that "it's safe and profitable to make long-term investments in clean energy," according to the article.
Chu said at the Forum that if Congress fails to pass climate and energy legislation soon, the United States runs the risk of falling behind China as a global leader in producing wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and other clean-energy technologies, reports the New York Times.
Chu also announced that the Energy Department will provide up to $750 million from the stimulus package to accelerate the development of conventional renewable energy generation projects, according to the New York Times. The stimulus commitment includes the DOE's launch of its Financial Institution Partnership Program, which is designed to speed the agency's loan guarantee underwriting process and leverage private-sector expertise and capital, according to the article.

Energy Efficiency Remains Untapped in the Industrial Sector
The industrial sector's energy savings have remained untapped by many existing publicly-funded energy efficiency programs, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Energy efficiency in the industrial sector represents a low-cost resource compared with other sectors, but operating successful programs requires different approaches than are traditionally used in other sectors, according to the study.
Consuming nearly 32 percent of the nation's energy in 2007, the U.S. industrial sector offers significant opportunities for energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report. Although industrial energy efficiency programs have existed for decades across the U.S. and Canada, these programs have not historically maximized savings opportunities, said ACEEE. In addition, the study finds that many publicly-funded programs have not invested time and resources to develop programs to effectively serve this sector.
The report, Industrial Energy Efficiency Programs: Identifying Today's Leaders and Tomorrow's Needs, identifies leading industrial programs and successful program strategies, and suggests recommendations for programs looking to start or expand offerings to achieve energy efficiency savings in this sector.
One trend cited in the report is the emergence of "self-direct" industrial programs, in which large industrial companies have the opportunity to use public benefits funds to make energy-efficiency investments in their facilities. In these cases, the facilities are responsible for meeting savings targets stipulated by program administrators.
The report also finds that some self-direct programs behave similarly to mature customized incentive programs. Both well-designed "self-direct" programs and mature customized incentive programs deliver significant and low-cost energy efficiency savings, according to the report.

Airlines Set New Fuel Efficiency Goals: IATA
Date: 12-Oct-09
 Laura MacInnis

A TACA airplane takes off at Comalapa's international airport, south of San Salvador October 7, 2009.
Photo: Luis Galdamez

GENEVA - The world's airlines have agreed to new fuel efficiency and carbon emission targets which go much further than the levels required through regulation, an industry group said on Saturday.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 230 airlines, said that carriers, airports and aerospace firms had pledged to improve fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent a year annually until 2020.
At a meeting in Montreal, they also set a goal of having carbon-neutral growth by 2020 and to record a 50 percent net reduction of carbon emissions in 2050 compared to 2005 levels.
"Airlines have set even more ambitious targets than governments for the longer-term," IATA Director-General Giovanni Bisignani told reporters on a teleconference.
"No other industry has been able to achieve what we have done," he said, describing the cooperation between all players in the sector on the environment question. "We are on the high ground and government must now catch up."
IATA has previously said that biofuels hold great potential to reduce the polluting emissions from planes, and has supported moves to offset fossil fuels burned in air transport.

Soros Aims To Invest $1 Bln In Green Tech
Date: 12-Oct-09
 John Acher

Investor George Soros listens to remarks as he takes part in a Brookings Institution discussion in Washington, April 24, 2009.
Photo: Mike Theiler

COPENHAGEN - Billionaire George Soros said on Saturday that he would invest $1 billion in clean energy technology as part of an effort to combat climate change.
The Hungarian-born U.S. investor also announced he would form and fund a new climate policy initiative with $10 million a year for 10 years.
"Global warming is a political problem," Soros told a meeting of editors in the Danish capital where governments are scheduled to meet in December to try to hammer out a new global climate agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
"The science is clear, what is less clear is whether world leaders will demonstrate the political will necessary to solve the problem," he said, according to a brief email statement.
His remarks came a day after climate talks in Bangkok ended in deadlock over how much cash should be made available to poorer nations to help them cope with climate change and over the size of rich countries' greenhouse gas emissions cuts.
Soros said he would apply stringent criteria to his investments in clean energy technologies.
"I will look for profitable opportunities, but I will also insist that the investments make a real contribution to solving the problem of climate change," Soros said.–-getting-the-plug-ins-plugged-in/

Electric Vehicles – Getting The Plug-Ins Plugged In
Allan Schurr
Vice President of Energy and Utility Strategy and Development

It's an exciting vision, really – a whole new generation of clean, energy-efficient plug-in electric vehicles capable of running for long periods from a single charge at home overnight. Then when parked at the office, school, or curbside, they could instantly and easily plug in for a recharge or someday even provide excess power to the electrical grid.
Cost savings, environmental pressures on reducing emissions, and energy security issues related to petroleum consumption all favor electric transportation. Automobile makers are seeing some success with electric drive systems – they've matured and proven hybrid-electric technologies and experienced good market growth, and are now developing plug-in vehicles. Consumers like the notion of electric vehicles too, and more will likely buy them as they continue to become more available, efficient and affordable.
It's quite possible that plug-in electronic vehicles will become the preferred mode of personal transportation in the next decade.
But there is one major obstacle to the development, deployment and adoption of electrical vehicles on a large scale – the electrical utility grid as it exists today simply can't support large numbers of vehicles.
Modernizing the grid
There are a lot of things people take for granted with the electrical power system. When a homeowner turns on the light switch, he expects the power to be there. But adding plug-in cars to the equation introduces new dynamics to the electrical network's operations.
Is there enough capacity in the neighborhood electrical cable and transformer to charge several cars at the same time and meet all the other local needs? Are there fees and taxes that are different than what would be normally applied to electricity for a residence? What if the vehicle is connected to a public charging location away from home and the charges must be calculated and be charged to a home account? How will the system decide if a car can charge during peak periods, such as a hot summer afternoon?
That's asking an awful lot of an electrical grid system that today often doesn't even know when a consumer has lost power until he phones the utility to tell someone. There is infrastructure that most consumers don't think about that needs to be modified to support convenient and reliable electric car charging — things as basic as plugging a car in anywhere, anytime, with easy-to-use equipment and easy-to-understand costs and payment options.
Over the last six months, this has become a common topic of discussion with power companies around the world. The coming plug-in vehicle phenomenon is one that utilities take very seriously because it will require careful long-range planning and investments in new technologies and capabilities. Utilities need to take into account current power supply and delivery capacity and the emerging demands from a new class of electricity using "appliances" – plug-in cars. In addition, future requirements for power storage, energy efficiency, and renewable energy add complexity to the operating mix.
New Partnerships
Electrical grids that can manage all these considerations and deliver the service required to support electric cars will need to be more dynamic, responsive, adaptive, efficient and intelligent. And creating them will require partnerships that include energy companies, power suppliers, equipment makers, academia, governments, information technology companies, and carmakers.
While such lash-ups of diverse partners may seem unusual, they can and must develop and use industry standards. And, by working together through coalitions that are beginning to form now, complete solutions to this challenge can be accelerated.
Take the EDISON Project in Denmark. Local Copenhagen utility DONG Energy is working with regional energy company of Oestkraft, the Technical University of Denmark, Siemens, Eurisco and the Danish Energy Association, and my company to develop a system that will marry wind power and electric vehicle charging. To the extent allowed by consumer preferences, vehicles will be charged when wind is generating excess power. Conversely, the vehicle charging will be slowed or delayed when the wind stops and energy production is diminished.
Denmark is already a leader in wind power – it accounts for 20 percent of the country's energy mix, and their goal is to double it. This scenario will let eco-minded consumers charge their cars with renewable energy while allowing the utility to better absorb and manage wind-generated power.
There are other signs of early progress as well. Utilities and car companies are beginning to work together. Standards bodies are making some headway. The U.S. government has earmarked some economic stimulus money to support electric transportation roll-outs.
But there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work needed for utilities to really deliver what they are being asked for — electricity available wherever it is needed for recharging. That aim impacts the people who operate the distribution network day in and day out, how they switch the power system configuration for maintenance, how they plan for restoration of power when there is an outage, how they plan and construct new capacity that extends circuits out to physical locations.
That's going to require a lot of work and investment in things like sensor data collection, data management, application integration, analytics and optimization and security. It also will require lots of third party technologies such as "smart" metering that allows two-communication between the power provider and the user. And in the back office there are billing systems and customer management systems that must be adapted to these new conditions.
Which comes first?
It's a classic chicken-or-egg problem — people won't buy plug-in electric vehicles if there's nowhere to charge them, and utility companies won't invest in the infrastructure to support them unless they're sure it will get used.
So all interested parties – carmakers, governments, power producers and their suppliers, technology companies and consumers – need to engage so that market adoption and infrastructure maturity will develop in tandem.
Allan Schurr is Vice President of Energy and Utility Strategy and Developmentfor IBM.

NYC May Audit Large Buildings for Energy Efficiency
A measure before the New York City council would require buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to undergo energy audits, reports the New York Times.
Buildings that underperform in the audits would be required to make energy efficiency improvements.
The measure would be an extension of the city's PlaNYC, which was launched in 2007 with the goal of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the city's municipal buildings and operations by 30 percent by 2017.
James Gennaro, chairman of the council's environmental protection committee, said that two-thirds of the city's carbon emissions are related to buildings. He called the proposed measure a plan for the city's future.
"Eighty-five percent of the buildings that we have in 2009 are going to be here in 2030," he said in the article.

'Starbucks Rule' Factors into Wind Farm Location
When it comes to choosing a potential site for a wind farm, there's an informal guide that calls for not placing a wind farm within 30 miles of a Starbucks location.
The so-called "Starbucks Rule" is intended to prevent protests from residential-types who would object to the sight of 250-300 foot tall wind towers in their backyards, reports BusinessWeek.
Andris Cukurs, CEO of U.S. operations for Suzion Energy, said that not only his company – but also competitors – follow this informal rule, according to the article. With operations in 21 nations, Suzion claims about 12 percent of the global wind turbine market.
A new wind farm in Texas certainly took the Starbucks rule to heart. Located more than 200 miles from Dallas, the new wind farm in west Texas is the world's largest wind farm. See a video here.
Wind turbine sales in the U.S. are projected to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7 percent to reach an annual production volume of almost 8,000 turbines with an average capacity of greater than 1 megawatt by 2015, according to new research.

California Passes Improved Feed-in Tariffs, while Germany and Spain Debate Changes
California's Governor Schwarzenegger has signed into law SB 32, one of several feed-in tariff (FIT) bills, which amends the existing FIT introduced by the California Public Utility Commission (PUC) last year, reports Meanwhile, Germany and Spain are debating changes to their FIT schemes.
The SB 32 bill was introduced by Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-District 32) on behalf of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CalSIA) in December 2008. SB 32 raises the project size cap to 3 MW from 1.5 MW but does not change the way tariffs are determined except that it directs the PUC to include environmental and distributed generation attributes in the tariffs, reports The bill is another effort in the state legislature to gradually improve existing feed-in tariff policy, according to the wind energy Web site.
SB 32 also allows greenfield projects, determines tariffs by avoided cost (MPR or value-based), raises the program cap from 500 MW to 750 MW, and allows contracts for 10, 15, and 20 years, according to
SB 32 will primarily benefit commercial solar PV projects, and it's unlikely to provide any benefit to wind or other forms of renewable energy, according to the Web site.
While the U.S. is just starting to address feed-in tariff issues, the new German government is expected to reform its Renewable Energy Act (EEG), although cuts for solar power rates will be modest to prevent harming the fast-growing industry, according to Reuters.
The FDP and the CDU want reforms to the EEG and have talked of cutting state-mandated feed-in tariffs — which utilities pay for CO2-free energy — by about 30 percent, though it's more likely to be around 15 percent according to a coalition source, reports Reuters.
The FDP and their allies have demanded steeper cuts to the scheme that require power consumers to subsidize green energy through higher electricity bills, adding about 3 percent to monthly power bills, but CDU leaders in states with photovoltaic industries have blocked steeper cuts in past reforms, reports Reuters.
Utilities are now obligated to pay 43 cents per kilowatt for 20 years for photovoltaic systems installed in 2009, and that rate has been falling by roughly 8 percent per year and is scheduled to drop by 9 percent in 2010 to 39 cents per kilowatt.
The situation is different in Spain. With feed-in rates, the extra money required to make renewables profitable generally come from consumers in the form of higher retail electricity rates, but the particularities of the Spanish electricity market prevented these extra costs from being passed on, reports the Grist blog.
At the beginning of each year, the Spanish government sets retail power rates and if the price of natural gas skyrockets that year, for example, the Spanish government later reimburses power providers and grid operators to cover the difference, according to the Grist blog. In this way, electricity rates are kept artificially low, with part of the cost being covered by taxpayers, resulting in future generations subsidizing current electricity consumption, reports the blog.
The problem with the Spain FIT scheme is it attempted to combine feed-in rates with inflexible, government pricing of retail rates, reports the blog. Spain is now starting to phase out the entire system, and by 2013, it will be eliminated, according to the article.

Green Newsclips for 13 October 2009: 2 Globescan surveys, and TV advertising on climate change part 2: The UK view

Ministers target climate change doubters in prime-time TV advert

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Climate change sceptics are to be targeted in a hard-hitting government advertising campaign that will be the first to state unequivocally that Man is causing global warming and endangering life on Earth.
The £6 million campaign, which begins tonight in the prime ITV1 slot during Coronation Street, is a direct response to government research showing that more than half the population think that climate change will have no effect on them.
Ministers sanctioned the campaign because of concern that scepticism about climate change was making it harder to introduce carbon-reducing policies such as higher energy bills.
The advertisement attempts to make adults feel guilty about their legacy to their children. It features a father telling his daughter a bedtime story of "a very very strange" world with "horrible consequences" for today's children.
The storybook shows a British town deep under water, with people and animals drowning.
Carbon dioxide is depicted as rising in clouds of black soot from cars and homes, including from a woman's hairdryer. The soot gathers into a jagged-toothed monster menacing the town.
The daughter asks her father if the story has a happy ending and a voiceover cuts in, saying: "It's up to us how the story ends" and directs viewers to the Government's Act on CO2 website.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change publishes research today showing that 52 per cent of people think climate change will not significantly affect them. Only 33 per cent think that it will and 15 per cent do not know.
Fourteen per cent of people think that climate change will have no effect on Britain, even in their grandchildren's lifetime. Twenty-six per cent said they could think of no action they could take that would help to reduce climate change.
When asked how they would react if they knew climate change were going to have a serious effect on their children's lives, 74 per cent said that they would be willing to change their lifestyle. Fifteen per cent said that they would not make any changes.
The Met Office has predicted that the 2003 heatwave, which resulted in 2,000 premature deaths in Britain, could happen every other year from the 2040s.
Joan Ruddock, the Energy and Climate Change Minister, said: "The survey results show that people don't realise that climate change is already under way and could have severe consequences. With over 40 per cent of the UK's C02 emissions a result of personal choices, there is huge potential for individual behaviour change to lower emissions."
But Philip Stott, Emeritus Professor of Biogeography at the University of London and a critic of the Government's plan to cut CO2, said the advert was an attempt to manipulate people with alarmist language and apocalyptic imagery. "It is straight out of Orwell's 1984: an attempt to control with images of a perpetual war against something, in this case climate change."

Globescan surveys:
(1) Obstacles to CEOs adopting sustainability:
(2) Pulse survey on climate change:

Water newsclips for 13 October 2009: Irrigation controllers not so smart, and choosing between clean air and clean water

Study Finds Smart Irrigation Controllers Not So Smart
Tests of "smart" irrigation controllers found that most of the devices currently on the market were not as smart as advertised, according to a new study, reports Water Efficiency. To help businesses reduce both water and energy consumption in their irrigation systems, ITT Flowtronex is offering a cash rebate for the replacement of old and inefficient irrigation pump systems, while SunPods delivers a modular solar-power platform for irrigation and water distribution systems.
Conducted by Texas AgriLife Extension Service, the study finds that all six devices tested, all currently on the market, produced excessive irrigation amounts. The bench-tested controllers exceeded recommended irrigation amounts 100 percent of the time, applying on average 6.73 inches more water, while the outdoor-tested controllers exceeded the recommended amount 75 percent of the time applying on average 1.88 inches more water, according to the study.
Smart controllers use weather data to automatically adjust the amount of irrigation water applied, reports Water Efficiency. Some smart controllers use sensors at the irrigation sites to measure temperature and rainfall, but they may also measure solar radiation, wind speed and relative humidity, according to the journal.
Other controllers, commonly called ET Controllers, use evapotranspiration data acquired either through the Internet, telephone or pager to estimate landscape water requirements, reports Water Efficiency.
Both ET and on-site sensor controllers use the data they receive to estimate evapotranspiration at the site and apply enough water to offset it, according to the article.
The study finds that manually controlled irrigation units on timers typically apply about twice as much water as needed. Possible causes for the over-irrigation, include improper ET values, high plant coefficients and insufficient accounting for rainfall, reports Water Efficiency.
The study concludes that smart controllers are potentially superior to manually controlled systems despite their excessive irrigation amounts.
To help businesses improve the efficiency of their irrigation pump systems, ITT Flowtronex announced (PDF) a 10-percent factory-direct cash rebate for the replacement of old and inefficient irrigation pump systems. For a limited time, the new "Cash for Pumpers" program will allow customers to replace pump equipment that has been in service for 15 years or more with a new Flowtronex Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) Silent Storm packaged pump system.
The company said its Flowtronex VFD technology has helped many golf courses reduce energy consumption 25 percent and water consumption by 46 percent. All systems are supported by 65 FlowNet service centers to help with installations.
To qualify for the rebate, customers need to send a photo of the existing/old equipment and fill out a rebate form after the purchase. The offer applies to all qualifying equipment in North America.
For additional energy savings from water systems, SunPods has introduced(PDF) a new transportable, modular solar-power platform for agricultural use, water distribution, irrigation, wells and remote sites. The system provides solar power for on-grid and off-grid applications.
Based on SunPods' advanced Solar Smart Technologies, the SP-500 is ready to interconnect and power up on delivery, requiring only an electrician to make the connections. The SP-500 can be used on farms, ranches and wineries to power product processing, center-pivot irrigation systems, as well as water irrigation, water distribution, water processing and well-water pumping systems.
Municipal water agencies can also use the SunPods SP-500 for pumping water at water towers, wastewater and water purification plants, which will reduce electrical cost and provide an emergency power back-up system.

Cleansing the Air at the Expense of Waterways

MASONTOWN, Pa. — For years, residents here complained about the yellow smoke pouring from the tall chimneys of the nearby coal-fired power plant, which left a film on their cars and pebbles of coal waste in their yards. Five states — including New York and New Jersey — sued the plant's owner, Allegheny Energy, claiming the air pollution was causing respiratory diseasesand acid rain.

So three years ago, when Allegheny Energy decided to install scrubbers to clean the plant's air emissions, environmentalists were overjoyed. The technology would spray water and chemicals through the plant's chimneys, trapping more than 150,000 tons of pollutants each year before they escaped into the sky.

But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was switched on in June, the company has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000 people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north.

"It's like they decided to spare us having to breathe in these poisons, but now we have to drink them instead," said Philip Coleman, who lives about 15 miles from the plant and has asked a state judge to toughen the facility's pollution regulations. "We can't escape."

Even as a growing number of coal-burning power plants around the nation have moved to reduce their air emissions, many of them are creating another problem: water pollution. Power plants are the nation's biggest producer of toxic waste, surpassing industries like plastic and paint manufacturing and chemical plants, according to a New York Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data.

Much power plant waste once went into the sky, but because of toughened air pollution laws, it now often goes into lakes and rivers, or into landfills that have leaked into nearby groundwater, say regulators and environmentalists.

Officials at the plant here in southwest Pennsylvania — named Hatfield's Ferry — say it does not pose any health or environmental risks because they have installed equipment to limit the toxins the facility releases into the Monongahela River and elsewhere.

But as the number of scrubbers around the nation increases, environmentalists — including those in Pennsylvania — have become worried. The Environmental Protection Agency projects that by next year, roughly 50 percent of coal-generated electricity in the United States will come from plants that use scrubbers or similar technologies, creating vast new sources of wastewater.

Yet no federal regulations specifically govern the disposal of power plant discharges into waterways or landfills. Some regulators have used laws like the Clean Water Act to combat such pollution. But those laws can prove inadequate, say regulators, because they do not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power plant waste, like arsenic and lead.

For instance, only one in 43 power plants and other electric utilities across the nation must limit how much barium they dump into nearby waterways, according to a Times analysis of E.P.A. records. Barium, which is commonly found in power plant waste and scrubber wastewater, has been linked to heart problems and diseases in other organs.

Even when power plant emissions are regulated by the Clean Water Act, plants have often violated that law without paying fines or facing other penalties. Ninety percent of 313 coal-fired power plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or otherwise sanctioned by federal or state regulators, according to a Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency records. (An interactive database of power plant violations around the nation is available at

Fines for Plants Modest

Other plants have paid only modest fines. For instance, Hatfield's Ferry has violated the Clean Water Act 33 times since 2006. For those violations, the company paid less than $26,000. During that same period, the plant's parent company earned $1.1 billion.

"We know that coal waste is so dangerous that we don't want it in the air, and that's why we've told power plants they have to install scrubbers," said Senator Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. "So why are they dumping the same waste into people's water?"

Though the Environmental Protection Agency promised earlier this decade to consider new regulations on power plant waste — and reiterated that pledge after a Tennessee dam break sent 1.1 billion gallons of coal waste into farms and homes last year — federal regulators have yet to issue any major new rules.

One reason is that some state governments have long fought new federal regulations, often at the behest of energy executives, say environmentalists and regulators.

The counties surrounding Hatfield's Ferry, which are home to multiple universities, are an example of what hangs in the balance as this debate plays out.

Last year, when Hatfield's Ferry asked the state for permission to dump scrubber wastewater into the Monongahela River, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection approved the request with proposed limits on some chemicals.

But state officials placed no limits on water discharges of arsenic, aluminum, boron, chromium, manganese, nickel or other chemicals that have been linked to health risks, all of which have been detected in the plant's wastewater samples, according to state documents.

Records show, and company officials concede, that Hatfield's Ferry is already dumping scrubber wastewater into the Monongahela that violates the state's few proposed pollution rules. Moreover, those rules have been suspended until a judge decides on the plant's appeal of the proposed limits.

"You can get used to the plant, and the noise and soot on your cars," said Father Rodney Torbic, the priest at the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, across the road from Hatfield's Ferry. "But I see people suffering every day because of this pollution."

Officials at Hatfield's Ferry say there is no reason for residents to be concerned. They say that lawsuits against the plant are without merit, and that they have installed a $25 million water treatment plant that removes many of the toxic particles and solids from scrubber wastewater. The solids are put into a 106-acre landfill that contains a synthetic liner to prevent leaks.

Officials say that the plant's pollution does not pose any risk. Limits on arsenic, aluminum, barium, boron, cadmium, chromium, manganese and nickel are not appropriate, the company wrote in a statement, because the plant's wastewater is not likely to cause the Monongahela River to exceed safety levels for those contaminants.

"Allegheny has installed state-of-the-art scrubbers, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment, and state-of-the-art synthetic liners," the company wrote in a statement. "We operate to be in compliance with all environmental laws and will continue to do so."

The plant's water treatment facility, however, does not remove all dissolved metals and chemicals, many of which go into the river, executives concede. An analysis of records from other plants with scrubbers indicates that such wastewater often contains high concentrations of dissolved arsenic, barium, boron, iron, manganese, cadmium, magnesium and other heavy metals that have been shown to contribute to cancer, organ failures and other diseases. Company officials say the emissions by the plant will not pose health risks, because they will be diluted in the river.

Though synthetic liners are generally considered effective at preventing leaks, environmentalists note that the Hatfield's Ferry landfill is less than a mile uphill from the river, and that over time, other types of liners have proven less reliable than initially hoped.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a statement last month, said it planned to revise standards for water discharges from coal-fired power plants like Hatfield's Ferry. Agency studies have concluded that "current regulations, which were issued in 1982, have not kept pace with changes that have occurred in the electric power industry," officials wrote.

But some environmentalists and lawmakers say that such rules will not be enough, and that new laws are needed that force plants to use more expensive technologies that essentially eliminate toxic discharges.

Cleaning Up Pollution

"It's really important to set a precedent that tells power plants that they need to genuinely clean up pollution, rather than just shift it from the air to the water," said Abigail Dillen, a lawyer with the law firm Earthjustice, which represents two advocacy organizations, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Citizens Coal Council, in asking a Pennsylvania court to toughen regulations on Hatfield's Ferry.

Ms. Dillen, like other environmentalists, has urged courts and lawmakers to force plants to adopt "zero discharge" treatment facilities, which are more expensive but can eliminate most pollution.

State officials say they have established appropriate water pollution limits for Hatfield's Ferry, and have strict standards for landfill disposal.

"We asked the plant for estimates on how much of various pollutants they are likely to emit, and based on those estimates, we set limits that are protective of the Monongahela," said Ron Schwartz, a state environmental official. "We have asked them to monitor some chemicals, including arsenic, and if levels grow too high, we may intervene."

However, environmental groups have argued in court documents and interviews that Hatfield's Ferry probably will emit dangerous chemicals, and that they fear the state is unlikely to intervene.

Similar problems have emerged elsewhere. Twenty-one power plants in 10 states, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio, have dumped arsenic into rivers or other waters at concentrations as much as 18 times the federal drinking water standard, according to a Times analysis of E.P.A. data.

In Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere, power plants have dumped other chemicals at dangerous concentrations. Few of those plants have ever been sanctioned for those emissions, nor were their discharge permits altered to prevent future pollution.

Records indicate that power plant landfills and other disposal practices have polluted groundwater in more than a dozen states, contaminating the water in some towns with toxic chemicals. A 2007 report published by the E.P.A. suggested that people living near some power plant landfills faced a cancer risk 2,000 times higher than federal health standards.

Lobbyists Block Controls

In 2000, Environmental Protection Agency officials tried to issue stricter controls on power plant waste. But a lobbying campaign by the coal and power industries, as well as public officials in 13 states, blocked the effort. In 2008 alone, according to campaign finance reports, power companies donated $20 million to the political campaigns of federal lawmakers, almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

In interviews, E.P.A. officials said that toughening pollution rules for power plants was among their top priorities. Last month, the agency announced it was moving forward on new rules regulating greenhouse gas emissions from hundreds of power plants and other large industrial facilities. Lisa P. Jackson, who was confirmed to head the agency in January, has said she would determine by the end of the year whether certain power plant byproducts should be treated as hazardous waste, which would subject them to tougher regulations.

But for now, there are no new rules on power plant waste. And many states are trying to dissuade Ms. Jackson from creating new regulations, according to state and federal regulators, because they worry that new rules will burden overworked regulators, and because power plants have pressured local politicians to fight greater regulation.

For instance, Pennsylvania has opposed designating the waste from Hatfield's Ferry and other power plants as hazardous. In a statement, the Department of Environmental Protection said the state had "sufficient state and federal laws and regulations at our disposal to control wastewater discharges at levels protective of the environment and public health."

But residents living near power plants disagree.

"Americans want cheap electricity, but those of us who live around power plants are the ones who have to pay for it," Mr. Coleman said. "It's like being in the third world."

Karl Russell contributed reporting.